Canadian brokers are now turning their minds towards returning back to the office safely while the novel coronavirus pandemic is still underway and a vaccine has yet to be developed.
Brokerages across Canada will need to be aware of what is happening in the provinces in which they are doing business, industry analysts say. The time is now to make plans to move employees back into the offices once provincial and health authorities begin to issue guidelines on how to do so in a safe manner, says Kent Rowe, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC).
“I think it’s critical that brokers take the time to really understand what the [provincial and medical] regulations are, to make sure that we are compliant, and to make sure that we continue to be the good corporate citizens that we are,” Rowe told Canadian Underwriter. “[Brokers must be able to] conduct business that maintains and preserves the health and safety of our employees and our clients. Those are our big concerns, without question.”
Canadian provincial governments and health authorities are openly discussing encouraging coronavirus infection trends. In response, provincial governments are either making or announcing plans to re-open their economies in a phased and gradual way.
Some provinces are moving more quickly than others, based on local COVID-19 infection trends. (COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organization declared to be a global pandemic in mid-March.)
Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Quebec, for example, have all announced tentative plans to gradually ease social distancing restrictions for certain sectors of their economies in May. Atlantic Canadian provinces and Ontario have eased a limited number of restrictions, while saying the timelines for opening up other sectors of the economy will depend on infection rates. British Columbia has announced that it will also start to ease social distancing restrictions, although how the province will do so is yet to be made public.
Insurance is an essential service, meaning that the industry did not have to close their offices to the public if they could not conduct their business by working remotely from home. But while brokerage and insurance company offices have remained open, a vast majority of the industry’s workforce has been working from home for the past eight weeks as part of the social distancing measures required to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Doron Melnick, partner in KMPG Canada’s people and change advisory services practice, has been advising business clients about how to re-open their offices once social distancing restrictions are reduced. One of the first things he advises businesses to do is to set up the proper governance structure to do the planning now, while social distancing is still largely in place.
“We are suggesting that organizations designate a task force to think through all of the moving pieces,” he told Canadian Underwriter in an interview Friday. “That task force would be responsible for, first of all, monitoring the government guidelines for each province and understanding when the governments are re-opening the economy, and what the rules are.”
The task force would also be responsible for “staging the approach,” Melnick said. This includes looking at “who needs to come back physically, versus whether [employees] can continue to work from home. [This would be based] on what customers expect, and also on the needs of the work.”
Finally, the task force would be responsible for communicating the plans, “so everyone is aware of what the plan is — the employees, the business partners, the customers, and in some cases, the landlords,” said Melnick.
Under the direction of its president and CEO Barry Lorenzetti, BFL Canada has already created such a task force, said Vital Adam, BFL’s vice president of corporate communications. “I am sitting on that task force,” Adam told Canadian Underwriter in an email. He made it clear that BFL Canada never in fact closed the business (it is listed as an essential service), but rather its physical locations (19 offices across the country).
“As I write to you, we are building a toolkit/guidelines to guarantee that our operations will resume eventually in our respective offices across the country and continue under the safest and healthiest possible conditions in the context of COVID 19,” Adam wrote. “We want to support our leaders across the country in their management of health and safety. The proposed measures will be adopted by the different regions according to their specific conditions to guarantee that operations can resume and continue under the safest and healthiest possible conditions.”
Vital described the current planning phase as “laborious and complex,” as it involved “collaboration with public health official guidance by region, local, provincial and federal government.”
Editor’s Note: Canadian Underwriter will be posting more stories about planning for the re-opening of the economy over the next few days.