Canadian Underwriter

What back to the office looks like for Canadian brokerages

August 20, 2020   by Jason Contant

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As businesses across the country continue their staged approach to reopening in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many brokerages are looking at what this “new normal” means for their company and staff.

Some brokerages plan to reopen in September, some will allow staff to work remotely until the end of the year, while others may consider working from home indefinitely. “How each brokerage continues to adjust their business practices depends on each individual business and what works best for both their staff and client base,” Joseph Carnevale, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), told Canadian Underwriter Thursday.

For its part, IBAO continues to work remotely to support members and key stakeholders, with a small number of staff occasionally returning to the office for essential tasks, Carnevale reported.

Over the past few weeks, IBAO started proctoring in-person licensing exams, while observing necessary social distancing and sanitization protocols, Carnevale said. “As we continue to move back to a more normal working environment, everyone’s ensuring we do so with the health of both staff and consumers at the forefront of all the decisions we make.”

Carnevale noted that since the start of the pandemic, the insurance industry (brokers included) were considered essential, with many brokers throughout Ontario continuously working from both their brokerages and at home.

Brokers have implemented different strategies. Some have combined rolling teams within their offices with remote staff. Others have moved off-site entirely to work from home. As Ontario moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3 of reopening, brokerages have been following safety guidelines supplemented by third-party advice sourced directly or from IBAO.

Many brokers have welcomed customers back into their brokerages in Stage 3, mainly on an appointment-only basis, observing strict social distancing and ensuring sanitizer and masks are readily available while offices are regularly sanitized. Many brokers also continue to leverage virtual appointments to offset in-person brokerage visits, Carnevale said.

For KBD Insurance, which has a commercial lines office in downtown Montreal and a personal lines office in Kirkland, Que. (on the west island part of Montreal), there are plans to open the commercial office with ideally 25% capacity after Labour Day, brokerage president Curtis Killen said in an interview Tuesday. Clients coming into the office would need to wear a mask and there would be adequate hand sanitizer, he added.

On the horizon is a plan to start implementing a rotation, so that employees are working from home one day a week, for example, Killen said.

The brokerage originally had six or seven employees in one 2,800-square-foot office for training, Killen reported. He said he looked at getting plastic dividers, but decided against it, because there was only one entrance and one kitchen. “They’re in shared spaces all the time; the ventilation is shared.”

Onboarding for new brokers has definitely been a challenge. “You can’t really do a virtual training, especially when you are talking to clients.”

And working from home day after day means the brokerage loses out on innovation, teamwork and camaraderie. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed that is on-the-fly innovation,” Killen said. “It’s not the same going on a Google Hangout with six people talking. We’re humans, we’re meant to interact and be around people.”

Another thing on Killen’s mind is what happens when you reach maximum office capacity. “Coronavirus brought that to my attention, and I think this will be the same for a lot of other brokers,” he said. “Once we reach capacity of the office, I am not going to go look for another space.”

He plans to start a rotation, where people work from home two days a week, for example. “It’ll be a lot less expensive… [than] renting a whole new office.”

Killen believes the majority of employees want to go back to the office. “The way I see it is we’ve got to try to get back to normal. We can’t live like this forever.”


Feature image via Alija

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