Canadian Underwriter

How Willis Canada is handling remote work

November 12, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Adopting a hybrid work model makes sense for Willis Towers Watson Canada because the brokerage’s leaders learned it could trust employees who were working remotely.

“We saw that during the pandemic, our productivity actually increased,” said Ofelia Isabel, managing director, Toronto market leader and Canada co-leader for Willis Towers Watson PLC, in an interview Wednesday. “Does it make sense to go into the office to spend all day reading a document or answering emails?”

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization. Soon after, many Canadian employers setup many of their employees to work from home.

“The amount of time that people spent actually servicing clients and interacting with them increased,” Isabel recounted of Willis Towers Watson Canada’s experience. “All of the time that we used to spend commuting and all of that – we saw sort people spending it working.”

Dublin-based Willis Towers Watson is the world’s third biggest commercial brokerage, behind Marsh and Aon.

As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease, Willis Towers Watson is adopting a hybrid working model for Canada.

“We’re letting each one of our employees make the decision of what makes the most sense for their day,” said Isabel.

“We have started to see more people start to use our offices and in-person meetings happening. There’s value in in-person meetings, no question, [however] you don’t have to be meeting in person all the time to get things done. And we have been super productive remotely.”

Willis Towers Watson’s approach is not quite the same as Montreal-based BFL, one of the largest Canada-based employee-owned commercial brokerages.

“We want to see a collective, collaborative effort to get people in the office and working,” BFL founder and CEO Barry Lorenzetti told Canadian Underwriter Nov 4.

BFL prefers to do staff meetings in person instead of over a remote conference platform like Teams or Webex, Lorenzetti said in an interview.

In the summer of 2021, BFL rolled out a program in which workers are placed into three categories. BFL employee-shareholders are expected to work in the office on a regular basis while a second category of workers sign agreements in which they commit to working at least three out of five days a week at the office and a third category of BFL employees can work from home permanently but need to come to the office when asked to by their team leader.

For its part, Willis Towers Watson is not going so far as to mandate that its employees work from the office a fixed quantity of days pers week.

“We’re not going to any type of ‘you must be at the office on any given day,’” said Isabel.

“We’re leaving it completely to each individual, colleague and team to decide what makes the most sense for them. We are telling them ‘If you want to go into the office to meet with some of your team, you actually have to plan for that because your team might not be there unless you actually together decide that you’re going to go with on a certain day.’”

Willis Towers Watson sees some benefit to in-person meetings.

“We think there’s value in in person interactions and we’re encouraging our colleagues to go into the office to collaborate sometimes – when it makes sense for them,” Isabel told Canadian Underwriter.

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