The chief operating officer of Canada’s largest P&C insurer is confronting a conundrum he never faced before the pandemic — he’s not sure how to get all of his employees to work in the office.
It’s not an issue unique to Intact Insurance. Many executives in Canada’s P&C insurance industry are talking about how the workplace has changed since the pandemic.
At the 2022 NICC Conference in Halifax, Louis Gagnon, CEO of Intact Insurance in Canada, told a story of how he was crafting communications to employees during what would ultimately be seven waves of COVID-19 infections.
“Every month of the pandemic…I was writing different emails and memos on the internet, and never had any employee come back to me,” Gagnon told conference delegates. “Then one day, during Wave 3, I was talking about what it is to socialize at the office, and somebody wrote to me: ‘Who are you to tell me that I have to socialize?’
“I was mad for 30 seconds. I thought, ‘What the heck is that?’ And then I stopped and realized, ‘Who am I to say that you have to socialize?’”
A Canadian Underwriter online poll in September asked brokers where they’re working, now that most public health restrictions imposed during the pandemic have been lifted. It found 30% of brokers are working in the office exclusively, 17% are working purely remotely from home, and the remaining 53% are working in a hybrid office, with some combination of office and remote work.
Marc Lipman, president of Lloyd’s Canada, observed that Lloyd’s long history was “built upon physically being together” in an office, where underwriters once sat shoulder-to-shoulder. But norms changed quickly because of the pandemic, and now the “answer has to include flexibility,” he said.
“There has to be an acknowledgement that some things can be done absolutely as well or better outside of the traditional office environment,” Lipman said. “And then other things really do need to be done in the office. And I say that maybe because I’m in an aging generation that felt that way.
“But I was talking to someone recently and they were talking about their 4 Cs. They bring people into the office for collaboration, celebration [cover, and communication]. And I thought, ‘You know, it was a compelling proposition to employees about why we do want to see you sometimes. It’s not just because Marc really thinks work needs to be in the office, but because people are social beings.”
To which Gagnon cut in and said, what about the ‘W’?
“I would really like for people to come back for the ‘W,’ for the work,” he said.
Ultimately, the conundrum about returning to work in the office following the pandemic has been “the toughest file of my career,” Gagnon added.
“I have to tell you there’s not really one answer yet,” he continued. “We work really hard at trying to explain to employees what is good for us [as a company], for them to come back to the office, without really explaining what is good for them. I have not seen so far a precise, multi-tiered approach, because different kinds of people require different needs…
“I also think that forcing people to come back is not going to work. So, I think the solution is more of an organic one — one that will give a way forward that will bring people together, recognizing the value of being together.”