Canadian Underwriter

Managing your remote workforce in a post-COVID world

January 5, 2021   by David Gambrill

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Flexible work arrangements appear to be here to stay, even after the pandemic is gone, and several in the P&C insurance industry are turning their minds towards how to manage a more remote workforce in the future.

Imagine future office managers more like orchestra conductors, some management analysts predict.

To be clear, not everyone in the P&C industry is sold on whether working purely from home is a sustainable business model once COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted once and for all. Nonetheless, many are discussing — if not preparing for — the end of a long tradition in which employees show up in the office five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

One key post-pandemic question will be: How will P&C organizations refine their management of team members who may be working in the office some days of the week, while working from home during others?

“I think the office as we know it, is in the past,” Paul Martin, president and chief operating officer of KRGInsure/RRJ Insurance Group Limited, told Canadian Underwriter in a recent interview. He was asked about the future of the P&C workplace in a post-COVID world. (An article with his full remarks is forthcoming.) “The future is not going to be the big office spaces, with everybody coming into the office five days a week….

“I think brokers have changed to working remotely, so definitely I think you are going to see a lot more flexible work environment, with a lot more emphasis on the technology in people’s homes. I just think we need to figure out how to manage that better, so we can continue to deliver high-quality customer service.”

The percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021, according to a survey from Enterprise Technology Research (ETR), per Carolyn Castrillon, writing for Forbes magazine.

“We all thought that there would be some increase in permanent remote work, but we didn’t expect that to double from pre-pandemic levels,” ETR chief engagement strategist Erik Bradley says, as quoted by Castrillon.

A recent Gartner CFO survey suggests that more than two-thirds (74%) of companies plan to shift employees to remote work permanently after the COVID-19 crisis ends.

In a pre-pandemic interview with Recode in October 2019, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimated that by 2025, some 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month. “I think the percentage of people with compatible jobs will expand as knowledge-based work continues to edge out jobs that require a physical presence,” Lister told Recode.

Tech companies are leading the way in ditching traditional office environments, but there is an argument to be made — and one that many Canadian P&C insurance professionals have made — that in a relationship-oriented business such as insurance, permanently working from home is not a sustainable model. That said, companies are looking at a more flexible approach to office culture, post-pandemic.

How do you better manage employees who are working remotely?

“Remote work has changed performance management considerably,” as Castrillon writes for Forbes. “Organizations will increasingly focus on work done instead of hours worked — making tools and apps to help manage remote employee performance more essential.”

Remote work has also changed the role of the managers. No longer are managers the hierarchical officers who can be seen in their glass-walled corner offices overlooking “drone” workers getting work done at their cubicles. Instead, think of managers as orchestra conductors, bringing remote workers’ individual talents and skills together seamlessly to deliver timely and innovative solutions to consumers, Vala Afshar writes for ZDNet.

“In this model, the future company is relatively flat, comprising a number of distributed, autonomous resources, human, digital and hybrid, that are guided by an explicit orchestration function,” as Afshar explains it. “The job of this orchestration function will be to create ‘missions,’ using multiple, symbiotic intelligences, that anticipate and respond to customer needs, match them with the right resource or team of resources, and then entrust the successful and timely execution of the mission to that team.”

At some point, Castrillon writes, “it may even be necessary to create a new job position, like Director of Remote Work, to oversee production and collaboration and ensure operational efficiencies.”


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