Canadian Underwriter

What’s missing in a purely remote work environment

April 13, 2021   by Adam Malik

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The insurance industry has shown that it can operate successfully in a work-from-home environment, but for any company that wants to see growth, being in the office on a regular basis is essential, P&C insurance executives said during the virtual webinar, Casualty Insights Conference, hosted by Advisen.

The panellists ultimately agreed that working from home has worked during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that P&C companies would most likely develop a hybrid option for returning to work. But they were asked to provide a contrarian view to the idea that permanent remote work was a viable option for the industry.

Pam Ferrandino, vice president at Gallagher Bassett, and David Perez, chief underwriting officer of global risk solutions, North America at Liberty Mutual Insurance, both focused on missed opportunities. They noted that much can be gained from personal interactions in the office — mentorship, collaboration, and problem-solving opportunities — which is missing when people work remotely.

“What I think we miss often through this remote environment is that unplanned opportunity to have a conversation or connection and keep things alive in terms of your relationships,” Ferrandino said during the webinar. “You just don’t bump into people on the street, you don’t bump into people at a conference [anymore]. So everything has to be a little more rigorous, I think, in this environment, and a little more structured. You have to plan to pick up the phone or plan to schedule something to get people’s times.”

In a fully remote environment, the benefits of those personal relationships forged in the office are gone, she added during the session Working from Home, Forever: A View from the Top. The office offers “that same dynamic where you engage with your office colleagues, and the people you’re bringing into your organization, to share knowledge and be spontaneously collaborative versus structured collaborative.”

For some, the office is where mentorship happens.

Mentorship is highly valued by brokers. It was ranked second in Canadian Underwriter‘s 2021 National Broker Survey in terms of an important source for knowledge and skills they require. Only “training and certification bodies” was ranked higher. So after official educators, peers were looked upon to provide essential learnings.

Furthermore, 80% of brokers with 16 years or less in the business felt mentorship was important to them.

Perez expanded on Ferrandino’s thoughts, noting how there’s no more spontaneity or casual engagement in a purely remote environment. All engagement is structured, and that’s a concern for him. Take, for example, new hires over the last year. They haven’t met their team in person or even their leaders.

“Do I think that they’re probably at a disadvantage from people that may have joined a year before that? I do,” he said.

“I think there’s no doubt that when you’re in an engaging environment, where you have the ability to collaborate [and be] exposed to people with more experience than you, being able to hear discussions [and] observe behaviour, that’s a benefit.”

Coaching is another benefit of the office environment. When a manager is around their staff, for example, they are observing and can offer feedback based on what they see. Employees are missing out on important feedback, Perez added.

“We’ve got a lot of learning to do, but I think it’d be a disadvantage for us to say, ‘We’re going to go completely work-from-home going forward,” he said. “That would…really impact, I think, the employee experience for the long run.”

For Stephen Hackenburg, chief broking officer of national casualty at Aon, the most successful companies will find the right balance of having people in the office and at home, a solution that fits the company’s culture.

“Especially firms that require innovation and collaboration to serve clients, I think a lot of firms are going to find that getting people together in smart ways is going to be a competitive advantage,” he said.

“I think smart firms will start to really identify in a hybrid environment what work is suitable and productive to be done remotely and what work is better tasked in-person. I think the best firms will find that right balance, they will find it quickly, and it’ll enable them to compete more effectively in the market.”


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1 Comment » for What’s missing in a purely remote work environment
  1. Jack says:

    As someone who has worked remotely for a few years now, I agree with this. The colleagues I work with are in different cities, so working in the office wouldn’t make much of a difference in my case.

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