Working from home more often means a change to the way property and casualty insurance industry professionals do their jobs, as well as the expectations between employee and employer, according to an expert from Aon.
“Part of your job duties, they’re going to change now,” observed Robin Daddar, Toronto-based vice president and senior consultant of fleet, safety, health and environment, risk control services at Aon. “All of our duties, whatever you had previously, that’s no longer going to be there.”
He estimates that anywhere between 25% and 50% of people will be working from home permanently once the COVID-19 pandemic is in the rearview mirror. “Companies have found out that the employees can perform as good an amount of work from home as they were in the office — sometimes better. You only have to be there in the office for essential meetings.”
Many offices will see some sort of transformation. They will house a few dozen “hotelling” workstations — desks where staff will either book ahead of time or grab on a first-come basis for the day. That means no more permanent desks, which translates to a reduced need for real estate.
But to pull this off properly, human resources leaders will “need to sit down and discuss with their employees: What’s going to happen? How is the office environment going to change?” Daddar said in an interview. “And job descriptions are going to change now. Or they should change.”
That’s because with remote work comes flexible schedules. Employment lawyers may also be part of the equation to determine what’s reasonable around flexible hours for, say, parents. Daddar expects their work schedules will likely change.
During the school year, many parents were at home with their kids who are doing virtual schooling. But when in-person schooling returns, drop-off and pick-up schedules will resume. That could mean the workday gets broken down into pieces.
“I think that’s something that is going to be discussed and negotiated about what’s reasonable,” Daddar told Canadian Underwriter. “If your kids are older and can bring themselves home, you don’t worry about it. But if they’re younger, they can’t come home by themselves. You have to be at the bus stop and wait for them or you have to go to the school to pick them up. So I think those kinds of things got to be discussed and negotiated with [employers].”
Employers will also need to ensure staff are equipped to work from home on a full-time basis. Some may argue that, after 16-plus months of being at home, employees should be able to keep going without any issue. But Daddar emphasized that this isn’t always the case. Some may be making do with what they have and may not have everything from a technological or ergonomics standpoint.
For example, if employers want their employees to be available after-hours, are they being provided with a proper workstation to do their work? It could be argued, according to Daddar, that the employer should be providing resources to ensure staff have a proper place to work at home with a desk, chair, and computer. And don’t forget about a phone if you want to be able to call them or have them able to check emails on the go.
This was an issue raised by P&C professionals in Canadian Underwriter’s recent Working From Home survey. When answering open-ended questions, some respondents pointed to a lack of equipment and support from their employer.
“[I] don’t have all necessary equipment, i.e., a printer,” said one.
“The ergonomics at home are not as good as they are at work,” another reader pointed out. “Doesn’t appear the employer took enough time/attention to ensure I was going to be completely comfortable, even over a year [later].”
If an employee is working from home and is hurt in their own house — such as tripping over cables or falling down the stairs — that could be covered under the company’s workers comp program, Daddar said. In determining coverage, the primary question to ask will be: Was a safe workstation or environment provided at home?
There are tax implications associated with working from home, Daddar observed. Employers should also assist employees in this area.
“If you set up your office at home, well, now you’re taking some of your house away for office work. If your kids are running around, you want a door that closed so you can do your work,” he said.
Daddar admitted he’s not a tax expert, “but there are provisions that allow you to charge some of your office space…as a legitimate expense [on your tax return]. Most of us don’t know what that is, because we have never done working from home before. Companies have to help people and say, ‘Here’s what you can do. You’re allowed whatever percent it is to do this, that, and the other [thing].’”