Other parts of this series:
Where and how we work has changed. Not surprisingly, “anywhere, everywhere” is a core trend in our recently published Insurance Technology Vision 2021. While much of this conversation revolves around what companies are currently doing (many are moving to a hybrid working model), I wonder if a company-wide conversation is the best vision for new working models.
Instead of this broad approach, I present a different perspective that determines working policies based on job type and whether certain groups within a company are better suited for an office or a remote working model.
To look into this, I analyzed our Return to Work research across four different groups in insurance: operations, sales, technology and human resources. I also compared the insurance industry with banking and capital markets to see differences between industries when relevant. I will highlight challenges and considerations for determining the best working model for each group. Of course, there is no single perfect solution—each company will have its own needs. My goal is not to tell you what to do, but rather to highlight how differently (or similarly) the needs and desires can be across these four groups, and how that can complicate a company-wide working policy.
Return to office vs. remote working
Before I dive in, a quick note about the research: In order to equalize our sample size across the four groups, I included banking and capital markets in the technology group for insurance, whereas the other three groups are insurance only. The only exception is whenever I compare the three industries of insurance, banking and capital markets.
When it comes to preferences for working in an office or working remotely, human resources (HR) was the biggest proponent of working in-office, with 70% saying their employees would prefer to come into the office five days a week. Operations, sales and technology leaders mostly chose between three or four days in the office.
This picture becomes more unique when looking at specific questions around rank (junior, mid, senior) and office (front, middle, back). In these questions, there was a clear alignment in insurance between HR and operations preferring the office and sales and tech preferring more remote options.
When it comes to junior employees, 61% of HR and 36% of operations respondents want those employees in the office five days a week. However, only 21% of sales and technology respondents think junior employees need to be in the office five times a week.
A similar split can be seen when asked about front-, middle- or back-office positions: 52% of HR and 45% of operations said four to five days in the office, while 65% of sales said one or two days and 53% of technology said two or three days in the office.
Overall, here is where these four groups would fall on a spectrum:
An important note about operations: While the other three groups seemed to have a consensus, there was a “debate” in the survey within operations. For example: When asked about how many days should mid-level employees be in-office, 36% said four days, yet 30% said one day. When asked about back-office, 45% of operations said four or five days, but 47% said zero to two days in the office.
This debate is playing out in insurers’ policies. Across companies, there doesn’t seem to be a large majority consensus yet. And those that are trying to go back to the office are often delaying it. While some of this delay can be attributed to the rise of COVID-19 cases, it also implies that insurers as an industry aren’t confident in what the best working models are moving forward.
How similar or different is insurance compared to banking or capital markets? In banking, HR leaders said only 48% of employees would prefer to come into the office five days a week, a significant decrease compared to the 70% in insurance. Interestingly, 47% of banking sales leaders also said employees would prefer five days a week in the office, compared to only 21% from sales leaders in insurance.
Overall, when comparing banking and insurance, banking leaders lean slightly more towards remote work than insurance, with sales being a notable exception.
Looking at capital markets, more differences arise. For example: When asked about remote work by front-, middle-, and back-office, operations leaders in insurance seem pretty split in how many days they would prefer in-office work. However, capital markets is dramatically geared towards remote working. This significant difference holds true when comparing HR in insurance and capital markets, while sales and technology are more aligned between the two industries.
Capital markets operations
What does this all mean?
- Sales: It’s clear that sales teams prefer remote working, with only a couple of days in the office. It’s likely that the shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has shown sales groups that connecting via technology (Zoom, Teams, etc.) can be effective. Without having to travel, sales can be much more efficient. But the question remains whether remote/video touchpoints are strong enough in the long-term to drive up sales. Looking ahead, it’s likely that there will be a balance between the efficiency and flexibility of remote sales with the more intimate nature of a face-to-face meeting.
- Technology: Technology groups prefer to work remotely most days and can benefit from fewer office distractions. But our survey also reveals a clear understanding of the importance of being in the office. A large part of technology requires working together across both business and IT silos, being available for any crises and delivering new capabilities that may or may not have been offered to customers before. Making sure there is a common vision and successful joint planning is a big part of what groups have to “get right,” whether they are continuing to work remotely or starting to dip into hybrid working models. Overall, most technology teams benefit from a balance between in-office and remote working, with a lean towards flexibility for more remote work.
- Operations: Operations is the trickiest of the four groups. Our Return to Work data highlights a divided preference for in-office or remote work. Yet this divide is actually a meaningful insight that can inform policy. For example, Field claims personnel and operations office staff have different requirements. In-the-field personnel doesn’t need to be in the office as frequently, as there is technology to support day-to-day claims handling. But office claims staff would likely benefit from a more hybrid model.
- Human Resources: HR clearly prefers working in the office, which aligns very well with their overall goals to engage employees, establish a healthy culture and be a support system.
Maintaining culture with different working models
A core challenge of having different working models for different groups is building and maintaining a strong company culture of collaboration and teamwork. Training, in-office file reviews and other reasons to get teams together in person will be crucial to ensure the business functions as seamlessly as possible.
At the end of the day, every company has to make the decision that makes the most sense for its specific business. While there is some alignment, it’s clear that different groups have different viewpoints on remote versus in-office work. There is no one-size-fits-all, so the question is whether leaders will take these different viewpoints into account when determining working policies, or whether they will stick to company-wide policies. In my next blog post, I will look at employee sentiment data and how that can help inform the best working model for these four groups.
In the meantime, take a look at our Insurance Technology Vision 2021 report to explore this “anywhere, everywhere” trend further.