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An Insurer Perspective on Returning to the Office

A case for the human experience

May 10, 2022 Photo

Insurance was born in coffee houses, most notably one owned by Edward Lloyd, where colleagues created ways to economically respond to catastrophes. The organic nature of in-person meetings has provided solutions not only for the industry, but also created platforms for human connection and personal branding. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a disrupter, with tremendous impact to the global workforce. While most in the insurance industry were able to pivot quickly to work from home, the whiplash caused by the pandemic rollercoaster has resulted in measurable mental health trauma. Productivity remained generally high by insurance professionals; policies were brokered and underwritten, and claims were managed. After two years without returning to a commercial office, the “Great Resignation” has demonstrated to employers that flexibility surrounding the location of work is a top priority.

Of note, a Deloitte Access Economics workplace survey of an Australian telecom company found that 90% of respondents believe hybrid work improved their mental health, while 83% said the same for their physical health—“hybrid” being the operative word.

Tech giants are continuing to lease office properties in major cities, which indicates that while employees still see the value of in-person interactions, they individually wish to set the terms in which they return to a communal office. The insurance industry, like most with the capabilities of having remote employees, experienced talent moving out of cities for economic and personal reasons. While competition for strong talent in insurance remains fierce, the default for many companies is to allow employees to continue to work from home full time. But is this really a good thing? Would more communication surrounding the potential impact of fully remote work and the benefits of in-person interactions, planned and organic, provide a better path forward for individuals and companies?

Each piece of insurance procurement for individual and corporate client risks requires collective engagement, often between generationally different colleagues. Baby boomers and Gen Z professionals move through the process of exposure evaluation, determining premiums, and how worst-case scenario claims will be handled together. Institutional experience is not only critical for mentorship, but also provides necessary feedback on current economic and social climates. Thus, it is important to acknowledge the importance of interacting with others beyond those that are self-selected.

Practicing and learning how to give and read social cues often happens in an office and at meetings with long-term and new clients. Situations such as being uncomfortable in a disagreement have been removed or shortened due to the ability to make an excuse to leave a virtual meeting or hang up a call. Policy language and legal discussions that may have taken a day to really flesh out and allow to morph into real claims scenarios have been cut by meeting time limits. Waking up earlier, getting dressed with effort, commuting, and working in an office all day with the likelihood of coworker engagement is exhausting. But that is in part because it has not been a part of everyday life for over two years. Endurance to manage the human experience has waned, but it can be rebuilt with time. Just like creating a professional reputation, the in-person brand is developed from shaking hands, round-tabling, and meeting in a communal space.

Insurance has survived centuries of tremendous conflict and loss yet remains a profitable, stalwart industry capable of change. Demanding a return to the office full time is not a viable option. However, for those working in a hybrid environment, designating team meeting days or regular planned trips for fully remote employees will provide a ripe environment for professional growth, networking, and development.

Learning compassion for differing circumstances often grows from having to interact in an environment with a diverse and dynamic workforce. Communicating these benefits to the industry workforce will only help reinforce the benefits of a hybrid workplace. At its core, insurance is the sharing of society’s risks. With the end of the pandemic, it is time to continue to carry the load, face to face.

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About The Authors
Sarah Abrams

Sarah Abrams, Esq., is head of professional liability claims at Bowhead Specialty Underwriters.  sabrams@bowheadspecialty.com

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