The Shape Of Work In The Insurance Industry: Remote Work Or In Office?

The Shape Of Work In The Insurance Industry: Remote Work Or In Office?

Prior to 2020, remote work was typically associated with freelancers and employees whose companies had multiple locations and were open to providing workplace flexibility. When the pandemic hit, remote work became a lifesaver for professionals across every industry including insurance. In fact, some 50 million Americans left their offices. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, about four percent of employed people worked exclusively from home; by May 2020, that figure rose to 43% according to Gallup. Among white-collar workers, the shift is even more stark: Before Covid, just six percent worked exclusively from home, and by May 2020 this figure rose to 65%1.

The insurance industry, in particular, was able to pivot fairly easily and smoothly to remote work, keeping lines of communication open with clients; getting transactions done; and leveraging Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other platforms to speak with underwriters, brokers, and customers.

A Fork in the Road

Fast-forward and we’ve now come to a crossroads. It turns out that, for many employees, remote work “works” and they prefer the self-autonomy and like the additional benefits it offers, such as no more early and late-night commutes to avoid traffic (especially with gas prices at record heights in many areas), no more constant water-cooler interruptions, and more time to get things done both at home and for work. Some employees, on the other hand, clearly prefer the office environment as they miss the face-to-face interaction, comraderie, and opportunity to network.

When company management in late 2021 and earlier this year began announcing return-to-office plans, many were met with resistance. Several surveys show that the majority of employees (52%) prefer to work from home if given the option. Some employees adamantly responded that they would prefer to quit rather than return to an office commute. The tight labor market could be giving employees a bit of an advantage to stand firm with employers about what they need. In fact, the Great Resignation has seen about four million workers leave their job per month for better pay, better benefits, and more flexibility.

Managers, however, according to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), were not happy with remote work. Supervisors reported, “negative perceptions” of the work-from-home trend and prefer their staff to operate from an office setting. According to the SHRM survey, nearly 70% of managers replied that remote workers are “more easily replaceable than onsite workers.” Nearly 62% contend that “full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives, and 72% say they would prefer all of their subordinates to be working in the office.”2

The Hybrid Alternative

Employers, including in the insurance industry, have responded to both employee pushback to return to the office and management concerns by offering different work-environment approaches, including a hybrid alternative. The hybrid approach is allowing workers to spend part of their week working remotely and part in the office.

According to a Gallup report, companies that do not offer a hybrid option with flexible work arrangements face a significant risk to their hiring, employee engagement, performance, well-being, and retention strategies.

Employers have responded to both employee pushback to return to the office and management concerns by offering different work-environment approaches, including a hybrid alternative. The hybrid approach is allowing workers to spend part of their week working remotely and part in the office.

According to a Gallup report, companies that do not offer a hybrid option with flexible work arrangements face a significant risk to their hiring, employee engagement, performance, well-being, and retention strategies.

Where Does the Insurance Industry Fit In?

According to The Jacobson Group, an insurance executive search firm, nearly 90% of insurance employers surveyed expect to offer a hybrid work model as they reopen and 45% plan to provide full remote options. Companies have found innovative ways to embrace the new normal of a truly hybrid workforce, such as downsizing office space, redesigning traditional working desks into hot desks, and making the physical workplace more accommodating to the ebb and flow of employees choosing to physically come into the office.

In addition, “Workers in insurance and banking expressed the highest preference for remote working compared with those in other industries,” according to an EY report, “2022 Global Insurance Outlook,” which was published in January 2022. “Overwhelming majorities of insurance industry workers say it is important to have flexibility in where they work and when they work. Significant percentages of workers across generations would prefer to be fully remote after the pandemic restrictions are lifted,” the report continued.

Gallup, 1New York Times, 2Forbes, EY