Lessons Learned From Shift to WFH

Remote talent pools allow for a broader range of applicants to fill roles, and some employees feel more productive within their own walls.


It’s not clear what “normal” will look like when the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic are behind us. The world will probably not return to the way things were in February. But the world is learning to cope; so are insurance carriers. Recently, Novarica’s team facilitated a virtual town hall to learn how insurer CIOs and their teams are adjusting to working from home (WFH) as an entire organization. 

Most insurers appear to be navigating the same challenges and enjoying the same benefits from the transition. Despite varying reaction times of state governments in issuing shelter-in-place orders and encouraging non-essential workers to stay home, most insurers appear to have taken aggressive action to protect their employees and ensure continuous service for their customers by mid-March at the latest.

While some individuals and teams within insurance companies already had experience with WFH, insurance IT leaders noted apprehension about large-scale efforts to do so. A month later, here are some of the key considerations—and lessons—insurance IT executives have learned from the rapid-fire process brought on by COVID-19. 

This Isn’t a Snow Day

While most companies, including insurers, have been prepared for small-scale WFH events in the case of weather events like heavy snow or a hurricane, CIOs were bracing themselves for the strain that more widespread WFH would put on certain areas of their organization. VPN access and general internet bandwidth were a main concern for insurers across the board, but with additional licensing, close collaboration with key suppliers and careful management, carriers are staying online.

Paper processes are another area of focus for many insurers; some are partnering with lockbox vendors to close manual gaps by handling scanning and e-payment. Most insurers noted that they are sending limited numbers of key employees to the office to manage any processes that can’t be immediately made digital. At least one insurer at the town hall noted that the company shut down specific lines of business that would guarantee a floor on return for the time being, but all participants said they aren’t seeing a dynamic outflow of cash. 

One long-term adjustment an insurer noted was that employees were encouraged to take their entire office setup home to optimize their workspaces for the duration of this pandemic. This included signing out desks, chair and computers—anything that would help employees keep their productivity levels up while remaining safely at home. 

See also: COVID-19: Stark Choices Amid Structural Change  

Communication and Transparency Are Key

Insurers’ biggest concern right now is consistent across the board: people. This includes their employees, their agent/broker/vendor partners and their customers. No matter the action being taken, all insurer IT executives said their top concern was keeping everyone safe while they’re doing their jobs. The best way of ensuring this gets done is by communicating openly and often. Most organizations are holding company-wide town halls on a regular basis, offering virtual facetime with senior leadership as well as with their direct managers. 

When possible, video chat is being encouraged to keep everyone in touch and engaged. Team leaders and executives have sent out thank-you notes to the teams staying productive during a global crisis, and some CEOs are answering employee questions during their town halls to make sure every voice is heard. Engagement methods like voting on the questions to be asked during meetings, themed virtual happy hours, informal daily team huddles and mindfulness resources posted on company intranets have all seen positive results at insurers. 

While video conferencing has been an adjustment for some organizations, most participants in the town hall said it has been a valuable tool for helping teams stay close even though they have to be apart. In addition, most 2020 metrics for managers have been altered or paused to allow them to prioritize caring for their teams. As one CIO said, while business continuity plans have been a good guide for this situation, everyone is learning along the way. 

The Future Holds More WFH Flexibility

With insurers, vendors and agents all successfully shifting more than 95% of their operations online, the future of work might look vastly different from how things operated at the beginning of March. Many insurer IT executives are finding that digital projects that were on the road map are suddenly a priority. Digital applications and processes are all on the rise, and some vendor partners are even offering upsell opportunities at a discount that could help boost digital functionality. 

But will remote work become a permanent fixture for most American workers? It might for some of them; remote talent pools allow for a broader range of applicants to fill empty roles, and some employees feel more productive within their own walls. Most insurer CIOs think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. 

While it’s becoming clear that most roles can be completed from home, many employees find themselves missing their in-office neighbors and water cooler chats. Every office has its own culture, and some insurers may hire more remote workers and allow more flexibility with WFH options. Others might shift back more toward traditional ways of working.

The insurance industry, like much of the world, had to shift rapidly to WFH practices. While the transition wasn’t entirely seamless, insurer IT executives have found broad success by focusing on the people and processes that keep their organizations going. These short-term changes are likely to lead to permanent alterations once we have reached our new New Normal, whatever that looks like.

Nancy Casbarro

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Nancy Casbarro

Nancy Casbarro is a vice president of research and consulting at Novarica. She has over 30 years of insurance technology experience. Most recently, Casbarro served as the IT solutions delivery vice president for the group benefits business at MetLife.

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