Why Work-From-Home Threatens Innovation

Non-insurance competitors such as Amazon, Google, Tesla, Comcast, General Motors and many others are not standing still, and neither should insurers.

The world is entering month eight of the pandemic and the complete disruption of the personal and business lives of virtually every one of us. While the timing and response to COVID-19 may have varied by country, region and city, nobody is unaffected. And the timeline for a return to anything resembling pre-COVID-19 life remains elusive and unclear. But while we continue to live and work in a state that feels like some surreal form of suspended animation, there is still much we could and should be doing about conducting the business of insurance and the enormous number of people it employs, supports and protects.

Personal and Organizational Growth

Whether we realize it or not, work-from-home (WFH) is dramatically stunting our growth, both personally and organizationally. And even when the pandemic ends, it is now widely anticipated that a majority of workers will be offered, and most will eagerly accept, the option of continuing to work from home permanently or partially.

Though working from home may seem to make life somewhat easier initially, it can become detrimental to employees’ mental health; people are basically social creatures, and working from home can make employees feel disconnected and cause anxiety. An Accenture survey of insurance industry chief human resource officers conducted in June 2020 reveals that, while 80% agreed that workforce engagement and productivity is high, the combination of global pandemic and WFH may be taking a toll on workers’ mental health; 55% noted that employees were reporting an increased amount of anxiety and depression; and 73% said employees are feeling a greater degree of pressure due to the pandemic.

Furthermore, social interaction and interpersonal communications enable learning of all kinds: the value of teamwork, leadership styles, job skills, work styles, the art of communication, friendships, diversity and a sense of mutual purpose. WFH impedes organizations from developing and instilling their company culture, which is fostered, in large part, by employees coming together and engaging in team-building activities and company-wide meetings—so having disjointed teams makes this harder to accomplish. And when employees can clearly identify with a company’s values, they’re more likely to engage with their work.

We need to become more aware of these impediments to personal growth and develop strategies and procedures to replicate some of this personal growth and development. Employees highly value the flexibility of remote work, and the success of fully distributed companies has proven that the model can work. A personal touch is added by setting explicit expectations, conducting consistent and scheduled check-ins and promoting “show and tell” virtual sessions within work groups or even company-wide. Effective team building exercises, even “small talk,” can help create personal connections, build empathy and strengthen working relationships. The organizational chart will need to be redesigned and become more agile.

Partnerships, Alliances and Acquisitions

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, the insurance industry was undergoing rapid change in the ways in which it viewed and conducted its products and its business. This included reinvention of all business processes to lower costs and increase agility, embracing and adopting emerging technologies and rewriting strategic thinking about everything from product development to distribution and, most importantly, its newfound fierce focus on customer experience and service excellence.

This transformation was being accomplished through a variety of means, both internal and external. Internal organic transformation resulted from corporate reorganization including the formation of officer-level business units responsible for innovation and data science, and the adoption of formal change management programs.

See also: How to Be Productive Working at Home

Externally, insurers sought out startups and early-stage entrepreneurial companies that could help them not only solve specific operational challenges but also accelerate innovation by stimulating, challenging and motivating legacy thinkers within the company to become more agile and act in new and different ways. Many top-tier carriers funded corporate venture capital units whose mandate included the identification and growth of startups whose people, technologies and solutions could benefit and accelerate insurance transformation across their own and other insurance enterprises.

However, effective identification of and engagement with startups and entrepreneurs is more of an art than a science. Attendance at industry conference such as InsurTech Connect, Insurance Nexus, Dig-In and others provided the best environment for this process. Inviting startups to corporate headquarters to present their solutions and vision to a diverse insurance company executive audience also helped broaden an insurers’ thinking in the "art of the possible.” But, in the age of COVID-19, these opportunities are limited to what can be accomplished virtually, which may be effective for delivering information but provide little in the way of developing personal relationships. The industry has already lost eight months of this valuable activity and will likely lose many more. A lost year of innovation and transformation and the momentum that had been building over the prior decade will be costly to the insurance industry. Non-insurance competitors such as Amazon, Google, Tesla, Comcast, General Motors and many others are not standing still, and neither should insurers. Creative new approaches to reignite corporate development, innovation and transformation need to be found and implemented now.

Stephen Applebaum

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Stephen Applebaum

Stephen Applebaum, managing partner, Insurance Solutions Group, is a subject matter expert and thought leader providing consulting, advisory, research and strategic M&A services to participants across the entire North American property/casualty insurance ecosystem.


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