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October 15, 2020

3 Silver Linings From COVID-19

Summary:

Insurance is positioned to thrive in the virtual world as the need for large processing claims centers and customer service hubs vanishes.

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Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, insurers can seize opportunities from the unexpected silver linings that have appeared. The sudden, widespread case study in remote working has validated the forecasts and long-held views of insurtechs. Insurance, more than almost any other industry, is positioned to thrive in the virtual world as the need for large processing claims centers and customer service hubs vanishes. 

The pandemic forced openness to a change in mindset, and this flexibility was a prerequisite for the bright spots that ensued. A recent survey found that 76% of employees expect to work more flexibly even after restrictions ease, and 67% feel they are more or equally productive from home. In the post-pandemic world, as insurers rethink their work model, they will be confronted with a crucial choice: whether to keep that openness to change or revert to old ways of thinking.

Here are some of the silver linings we’ve seen in the insurance industry.

Increased access to executives and breaking of silos

Across the industry, executive teams and other teams within organizations are collaborating more closely than ever, meeting more frequently and making quicker decisions. As the pandemic took hold, document-sharing systems and other collaboration tools were rolled out quickly across enterprises, with IT, legal, communications and HR departments working together to a degree not seen before. Policies such as procuring headsets and chairs so that people could have comfortable home office setups were enacted swiftly. Of employees working remotely, 40% say they have received the most employer support in the form of digital tools and software, while 39% cite line manager check-ins with employees. It will be important for insurers to maintain these levels of connectivity and collaboration rather than allowing them to be anomalies of the pandemic.  

Innovation realized faster

A pre-pandemic innovation session was as much about the physical space and gathering of people in one location as it was about innovation itself. Some insurers had even moved to rescind their work-from-home policies and push their people into collaboration spaces. All of that has given way to a more pragmatic approach. Now, though a certain amount of lead time still exists, multiple innovation sessions can occur in a shorter period. This is an imperative, as the ability to continue innovating quickly is key to meeting high and changing customer expectations. Research has found that remote workers not only are more highly engaged, but also more likely than their office colleagues to consider their workplaces innovative.

Better engagement across geographies

Teams are collaborating much more in the virtual environment, which has leveled the playing field across offices — and research backs up the benefits. One study found that employees who work from home averaged an extra productive day a week, had 50% reduced role attrition, took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and took less time off. Another study found that full-time employees working from home have been “optimistic adapters” – meaning they’ve demonstrated strong psychological capacity based on feeling in control of their future, and have dealt better with being locked down than other workers. And 43% of employees in that same survey said they have enjoyed a better work-life balance.

Still, evidence shows that there are some people for whom these silver linings don’t exist. Executives have cited an increase in employer relations cases during the pandemic, underscoring the idea that those cohorts of the employee population who were isolated in the pre-remote work environment are even more isolated now. As an example, 41% of Gen Z respondents in a recent survey said they are struggling with having limited private space and family. Managers may not be as adept at mitigating difficult situations as they would be if they saw problems unfold in person. Leaders will need to redouble efforts to identify employees who aren’t assimilated into the company’s culture, measure the extent and produce interventions to close those gaps. 

See also: A New Boom for Life Insurance?

The longer we go on in a virtual environment, the greater the tendencies people have to revert to old behaviors or fall back into old roles. But insurers are poised to thrive if they document the positives that have arisen during this time, chronicle how they’ve come about and who has modeled best behaviors and then hard-wire those into their cultural dynamics and operating model. Those that do can turn the accidental silver linings of the pandemic into a purposeful program of meaningful change and better business outcomes.

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About the Author

Tony Steadman is a principal and EY’s global insurance workforce consulting leader. He leads the design and implementation support of work streams within functional transformation projects.

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