Working from home has had a unique impact on all industries - not least the insurtech sector. But is it time to get back to the office?
When the 2020 global directive to ‘work from home’ was issued in the spring of 2020, many industries struggled with the concept. Most sectors require a minimum number of staff members on the ground to operate efficiently. Some even need all hands on deck, regardless of a pandemic.
In industries that affect supply chains, the location-based staff makes up the majority of the workforce. While those in administrational roles could happily swap the corporate office for the home one, entire fleets of drivers, for example, and warehouse operators, were deemed essential workers and stuck to their posts.
However, in an environment like insurance, the requirements aren’t quite so hard and fast. And for companies like insurtechs that have been built with digital transformation in mind, the work from home directive has been an interesting test ground for studies on worker productivity in the home environment.
Productivity and working from home
For example, a recent McKinsey Global Institute analysis on the long term effects on productivity from remote work found that well educated, highly skilled staff in the insurance industry (and a handful of other sectors as well) were able to work just as productively - if not more so when they spent three or more days in their home offices per week.
McKinsey’s data took into account more than 2,000 activities across 800 sectors and discovered that insurtech and fintech respectively, scored exceptionally well in terms of minimal loss of productivity.
However, working from home isn’t just about productivity levels. Employee satisfaction has also been affected by the change, with many workers citing a strong preference for the home office environment, saying it provides a better work-life balance. Recently, a survey by the industry giant Accenture, revealed that 25% of insurtech employees would opt to work from home full time if it was offered.
But, a conclusive 72% said they would prefer a hybrid working environment, with two days a week or less in the office, which would allow them to connect with their colleagues personally but would also provide them with a better work-life balance. Tellingly, just 6% of those surveyed said they were keen to go back to the office full time.
Onboarding and a growing team
Another challenging aspect for the insurtech space is the onboarding process that has by necessity, taken place from a distance. Most successful companies in the space are hiring at a rate of knots to cover the demand for their services, products, and expansion plans as the insurtech growth spurt continues its upward trajectory.
This, says Helen Hodges, Chief of Staff and Operations at the London-based Insurtech Urban Jungle, has been one of the trickiest areas to navigate. “What we have found overall is that onboarding to our rapidly growing team has been more challenging remotely and sharing fast feedback and coaching opportunities has been limited by being remote.
“We believe that being office-centric supports our value of ‘keep getting better, by learning fast from each other in real-time feedback.”
Urban Jungle’s decision to remain an office-centric company, despite data suggesting most workers would prefer a hybrid solution, is not a decision based on the insurtech’s operation abilities. Rather, the company made the call because they believe their teams can be more creative and decisive when physically present in the office
She explains, “Urban Jungle’s operating model has always been deliberately different to traditional insurers; we're 100% paper-free and have built our business operations and customer-facing business online, so, in many ways, we weren't operationally impacted from shifting where our desks were located.
“From a product perspective, we have continued to make our products better based on customer feedback in exactly the same way we would have done if we were all in the office.
However, the cultural shift caused by working remotely is not something the insurtech will continue with long term.
Hodges says, “What is different for us is the impact that working remotely and latterly in a hybrid mode has had on culture and how we work together. We value being transparent and by doing that we make a lot of business decisions (which can be made) in an open office environment.
“During the time we were working from home we trialed a lot of different techniques to allow this to continue. For example, open 1:1 meetings with the CEO and the senior leadership team which anyone could join and listen to the decisions being made.”
Is remote working sustainable long term?
Probably not, say Jeana Muñoz, MD of Insurance consulting, and Jim Bramblet, MD Insurance Lead, North America, for Accenture, co-authors of the recent study. They believe their findings reflect the general opinion that although insurtechs can function remotely, and effectively, it’s not a sustainable solution long-term.
Bramblet and Muñoz write, “Participants agreed that they are able to work remotely now, but they questioned whether they are positioned to work well remotely. Further, although productivity and/or efficiency seem to be increasing in the new environment, emerging human capital trends indicate these gains may be coming at a cost.”
They conclude, “If you asked us today if remote work is sustainable, we would have to say, “No.” Now is not the time to be complacent. Insurers wanting to boost workforce morale and build a competitive advantage to ensure future success have work to do.”
Steve Rafferty, Country Manager, UK & Ireland at RingCentral, believes the hybrid working environment is here to stay because insurance companies have embraced a new and adaptive approach to work. “When I've spoken with our customers in the insurance industry, such as The Ardonagh Group, for example, it's clear that they have managed to navigate the challenges of remote working to the extent that they are fully operational for both employees and clients.
He says intelligent communication and workflow tools can power seamless and effective collaboration experiences across businesses. With the right tools, workforces no longer need to exist in one place.
Digital cloud-based communication systems unify remote and onsite teams and employees, wherever they’re based recent research around insurance agencies, for example, found that nearly two-thirds of agency employees would like a mix of at-home and office working going forward.
“It’s not really that surprising when you consider how the insurance industry has adapted and the technology innovations that are currently available which enable a hybrid approach to work and maintain human connections,” Rafferty says.
“For the companies in the insurance sector that have invested in and embraced these tools, they have future-proofed their business and made sure that they are ready to welcome the workplace of tomorrow. Their hard work over the last two years will not be undone and could improve their competitive edge.”
A matter of preference?
Ultimately, the decision comes down to cultural preference as individual companies take the plunge into a new and hybrid work environment, or get back to work full time. However, 2022 will be an interesting testing ground as the mandated work-from-home directive becomes a preferential one for the insurtech space.
Hodges says, “Whilst it's been possible to continue working in a remote and latterly hybrid model at Urban Jungle, we plan to get the team back in the office as soon and as safely as we can. We know that people can work efficiently and effectively in different places, and have always had a ‘grown-up’ approach to flexible working.”
She adds, “We look for impact and outcomes and think that we work best as a company in office due to: it helps everyone learn fast, decisions can be made quickly, it helps us be transparent in our decision making and last of all we’re all sociable and we have fun together while doing it.”
Insurtech WFH challenges
- Lack of connection with the customer: Companies that operate best through having a strong interpersonal customer relationship have found WFH more challenging in terms of explaining new products and services.
- Suffering sales: Some sales teams have stated that because insurance is an intangible product, it needs a human face. This has been limited during the pandemic and then has been reflected in falling sales.
- Data protection difficulties: The more staff that work remotely, the greater the chance of a data breach, simply because more devices are being connected to the company networks. This has proven challenging for many insurance companies.
Insurtech WFH benefits
- Broader spectrum of recruitment: While onboarding has its challenges, the opportunities to employ people remotely from globe-wide locations provide companies with better hiring capabilities.
- Better productivity: Most studies carried out have shown that employee productivity levels increased when they worked remotely and that the WFH environment did not impact business success or growth.
- Happier staff: Employees that are more content have a longer shelf life with a company, learning and growing with it. Flexibility in terms of working locations has =