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Culture

The ‘How to’ of Hybrid Working

Young adult man is washing his hands while is having a work video call in the office

HR professionals agree that insurers need to take a nuanced approach to hybrid working – if they want to keep employees onside.

To read part one of this feature, click here.

A “people business” that has thrived in busy hubs like the City of London, the insurance industry has always emphasised face-to-face interaction. Although remote working was already taking hold in the wider economy before lockdown, old habits died hard at insurers and brokers. Even the uptick in digitisation across the industry did little to encourage a new way of working.

And then lockdown happened. Followed by the Big Resignation. Now, with workers proving reluctant to return to the office full time, insurers and brokers are having to reimagine their human resource priorities and their duty of care responsibilities.

Get it wrong and they face running out of their most important asset.

Many insurance employers are already introducing new, permanent hybrid working policies, with the aim that employees will continue splitting their working week between the office and home in a post-pandemic world, says Nick Elwell-Sutton, partner at law firm Clyde & Co.

“However, some businesses have adopted a concession-based approach, retaining flexibility to see how the new way of working pans out. This approach usually involves a flexible agile working policy enabling staff to work remotely but retaining the contractual right to revert to traditional office working if needed,” he says.

“Insurers need to start by deciding what position they want to take on hybrid/agile working, taking into account their business and working requirements, as well as staff morale, and recruitment and retention issues.

“There is no silver bullet — what works for one business won’t necessarily work for another — and there may even be different approaches taken across different parts of the same business.“

Susan Downey, head of HR at London-based broker Miller agrees that the best option will vary from business to business. When designing its own agile working model, Miller considered how to provide the best service to clients and create an engaging model for employees; which activities are best conducted in the office; what will make Miller most competitive to new talent?

With the landscape still changing and evolving, we have regular checkpoints to assess what is working in order to make any necessary changes
Susan Downey, head of HR at London-based broker Miller
Susan Downey.jpg

“Our resulting model, ‘Work Your Way’, allows our people to create the most effective working approach for their distinct requirements. We are generally focusing our office-based work on collaborative activities such as client and market interactions, team meetings, new joiners’ inductions, early career training and social interaction,” Downey says. “We have collaborated with employees at every step of the journey and continue to take on board their feedback. With the landscape still changing and evolving, we have regular checkpoints to assess what is working in order to make any necessary changes.”

One Size Won’t Fit All

Tilly Harries, barrister and HR support service leader at PwC UK, thinks that many employers will want to implement the same return to workplace policy for all staff to make sure there is consistency and to avoid having differences in treatment without clear reasons for why.

But it is important that where some employees are reluctant to come back to the office, employers should be willing to hold one-to-one discussions to properly understand their individual circumstances and concerns, she believes: “This will give employers the opportunity to identify what the reasons are behind some employees being reluctant to return to the workplace and enable them to consider whether there is a need to provide further reassurance or to make specific individual arrangements. Ensuring the accommodation of individual circumstances, where justified and practicable for the business, will also assist employers in mitigating their risk of employment claims.”

There is no one size-fits-all solution to hybrid working, according to Louise Musgrove, Chief People Officer at specialty carrier MS Amlin. 

“We do not mandate specific weekdays or number of days when people must be in the office. Our approach is to give leaders, teams and individuals greater freedom, accountability and responsibility to establish a working rhythm that allows them to do their jobs effectively, whilst accommodating role responsibilities, personal preferences and family commitments,” she says.

“We encourage our leaders to engage directly with their teams to discuss concerns either on a one-to-one level or in groups. This helps to give everyone a voice to talk through any challenges they face with returning to the office, so that we can find solutions together to resolve them.”

Clyde’s Elwell-Sutton says employers’ approaches might be influenced by the individual’s role, and whether there is a business need for them to return to the workplace at that stage, or whether they can continue with homeworking with a view to a more gradual return. “Of course the longer an individual remains working at home after a return to work is permitted, the more difficult it will be to ensure a successful return,” he says.

A Lloyd’s spokesperson told Insider Engage that the Corporation formally implemented its policy to fully embrace flexible working from September 2021 onwards: “The policy states that the office is where we’ll collectively be at our best to oversee and sponsor the market, innovate together and collaborate on our exciting change agendas. Our people will be in the office based on the needs of the business and our stakeholders.

“At Lloyd’s, we’re having open and honest conversations with our people about the time they want and need to spend in the office,” they added.

New Duty of Care Parameters

Employers still have a duty to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare, which includes their mental health, even when they are working from home. It means insurers need to make proper provision for staff who are working from home.

Health and safety risk assessments must be updated for homeworking generally, and any recommendations from those should be put in place (online risk assessments for individuals to complete at home or online training for homeworking, for example), Clyde’s Elwell-Sutton says: “Insurers should also remind staff that they have obligations to report any risks whilst working from home and that they should keep in regular contact with their manager.”

Insurers should also take steps to help with the mental health and wellbeing of staff, he advises, including promoting access to support services and making sure that employees know who to talk to internally if they are experiencing mental health difficulties.

MS Amlin’s Louise Musgrove says that, as with other aspects of hybrid working, a multifaceted approach using a variety of tools can provide a safe and effective working environment.

Our approach is to give leaders, teams and individuals greater freedom, accountability and responsibility to establish a working rhythm that allows them to do their jobs effectively.
Louise Musgrove, Chief People Officer at specialty carrier MS Amlin. 

“We have stepped-up our availability of materials to support hybrid working and to drive better connections. These range from the practical — how to become a WebEx ninja — to the emotional, such as the personality profiling tool Globesmart, which helps employees understand their work style and how their preferences impact their working relationships.”

MS Amlin launched an intranet wellbeing hub, with voluntary, trained Mental Health First Aiders to support employees, hosted a series of ‘Time to Talk’ sessions and launched a wellbeing newsletter to keep people connected.

“We support employees with purchasing equipment needed to make their home working environment safe and more comfortable, with people getting larger screens to avoid long hours staring at a laptop, adaptable chairs, desks and other peripherals. We regularly issue reminders and learning modules that reinforce the need to be cognisant of the risks of being at home,” Musgrove says.

Hurting from Home

PwC’s Tilly Harries points to recent study by the United Nations International Labour Organisation which found that working remotely can lead to higher levels of stress; research carried out by Bupa identified that 63% of home workers had reported aches, pains or injury. “We’re already starting to see an increase in complaints of repetitive strain injuries, back pain and eye strain caused by workstations that are substandard, and inadequate screen-rest. Mental health issues are also on the increase.

“Employers need to ensure that working from home doesn’t become ‘hurting from home’ by reviewing what training and guidance they make available to employees.”

Being well adapted to the new world of working from home will be an important differentiator in the battle for talent being fought across the market, according to Miller’s Susan Downey.

“We are increasingly seeing working arrangements at the forefront of candidates’ minds, with many asking about our approach to agile working in the interview process. Many individuals will now expect flexibility in the way they can work, so a full-time office environment is unlikely to be attractive to many candidates.

“More broadly, the changes to the working environment are positive in terms of talent acquisition in the industry as it is no longer necessary to focus on narrow geographic areas to attract talent. A flexible location approach greatly opens [up] our pool of talented individuals.”

*See part one of this two-part article, Get Ready For the New Work Order

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