COVID-19 Forced Workers to Adapt to New Modes of Working
The unavoidable changes wrought by the pandemic meant many employees were pushed out of their comfort zone.
- Tony Kuczinski
- March 2021
The emotional and economic effects of the pandemic have led to wide-scale and severe disruption over the past 12 months, and the disruption likely will continue for some time. It may be years before we fully comprehend the far-reaching impact of the pandemic. But for leaders, especially in the insurance industry, I see an important lesson already emerging: the human ability to adapt.
Change is difficult in all aspects of life, both personally and professionally. We often have to coax ourselves into embracing change. Bestselling posters and refrigerator magnets are filled with colorful colloquialisms meant to shore up our resolve: “The only constant in life is change,” “If you can't change your mind, you can't change anything” or “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
At work, there are also expressions to explain our resistance to change. Given the nature of the insurance business, the reluctance to jump into something new can be especially strong. I've often heard: “You can't turn an organization on a dime.” For years we have been hiring consultants, reading books and attending seminars on change management so we can best guide our teams through the inevitable up and down cycles.
No matter what difficult experiences an individual leader has faced—mergers, acquisitions, 9/11, economic crises—nothing prepared managers for the multitude of significant changes forced by the pandemic.
As I reflect on the past year, one thing has struck me almost every single day: how the survival instinct kicked in the same way it does during an emergency.
From the beginning, when we contemplated the initial momentous shift to working virtually, people knew they had to act differently than they had in the past. An understanding permeated all discussions. There wasn't time for long debates. We couldn't afford our customary resistance to change.
I saw those employees who normally stayed quiet on the sidelines begin to take a new approach—they raised their hands to offer potential solutions. People who customarily required multiple meetings and long deliberations before coming to a decision were suddenly, easily making adjustments on the fly. Those who rarely ventured away from the tried and true stepped up and said, “I have this crazy idea.”
In short, we were able to keep our businesses going with only a few wrinkles because our people rose to the occasion and found ways to work through the situation. We were able to conduct almost all aspects of the insurance and reinsurance processes—from sales to underwriting, to engineering and inspection, to claims handling and settlement—largely on a remote basis.
I suspect every leader had an experience similar to mine: watching with pride as their workforce adapted to levels no one would have expected.
Adaptation went beyond merely getting the work done, and sometimes led to professional growth. For example, colleagues who thought they lacked the requisite skills to be effective managers of remote teams and found they could lead groups of people based in different locations—and do a good job.
After some practice, those who disliked being on camera during virtual meetings realized they could successfully communicate and collaborate via video. The lesson isn't about embracing technology—it is about believing in our own abilities.
The pandemic forced us to stretch ourselves beyond what was comfortable to see new possibilities for our work, our organizations and our lives.
Whatever the next 12 months bring, and whatever the new normal looks like, that is the lesson that will carry us through.