The Evolution of Work: Our Post-Pandemic Return to the Office
Employees want flexibility, but insurance is a relationship business. As the world returns to a new normal, companies that don’t prioritize relationships will be at a competitive disadvantage.
- Tony Kuczinski
- September 2021
The world is opening back up and businesses are announcing plans for employees to return to the office. Some companies are resuming a traditional schedule of five days in the office, others are implementing hybrid solutions, and still very few others are shifting to a fully remote workforce. While I see headlines referring to this as a post-pandemic work revolution, I consider it the start of a new way of working evolution, one which will continue for years to come.
While the same unfortunately cannot be said for many small-business owners worldwide, many insurance industry leaders shared my experience during the pandemic: watching with pride as their workforce discovered innovative ways to operate in a virtual environment. With the right people and technology, we were able to conduct most aspects of the insurance and reinsurance processes—from sales and underwriting to claims handling and settlement—on a remote basis.
Companies were successful, thanks to the strong relationships that existed before the pandemic. The trust and mutual respect, built up over the years, played a role in our ability to adapt to remote work.
Nevertheless, insurance is a relationship business, and we have all felt a lack of human connection during the past year and a half. We had no choice during the pandemic, but as the world returns to a new normal, companies that don't prioritize relationships will be at a competitive disadvantage.
I'm referring not only to relationships with clients, which are at the heart of what we do, but also to face-to-face interaction with colleagues, managers and mentors. These co-worker relationships are key to developing talent in our industry, as early career professionals gain insight and expertise from more experienced colleagues, akin to an apprenticeship model.
Simply put, part of the learning comes from working with others. This is just one of the reasons a primarily remote workforce is likely not a successful long-term solution for our industry.
I've heard theories that companies want employees back in the office so they can be closely supervised. From my perspective, this is categorically untrue. I believe strong leaders support returning to the office not because they don't trust employees to work remotely, but rather because of the magic that happens when human beings interact—the collaboration, the education, the mentoring, the spontaneous discussions that lead to innovative solutions.
At the same time, we’ve learned a great deal since the beginning of the pandemic and two points have become clear: Employees want flexibility to manage their lives, and they are able to accomplish many tasks just as well while working remotely. In some cases, they can be even more effective out of the office, especially when tackling individual projects that require quiet and concentration.
What is the solution? Like many other companies, at Munich Re US P&C Cos., we are initiating a hybrid approach to meet our objective: to become even more successful by balancing employee flexibility with business needs. Each company must select the model that best supports its goals.
There will be challenges as we launch a hybrid workforce, some we have anticipated and others that will become apparent once businesses begin operating in this new way. We need to evaluate, reassess and adjust, while keeping our business objectives and customers top-of-mind. The evolution of the new way of working is just beginning.
Best’s Review contributor Tony Kuczinski is chief executive officer of Munich Re US P&C Cos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.