- Where Insurance & Technology Meet

Work-From-Home: Infecting People and Organizations in Insurance

By Stephen Applebaum, Insurance Solutions Group

The world is entering month eight of the pandemic and the complete disruption of the personal and business lives of virtually every one of us. While the timing and response to COVID-19 may have varied by country, region and city, nobody is unaffected. And the timeline for a return to anything resembling pre-COVID-19 life remains elusive and unclear. But while we continue to live and work in a state that feels like some surreal form of suspended animation, there is still much we could and should be doing about conducting the business of insurance and the enormous number of people it employs, supports and protects.

Personal and Organizational Growth

Whether we realize it or not, Work-From-Home (WFH) is dramatically stunting our growth, both personally and organizationally. And even when the pandemic ends, it is now widely anticipated that a majority of workers, will be offered, and most will eagerly accept, the option of continuing to work from home permanently or partially.

Though working from home may seem to make life somewhat easier initially, it can become detrimental to employees’ mental health; people are basically social creatures and working from home can make employees feel disconnected and cause anxiety. An Accenture survey of insurance industry Chief Human Resource Officers conducted in June 2020 reveals that while 80% agreed that workforce engagement and productivity is high, the combination of global pandemic and Work-From-Home may be taking a toll on workers’ mental health; 55% noted that employees were reporting an increased amount of anxiety and depression, and 73% said employees are feeling a greater degree of pressure due to the pandemic.

Furthermore, social interaction and interpersonal communications enable learning of all kinds; the value of teamwork, leadership styles, job skills, work styles, the art of communication, friendships, diversity and a sense of mutual purpose. WFH impedes organizations from developing and instilling their company culture which is fostered, in large part, by employees coming together and engaging in team-building activities and company-wide meetings—so having disjointed teams makes this harder to accomplish. And when employees can clearly identify with a company’s values, they’re more likely to engage with their work

We need to become more aware of these impediments to personal growth and develop strategies and procedures to replicate some of this personal growth and development. Employees highly value the flexibility of remote work, and the success of fully distributed companies has proven that the model can work. Setting explicit expectations, conducting consistent and scheduled check-ins, promoting “show and tell” virtual sessions within work groups or even company-wide, add a personal touch. Effective team building exercises, even “small talk” can help create personal connections, build empathy, and strengthen working relationships. The organizational chart will need to be redesigned and become more agile.

Partnerships, Alliances and Acquisitions

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, the Insurance industry was undergoing rapid transformational change in the ways in which it viewed and conducted its products and its business. This included reinvention of all business processes to lower costs and increase agility, embracing and adopting emerging technologies and rewriting its strategic thinking about everything from product development to distribution and, most importantly, its new found fierce focus on customer experience and service excellence.

This transformation was being accomplished through a variety of means, both internal and external. Internal organic transformation resulted from corporate reorganization including the formation of new officer level business units responsible for Innovation and Data Science, the adoption of formal Change Management programs

Externally, insurers sought out start-ups and early stage entrepreneurial companies that could help them not only solve specific operational challenges but also accelerate innovation by stimulating, challenging and motivating legacy thinkers within the company to become more agile and act in new and different ways. Many top tier carriers funded Corporate Venture Capital units whose mandate included the identification and growth of startups whose people, technologies and solutions could benefit and accelerate insurance transformation across their own and other insurance enterprises.

However, effective identification of and engagement with start-ups and entrepreneurs is more of an art than a science. Attendance at industry conference such as Insurtech Connect, Insurance Nexus, Dig-In and others provided the best environment for this process. Inviting startups to corporate headquarters to present their solutions and vision to a diverse insurance company executive audience also helped broaden an insurers’ thinking in the ‘art of the possible”.  But in the age of COVID-19, these opportunities are limited to what can be accomplished virtually, which may be effective for delivering information but provide little in the way of developing personal relationships. The industry has already lost eight months of this valuable activity and will likely lose many more. A lost year of innovation and transformation and the momentum that had been building over the prior decade will be costly to the insurance industry. Non-insurance competitors such as Amazon, Google, Tesla, Comcast, General Motors and many others are not standing still and neither should insurers. Creative new approaches to reignite corporate development, innovation and transformation need to be found and implemented now.

A companion article, “Insurance Technology, Investment & Innovation under COVID-19: A Tale of Two Realities,” was published on Aug. 26.

About the Author

Stephen E. Applebaum, Managing Partner, Insurance Solutions Group, is a subject matter expert and thought leader providing consulting, advisory, research and strategic M&A services to participants across the entire North American property/casualty insurance ecosystem focused on insurance information technology, claims, innovation, disruption, supply chain, vendor and performance management. Mr. Applebaum is also a Senior Advisor to Waller Helms Advisors.  WHA is the premier investment banking boutique focused on the crossroads of the Insurance, Healthcare and Investment Services sectors.

Stephen is a frequent chairman, guest speaker and panelist at insurance industry conferences and contributor to major insurance industry publications and has a passion for coaching, mentoring, business process innovation and constructive transformation, applying disruptive technology, and managing organizational change in the North American property/casualty insurance industry and trading partner communities. He can be reached at [email protected].