After more than 17 months of working from home due to COVID-19 safety concerns, many carriers and InsurTechs are planning a collective return to the office.
The pandemic isn’t over yet, of course, and with the Delta variant at play, infections among unvaccinated people are surging again in regions with formerly improving numbers. That means office returns are being carefully planned, with a goal of normalcy for vaccinated employees and others that also takes into account staff members not ready to work just yet in closed, indoor environments. In many cases, variations of hybrid office environments will become commonplace for the foreseeable future.
“We continue to have people working from hotels, backyards and boats, but also in the office,” said Tom Kuhn, director of communications for the InsurTech Root.
Here are highlights of some of those plans.
Nationwide returned to the office in June with a hybrid model that allows no more than 50 percent of the company’s 25,000 employees in its buildings at one time.
Beyond that, social distancing requirements continue to ensure employee safety. Masking rules have also been updated based on vaccination data, according to Jarrett Dunbar, the insurer’s director-public relations.
“After asking employees to voluntarily provide their vaccination status and learning that vaccination rates for employees working in our main campuses exceed those of state vaccination percentages, we updated our mask policy to align with state and local direction as well as current CDC guidance for vaccinated individuals,” Dunbar said. “Our new mask policy allows vaccinated employees the option to wearing a mask while requiring unvaccinated employees to continue wearing a mask.”
Dunbar said Nationwide continues to monitor pandemic data daily, considering how fluid the situation is, with the idea of pivoting as needed.
“Importantly, we are also committed to equipping our associates with education about the virus (through communications and broadcasts with local health experts and online resources),” Dunbar said.
Chubb, which employs 31,000 people globally, is already pursuing a phased return to the office. The company released a statement to Carrier Management noting that return-to-office operations in the United States began on Monday, May 24, with employees “currently following a ‘best of both words’ hybrid schedule of three days in the office and two days working remotely.”
In terms of the company’s global operations, Chubb noted that most of its offices “in other regions of the world are currently open based on local official health and safety guidelines.”
“We don’t plan to return fully until the end of 2021,” said Tim Attia, CEO of Slice Labs, which sells on-demand insurance and helps carriers offer the same via its Insurance Cloud Services Platform.
The largest group affected is Slice’s research and development team of 56, which is based in Ottawa, Canada. He said the team probably won’t be fully back in the office until early 2022 because he “can’t afford an outbreak” with them. That said, there has been more office activity in recent weeks.
Attia recently spent some time at the office, “and it was the busiest it has ever been.” He visited his company’s New York City office earlier in July. Slice’s operations in the UK haven’t been accessible “in any practical way” thus far, Attia added, though the UK recently relaxed most COVID restrictions.
Reuters recently reported that AIG, one of the largest U.S. insurers, has chosen Sept. 14 as its global return-to-office date.
The report, based on an employee memo from AIG CEO Peter Zaffino, pointed out that local regulations will still guide how employees return to the office. This covers things such as mask use, social distancing and office capacity while vaccination progresses, but global conditions vary.
In the U.S., AIG has already completed a soft opening of its new New York City midtown Manhattan headquarters, with employees working there a few days a week, the report noted. Zaffino also said that safety measures will continue for colleagues not fully vaccinated, according to the Reuters story.
As of early July, USAA and its 36,000-plus global employees now have a number of work options, according to company spokesperson Lara Hendrickson, who pointed out employee safety continues to be a top priority.
“Our employees have been given three ways to work depending on their role: solely in a USAA office, fully remote, or in a hybrid model working some days from the office and others remotely,” Hendrickson said. “We continue to closely monitor medical and community conditions, and as we’ve done throughout the pandemic, if conditions worsen, we will make necessary adjustments to help keep employees safe.”
For Italian insurer Generali, discussions are ongoing about what will ultimately be an organized hybrid model, Philippe Donnet recently told the Belgian think tank Bruegel.
A Generali spokesperson said that negotiations with unions to find the right specific model are underway, and he noted that hybrid working was already part of the Generali 2021 plan before the pandemic. As well, the company is reviewing operations across all of its business units, which include 50 countries, 72,000 employees and operations in the United States.
Root Insurance is looking at its post-COVID return-to-the-office plans as “an incredible opportunity to prepare for the future of work,” according to Kuhn.
The Ohio-based auto insurance InsurTech employs more than 1,000 people, and Kuhn observed that the company through the pandemic has “learned an incredible amount” about how the company works best. The goal now is helping boost flexibility in order to strengthen the company culture, enhance “employee wellbeing” and maximize the use of technologies.
Translated, this means Root is setting up a hybrid model. Working from other locations is still allowed, but as of July 20, employees can voluntarily return to Root’s Columbus office if they wish.
“There is an underlying desire among many of our employees to have somewhere they can reconnect with their teams safely and productively,” Kuhn said. “Our existing office space has been transformed to allow for that when it is needed while also making room for those who continue to work best from elsewhere to be a visible and valued member of every team.”
Kuhn added that the flexibility of Root’s hybrid model will allow it and employees “to quickly transition to adapt to any changes.”
The Hanover Insurance Group
Massachusetts-based Hanover said it is using the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine how it works and does business, and that is affecting its office operational plans, according to spokesperson Emily Trevallion.
“We continue to leverage the experience of the past 17 months or so and gather input from employees as we reimagine the future of our business and our workplace,” she said. “Our objectives are to advance our business model in ways that will enable us to deliver the product and services our agents and customers expect and deserve, and to create a safe, flexible, engaging and fulfilling environment for our employees, allowing them to build successful careers and live balanced, personally and professionally rewarding lives.”
In terms of the pandemic, however, this remains an ongoing effort.
“We continue to have essential and complementary staff in our offices, and our offices are open and available to those who want to access them,” she said. “We do not yet have a specific date for when employees will return to the office in large numbers. We continue to communicate often and openly with our employees on this subject and will continue to do so as we advance our reimagine work initiative.”
Liberty Mutual employs more than 45,000 people globally, but the company isn’t yet announcing any wide-scale return-to-office plans.
For now, the insurer is continuing with a remote-work model.
A spokesperson told Carrier Management that “the majority of U.S. employees will continue to work from home through the summer.”
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