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Why home working has to work for advisers too.

Why home working has to work for advisers too by Graham Newitt, Advisor to The Data Company

After a year of staying at home and working remotely as companies battle to maintain businesses through lockdowns it is easy to forget how quickly and effectively organisations have adapted.

Office for National Statistics figures* show that before COVID-19 just 1.7 million people – around 5% of the total UK workforce – worked from home. During the lockdowns that number has increased to more than 11.5 million people – around 36% of the UK workforce.

It has been a herculean effort with the protection market adapting rapidly to maintain services and implement new solutions. The industry can take pride in the successes but it’s fair to say the experience has been mixed.

Some staff have enjoyed the switch to home working and the benefits of no commuting and more time for themselves and their families. For others it has been tough as they cope with stress and their mental health takes the strain.

Some businesses have seen productivity and profitability hit and have been concerned about customer service suffering while others have worried about possible data breaches as systems are opened up. Teamwork and collaboration have become more difficult as people work on their own.

What will a return to the office mean? Will workers go back five days a week? If they don’t will that have an impact on salaries, bonuses, and promotions? If someone isn’t commuting, do they need to be paid as much? Flexibility might have a price.

Normality is likely to be different in the future as the industry looks for longer term solutions to the temporary fixes that have been in place for the past year. It is certain that systems and processes will need to change, and organisations need to think through the issues.

Working for everyone

Research for The Data Company across the protection market illustrates that different perspectives lead to different views.

Home working appears to have worked for insurers – just 12% believe it has been harder to resolve customer issues while working remotely and the vast majority (94%) say they have introduced new systems to make it easier to service customers.

It has not been as easy for advisers. Around 44% say it has been harder to resolve customer problems and 50% believe customer service has suffered. Just over a fifth (22%) of advisers believe new services have enhanced customer satisfaction while 62.5% of insurers are confident new services have boosted customer satisfaction. Just over a quarter of advisers (28%) believe staff at insurers have access to the systems and tools required for successful home working while 56% of insurers are confident, they do.

There is common ground that innovation is happening – 72% of advisers agree new systems have been made available to them and 69% of insurers say COVID-19 and home working has been good for innovation.

Bringing the future home

The common ground is a platform to build on. Insurers may now need to look at how a permanent home working model would operate. That would mean, for instance, looking at how to support claims handlers who might be working from laptops on their kitchen table while dreaming about the days when they had a full-sized desk and two or even three screens to view the multiple systems they use.

There is good will to build on – 83% of advisers in our survey said they have been lenient with insurers during the pandemic. But at the same time just a third (33%) say insurer mistakes have not increased.

The good will extends to staff to some extent. Many will have valued the commitment shown to them while enjoying new-found flexibility. They have embraced new technology such as Teams and Zoom and are finding it easier to send direct messages via digital than in face-to-face meetings.

People are now more able to access data and the hope is that the change will improve decision making and give people more of a sense that they have a meaningful stake in their business.

Home working and the flexibility it delivers can have business benefits, but it needs to be backed up by changes in systems and processes. Insurers have proved they can deliver home working while keeping the business running efficiently.

What could home working look like in future?

Many consumers now reach for a tablet ahead of a computer to browse, shop and bank.  Companies have developed apps to support the change in habits and re-purposed their systems to work successfully for customers on tablets.  Many field-based employees also now use tablets as part of their work, with flexible workflows to help them complete tasks.

The same technology should be available to staff in offices still trying to juggle across multiple systems to get their work done and would help employees if they are going to continue to work from home.

That has implications for the “workstation” of the future. New solutions need to be developed for employees who have limited space at home.  Rather than laptops and monitors, the future could be Holographic or other types of projectors linked to a small hub which would significantly reduce the desk space needed and provide a much more ergonomic working environment.

Companies have successfully focused on innovation throughout the pandemic and have the good will of advisers to build on. But advisers expect insurers to return to, or improve on, pre-pandemic levels of service as soon as possible. A flexible blend of home working and the office could deliver that.


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