Insurers are rejecting the five day week and expect to continue with a hybrid approach to work as the country emerges from the pandemic.
This contradicts predictions from the Centre for Cities which expects the five-day office week to become the norm again within two years.
The think tank’s director of policy and research Paul Swinney, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money programme that over the long term, he was hopeful people would return to five days a week at the office.
And Jessica Bowles, director of strategy at commercial property developer Bruntwood, told the BBC that most firms want a five-day office.
But it does not appear insurers will be following this trend.
Zurich UK chief operating officer John Keppel told Health & Protection that in future he expects the firm will continue with a hybrid approach – blending office and home working to meet the needs of customers, the business and employees.
“We anticipate a number of people will use the offices again when it’s appropriate and in line with government guidance,” he said.
“We are currently finalising our approach and policy for the return to the office, but this will take into account government guidance, health and safety best practice and consultation with our employees.”
Keppel added that the insurer has historically operated as a flexible working business, with three quarters of its 4,500 plus staff already working from home and at various sites for at least part of their working week even before the pandemic hit.
“Work is not a physical place for us and we don’t have set rules about where people work. It’s about fulfilling your role, staying motivated and happy in your job while ensuring we’re able to properly support our customers,” Keppel added.
‘Employees want a blended approach’
Dan Crook, protection sales director at Canada Life, told Health & Protection the insurer invested heavily to increase its digital capacity to ensure the vast majority of employees could work at home at the start of the pandemic.
And Crook added that the firm’s own regular polling has shown most employees are not looking for a return to a five-day week and actually prefer a blended approach to working.
“This has presented us with an opportunity to reimagine how we work and think about how we utilise our office space to foster collaboration, social interaction and enable more flexible working.”
But homeworking has not meant that the firm has let its offices go to seed as Canada Life recently completed a major redesign and upgrade of its Potters Bar office ahead of staff returning in greater numbers. Similar upgrades are planned for other offices.
“Our teams is keen and eager to meet once restrictions lift and will take ownership for their working days, whether that be at home, in the physical office, or a mix of both, depending on business need,” Crook continued.
“We are mindful that a return to the office full-time won’t be for all, balancing that with the need to accommodate colleagues who for many reasons might prefer to return to a physical office full time.
“But it is clear that for Canada Life a blended approach to the working week is here to stay.”
‘Positive impact on working culture’
And this approach is also being adopted by smaller mutual insurers as well.
Lorraine Donald, head of operations at British Friendly, told Health & Protection that while the insurer expects to see a gradual return to the office for more employees, it does not anticipate a return to a five-day office week for all staff.
Donald said this was due to a combination of office capacity, location of employees and the positive impact of flexible working on productivity and work-life balance.
“Hopefully, we will see other businesses adopt a similar approach towards hybrid working which will ultimately have a very positive impact on the working culture in the UK,” she added.
Isobel Langton, CEO at The Exeter, echoed this and told Health & Protection the insurer is currently consulting staff to determine its future working practices.
Langton added that while the firm would take into account operational needs of the business, it is considering a permanent move to flexible, blended working.
“Where possible, we would like to give our employees the flexibility to create a way of working that suits them on an individual level, be that at home or in the office,” she said.
“We feel this would be extremely positive in terms of their overall work-life balance, therefore allowing them to be fully focused on our customers when they are at work.
“We are excited about our future working model and think that by working closely with all our employees together we can build on The Exeter’s existing culture to create an even more vibrant, innovative place to work.”
Developing practices for staff and business
A spokesperson for Holloway Friendly told Health & Protection the insurer operates an agile policy which focuses on colleagues and managers working together to decide upon the optimum days and times for home working and working in the office.
The spokesperson added the insurer engages regularly with staff and has learned some want the flexibility to work from home, while others miss the social interaction of the office and want to return full time.
“We always try to balance colleagues’ wishes with business need, which involves listening and engaging with colleagues – ultimately the business makes the decisions about working patterns though, to ensure successful delivery of our strategy but we aim to find a win-win solution for everyone,” the spokesperson said.
“Communication, transparency and trust are key in making an agile-hybrid approach work.”
Ian Talbot, general manager Healix Health Services, told Health & Protection the healthcare and risk management solutions provider is planning a staged return to the office for its workers which will be kept under review to develop a solution which works for the business and employees.
“We are mindful of the varying expectations from our employees about the workplace and what it means for them,” he said.
“We understand that some employees benefit from the support network and social aspect of being in an office, which is why we are planning for employees to be back in the office, rather than everyone working remotely.
“We believe that this flexible approach will deliver a more productive, engaged and happier team, as well as allow us to deliver a more rounded and flexible service to our clients.”
A spokesperson for Aviva told Health & Protection that while the insurer will be driven by government data and guidance, it plans to move to hybrid working.
“We also need to be mindful of potential unintended consequences that businesses might be creating. We need to be looking round corners, thinking now about potential pitfalls, and putting plans in place to avoid them. If, for example, carers and in particular female carers opt to work away from the office more than their male colleagues, could this have an impact on female promotion rates because of visibility? How do we support our colleagues and their leaders to prevent that from happening? Having frameworks and guidance that remove bias will help prevent issues and tracking the data is vital so that if a problem starts to emerge we can see it early and address it.”
Kim McClatchie, head of HR at William Russell, told Health & Protection the insurer is in the throes of consulting with staff.
“We are preparing to ask all employees to return to work on the same basis, so there is an initial sense of fairness, with everyone working in the office for a minimum number of days each week, but allowing those who wish to work more to do so. The hybrid model will be reviewed after a period of time, and adjustments will start to be made as we understand the benefits and impact on different roles and departments.”
McClatchie adds the firm is also running a Covid-based risk assessment.
“This will ensure we have clear MI by department so that targets and KPIs can be measured; determining when communication is most effective on a face to face basis versus via Teams or Zoom, so determining who needs to be in the office and when for which meetings or workshops. The challenges involve planning who can return and when, to ensure social distancing is possible, and enticing people back to the office – readjusting everyone to the future norm.”