• Laura Hay, Leadership |

Insurance CEOs have put off their plans to fully reopen the office until sometime next year. When they do open, they say their offices will look significantly different than they did in the past. Here’s what we can look forward to as the insurance sector tries to ‘return to normal’.

If you were hoping to get back into the old office routine sometime this year, you will likely be disappointed. Based on a very recent survey of insurance CEOs from around the world1 , it seems less than a third of insurance execs expect their companies to return to ‘normal course of business’ in 2021. The more frequent prediction is sometime in 2022.

What are they waiting for? Our survey suggests they are watching two key indicators: lockdowns and vaccine rollouts. Sixty percent of the CEOs we surveyed said they are waiting until governments in key markets start lifting restrictions. An equal number said they want to see vaccine adoption rates of at least 50 percent in key markets before they consider reopening.

In other words, expect the current virtual culture and work environment to continue for at least 9 more months. And since vaccine rollouts and government restrictions are highly localized, don’t expect to see any global ‘back to work’ dates being set just yet. Taking a local approach within the context of a global organization and ecosystem will likely be the big challenge.

Where have you been?

Once you do get the green light to return to the office, expect things to be different.

For one, people may want to know that you have been vaccinated and that you are clear to return to work. In fact, only one of the more than 50 CEOs that responded to our survey said they would not ask their employees about their vaccination status. One-third said they would quiz their customer and visitors on their vaccination status as well. The more recent discussion, which is an emotional and polarizing debate in some markets, is the use of vaccine passports to offer proof of vaccination.

Travel will also likely remain restricted for some time. In our survey, 34 percent of insurance CEOs said they would only allow employees to travel to countries with low COVID-19 infection rates. Eighteen percent said they would discourage all travel until the pandemic is officially over. Even once you are back in the office, it seems video-based calls will remain the norm.

I believe that keeping employees safe will continue to be a key consideration for CEOs, even if it means continuing to restrict activities or having to ask difficult questions.

Both here and there

The culture will also be very different. Digital communication tools will continue to be the norm: three-quarters of the insurance CEOs in our survey said they will continue to build on their use of digital collaboration and communication tools; an equal number said they will continue to shift customer queries and engagement efforts onto virtual platforms.

That should enable employees to spend more time working remotely – something that 40 percent of CEOs said they would encourage (at least for 2 to 3 days a week). A third of our respondents also said they would be increasing HR resources to go towards employee wellbeing and mental health in the future.

I suspect that ensuring that virtual workers are properly integrated into the organizational culture, operations and workflows will continue to be a challenge for many insurance CEOs going forward. However, the flexibility that this affords could have a positive and long-lasting impact on diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, which we have seen is an increasingly important priority for many CEOs.

Taking it personally

To that end, expect to see insurance CEOs try a range of different approaches to sustaining the corporate culture into the ‘new normal’. Most say they have already increased employee communication. More than a quarter point to new virtual collaboration tools.

Many clearly recognize their own role – and that of their executive teams and management – in driving culture. Forty-four percent said they are increasing the visibility of leadership with employees; around a quarter said they are showing how leadership embodies the corporate values and lives the purpose.

It is certainly a good sign that insurance CEOs feel personally responsible for driving their corporate culture, values and purpose. Encouraging the same ownership over the culture further down the management hierarchy may be more challenging.

Start planning your route

So what will the return to normal look like for the insurance sector? It will be gradual and thoughtful; the ‘re-entry’ process will be sensitive and will require personalization; the culture will be very different – in many ways, for the better; leadership will be more visible (virtually, at least) and more passionate.

Based on our data, most insurance executives still have a few months left to plan for the eventual return to the office. That is a good thing. There is lots to do to prepare your people, processes and stakeholders in the meantime.

Download this infographic for the full insurance insight KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse survey (PDF 55.8 KB).