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Life under lockdown - Board members working from home

Blog

Publication date:

22 July 2020

Last updated:

22 July 2020

Author(s):

Karl Parr, Claims Technical Services Director, AXA Insurance

Society of Claims Professionals' Board member Karl Parr shares his thoughts and experiences of working from home during the lockdown.

Nobody could have predicted how much the world would change in 2020, not even those of us who spend our working lives second guessing the future and the unknown. 

Our family, social and working lives are all dramatically different. COVID-19 has been devastating for so many people in so many ways. We all know people who have been affected, it might have been their own health or a loved one’s health or someone who may now be in financial difficulties on the back of the pandemic.  

Being an optimist, I try to look at some of the positives that have emerged from the pandemic which may be work-life changing. 

Personally, I’m enjoying starting the working day with a 5km run rather than embarking on my regular commute. And that working day is also playing out quite differently. 

We’ve all had to become comfortable and proficient with video conferencing overnight but while we might miss that personal contact, such is the quality of the technology available, we are able to stay much more connected with our teams than any of us thought possible. 

We’ve had to be creative in this, but our teams have come up with some great ideas to maintain social as well as professional contact such as online quizzes, scavenger hunts, guess the baby competitions and even AXA’s Got Talent. These and more have been so important in maintaining morale across the teams. 

Obviously, it’s not the same but under the circumstances, its actually pretty incredible that we have been able to make an almost seamless switch to remote working and maintaining that all-important social contact.    

But working from home can feel that you are ‘always on’ so I’ve had to be much more disciplined to block out time for thinking, planning and development as well as a regular 30mins (non-negotiable) slot for lunch and fresh air each day. 

Much has been said about the impact of the lockdown on mental health and we are incredibly lucky at AXA to have a well-established support programme in place. What we didn’t expect, was a reduction in general sickness levels, clearly due to less face to face contact as well as being able to work remotely and people not having to force themselves to leave home when they are not 100 percent. 

Within three weeks, AXA managed to get well over 90% of our people working from home, which is still amazing to me. But we did it. The lockdown enabled the biggest experiment in ‘working from home’ for frontline customer facing staff that our sector has ever known. To be honest, it would probably have never been signed off without lockdown due to the fear of the detrimental impact on our service to customers. But thankfully, this fear has not been realised. 

As with all things, there are a range of views from our people about working from home. Many love it, while some are craving to get back to the office and the social aspect that the office brings. It is paramount that our people are safe and healthy wherever they are working and this will drive our thinking as the gradual return to the office starts. One thing that is certain is that things will never be the same again as we return to a ‘new normal’. 

Rather than the extremes of everyone working in the office or everyone working from home, a hybrid will emerge to allow more flexibility in customer-facing roles as well as in back office and central support teams. 

This is not only the right thing to do for our teams. It’s right for the business. Being more flexible will allow us to be a preferred employer, attracting and retaining the best people and enticing people back who have been lost to the industry. There will need to be greater consideration around work/life balance, a desire to commute less and shaping working days around schooling for those with children. 

It is still relatively early days and the balance of independence and feeling part of something still needs to play out as does the impact on mental wellbeing. But what is certain is that we need to ensure that those who do work from home more, do so with reliable systems, safe environments and regular contact with their managers and leaders. Without these things it will not be sustainable. 

A lot of this has focused on our people but clearly, we need to think about what all this means for our customers. While we all know that engaged and happy employees provide better customer service, we need to understand what our customers want once we all emerge from the lockdown. 

The flexibility we will be providing to our people could be reciprocated for the benefit of customers. Utilising technology will create efficiencies and as a nation we have become more used to ‘online’ solutions and interactions so the reality of being served by those working from home should be more acceptable. A dog barking at a delivery person in the background can make discussions more natural rather than being frowned upon as unprofessional, which may have been the case previously. 

With responsibility for strategy and best practice amongst other things, I have ensured throughout lockdown that we keep reviewing changes and opportunities to enable us to continue to close claims fairly and help all our customers live better lives. And even as the lockdown ends, that process of adaptation will continue as we begin a new type of normal. 

And in that new normal, let’s hope the appreciation of key and front line workers continues, which as well as those in the NHS, social care, retail and transport, certainly includes our insurance claims staff.

This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.