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Far off and personal

by Matthew Shaw, Chief Underwriting Officer on

We’ve heard and talked a lot about the impact of Covid-19 on the London market. It’s been the headline in everyone’s half-year report, and the first question in every renewal conversation. It even put insurance on Radio 2, for all the wrong reasons and looks likely to be with us for some time to come. The insurance market however has reacted in a remarkable way and delivered an almost seamless client experience across all areas of our industry. Across the broking and carrier community I think it is a real testament to our industry. Indeed, the pandemic has realistically fast-tracked change that was needed at a pace and effectiveness none of us would have thought possible.

It is also a time for us to remember that whilst the Insurance industry and its people have been relatively unaffected there are a huge number of industries and people who have been materially affected and had their lives turned upside down.  Classes of business have been affected by Covid-19 in different ways – both directly and indirectly, some of which are due to economic impacts that may last beyond the pandemic itself. As you’ll hear in an upcoming series of blogs by TMK underwriters, the aviation market is going through the biggest shift in living memory. Intellectual Property is seeing the return of the patent trolls as manufacturers adapt to survive. The complexity of global supply chains has been brought to the fore. Cyber is seeing heightened demand in an age of unprecedented risk and reliance on technology. And yet, many unknowns remain.

Our work environments have of course changed in very many ways which were not part of the Future at Lloyd’s reform package. However, one reason for our incredible continuity is that most lockdown ways of working were already familiar. All we had to do was engage with them fully and have greater trust in their effectiveness.

For example, almost everyone had remote working systems in place. These tools efficiently link people, wherever they are, to virtual private networks, so their office-away-from-office can literally be anywhere with a secure internet connection.

Similarly, we all had some kind of remote meetings software available, but probably had to get an IT guru to set up our ‘videoconference’. (We all had conference calling facilities, too, a form of meeting that’s beginning to seem naive, like pagers and fax machines.) I heard someone from a major retailer say that they now feel closer to overseas suppliers, because they see them on calls, not just trips. But they didn’t need lockdown for that!

We all begun talking about ‘agile working’ two or three years ago, but we hadn’t really embraced the idea. Now, as we stare at the very enticing potential of abandoning a floor or two of high-priced EC3 office space, the idea that two thirds or even all of our employees could work from home two or three days a week looks very much more appealing. Agile working has gone from being a trendy management ploy to a real bottom-line advantage. And indeed, many of us see that there is the potential of a better work life balance.

Unfortunately, there are many things to consider in this new world we are facing. Many factors must be carefully weighed as we determine critical balances in the post-Covid, hybrid world. We’ve all heard that people working from home can make more effective use of the time previously wasted commuting (15 hours a week for me). True no doubt, but we must be careful that our new routines are sustainable.

Many of us now get up, make a cup of tea, and sit down at our screens before quarter past seven. We will still be there 12 hours later, five days a week (with maybe a little bit of work on Sunday, just to get ready). If that lasts for six months across the workforce, we can expect extreme fatigue, stress, and more serious ill-health issues to emerge. Working from home can have serious repercussions, as the boundaries between home and work are blurred almost out of existence. It is now very challenging to find a balance between work and home with these blurred boundaries.  

It can have great benefits too, of course. I am delighted to be able to have dinner with my kids most evenings, which before the pandemic almost never happened. But other people with children at home have found working there, say at the kitchen table, almost impossible. It is clear, the impact of homeworking varies dramatically between individuals.

One universal impact is the assumption that, like a telly, we’re always on. Ironically, working from home makes colleagues more accessible than ever. When in the office it if far easier to tell if people are busy and whether they can be or can’t be interrupted (you’re on the phone, you’re meeting with people). Now there is the assumption, pretty much from 7:00 to 7:00, that people are available. Similarly, those who did manage to find some holiday time this year may well have been continuously interrupted as, again, the boundaries were less clear to colleagues that you were “out of the office”

The alternative is to schedule a video meeting. What would be a casual ten-minutes quick question in the office (maybe when you bump into each other at the coffee station, or a stop at your desk while passing) becomes a 30-mintue e-calendar event. I am sure many diaries are like mine with these back to back for a dozen hours. It’s draining and time-consuming for all of us, but I am sure that as we become more familiar with this working environment we will adapt and find efficiencies.   

For our hybrid future to excel, we must understand that no single size will fit everything and everyone. Companies must be extremely aware of different peoples’ reactions to specific circumstances. Lockdown has been a nightmare for many people who live alone, when all their social interaction was at the office. But others have relished the extra time with family or friends. Some are busting to get back to the office. Some are genuinely frightened of public transport, and even the lift. We must be sensitive.

It’s clear that many myths about workplace culture have been broken by Covid-19. Minds have been changed. But it’s still a bit too early to know how the final post-Covid culture will look. Without doubt it will vary by company, perhaps dramatically. I would say only that we must be sympathetic to our employees as we go Back to the Future at Lloyd’s, and be present and personal, even when we’re distant.

I would also though like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their hard work and perseverance during these difficult and changing times. I am proud of TMK’s exemplary approach and delivery, and we will be here to support our clients through 2021.

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