Is hybrid working the best of both worlds?

The working environment and working habits have changed irrevocably in the last five years, with many companies having to completely rethink their employee strategies – first out of necessity and then out of choice.

The shift towards hybrid working is perhaps the most significant change to workplace culture in the past 50 years and in many cases it’s fair to say both the employer and employee and are still trying to find the right equilibrium.

Certainly this flexible approach brings opportunities to both, but it is not without challenges, particularly in an industry such as insurance claims, where communication and customer service go hand in hand.

How the sector is adapting and what more needs to be done was the topic of an insightful panel debate at ILC’s recent Next Gen event, which took place at etc.venues Manchester on 26 April, with the support of headline sponsor Wiser Academy and sponsors Carpenters Group, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Zurich.

“Attrition is a key challenge of hybrid working,” said Andy Cain, Head of Claims, Customer Operations, Saga, who was joined on stage by Sharna Thomson, Head of Customer, UK Claims, Zurich, Rob Chilcott, Learning & Development Manager, Claims Consortium Group, and Anne Pass, Head of People & HR, S&G Response.

“Different cohorts have different attrition rates but during the pandemic we definitely saw a higher percentage of attrition among new starters. We’re now focusing on our onboarding process so we can better connect with those employers. Face-to-face is one option because that human connection is so critical, but we’re still exploring virtual onboarding so we can expand recruitment across the UK and not be restricted to local talent.”


Access to a much wider talent pool is a key advantage of remote working and Zurich has already felt the benefits.

Sharna explained, “For us it’s still very much about maintaining the relationship in the office, but flexibility matters and from a Diversity and Inclusion perspective hybrid working allows you to open doors to individuals who might not have applied for roles.

“Only 12% of jobs advertised now are offering flexible working, but at Zurich 100% of our jobs are advertised on a flexible basis and we’ve seen a 95% increase in female part-time workers off the back of that.”


However, there are downsides: remote working rarely suits apprenticeships, where on-the-job learning and mentorships are critical; engagement among the workforce can also drop off dramatically; and there remains a fear that a ‘traditional’ mindset can count against and hinder the career development of employees who are not visibly at their desks.

Furthermore, many remote workers who jumped at the work-from-home lifestyle initially are now feeling isolated and drifting back to the office – at least for part of the week.

Anne said, “We’ve noticed that the percentages between purely remote, hybrid and office working have started to change, with more people moving from 100% remote to hybrid.”

This though, is part of the challenge and employers are now expected to be adaptable to the different needs of their staff.

Rob said, “No one size fits all and flexibility is about opening all the doors and letting the individual walk through whichever one they want. It’s up to the company to support them through that. But in our industry we have leaders who have stuff to do, and when they’re not doing that stuff they lead. That needs to flip because if you’ve got a team of 10 people all 10 will need something different and require a slightly different skillset. Hybrid working can be the best of both worlds, but to get the most out of it team leaders need to adapt and realise that leadership isn’t something they do when they’re not doing their day job – it is their day job.”


But what of the customer? Can service really remain unaffected by a sporadic workforce? The simple answer is yes. In fact, applied correctly, technology can help companies deliver an even better service in certain key ways.

While many claims can be automated, the more difficult ones will always need a human voice on the other end of the line to support the customer in their time of stress. That puts the emphasis on soft skills, and remote working enables insurers to tap into a demographic that may naturally have more empathy – as Zurich has discovered to its benefit.

Sharna said, “Simple claims can be handled by tech, but complicated claims will always require the human touch and recently there has been a shift in how we recruit. We would always look for a technical skillset. But now you don’t necessarily need a background in insurance claims. If you have the right approach to consumers you can learn the technical side of the role.”

Soft skills

These soft skills are often the hidden ingredient to delighting the customer, but they are the most difficult to identify and develop.

Rob said, “Insurance is a compliant, process-driven industry with a huge amount of emotion. The national curriculum was written 60 years ago so you can’t expect people to come out of education with a higher level of emotional intelligence then previously. Often it’s just pot luck if the candidate has it or not, so we need to train it. But it is far more complex than training the technical side of the job.”

One area where progress is being made though is in speech analytics. By inviting behavioural psychologists to analyse claims calls, insurers can separate good and bad examples and identify specific areas where improvements can be made. Based on the results, company-wide training tips can be produced or one-to-one support offered to raise the overall level of service.

Research suggests that upwards of 80% of employees now favour hybrid working, while less than half of companies offer it. The gap is not insignificant, but presents a real opportunity for employers to gain a competitive advantage in a tough job market, while at the same time increasing engagement and, consequently, customer satisfaction.


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