COVID-19 has permanently changed re/insurers’ workplaces and workforces, and the firms that thrive in the future will be the ones who draw on the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic to embrace new, hybridised ways of working. That is the view of Sameer Dewan, global business leader for insurance at professional services firm Genpact.
“We now have a digital workforce, enabled by technology and able to work from anywhere, at almost any time,” he says.
“There are new ways of collaborating: instead of 10 people sitting in a room we can have people working from 10 different locations. Digital transformation has accelerated; organisations have gone from planning to make changes over five or 10 years, to doing it in 12 months. Organisations do not have the patience or the luxury to wait for results over longer periods.”
Dewan has been particularly impressed by how insurers have accelerated their adoption of technology to meet the demands of working during the pandemic.
“The insurance industry had been a laggard from a digital perspective. It was picking up pre-COVID, but in the last 12 months, the amount of engagement, the conversations and the projects that have kicked off, and how well technology has been adopted by the carriers, are just phenomenal,” he says.
There are plenty of positives about these developments, but re/insurers will face some challenges as offices start to reopen.
“The first priority will be making sure that the health and safety protocols are in place, and that they can provide a safe infrastructure for people to come back to,” says Dewan. “It’s important to establish trust and confidence as teams return to work.”
He adds that while some people are keen to return to the office environment, others will want to continue working from home, at least for part of their time—and firms will need to facilitate this.
“They need to be able to provide a platform that can cater for the entire range of working preferences and give people the flexibility to choose how they engage and deliver. It’s not just a matter of giving them the platform; it’s also about putting in support mechanisms that can enable them to do that.”
In terms of how this is achieved, Dewan says, new approaches are still being developed.
“I don’t think we have all the answers yet, but the future is going to be some form of hybrid model where there will be a lot more flexibility in how people operate,” he notes.
“There are certain jobs for which people will need to work together in the same place, and others that they could continue to do remotely. Insurers will need to consider how to engage, how to collaborate, whether they have the right controls in place and how to ensure data security.”
“There are new ways of collaborating: instead of 10 people sitting in a room we can have people working from 10 different locations.”
Sameer Dewan, Genpact
One benefit of the new way of working will be access to a global talent pool, with companies becoming far more open to recruiting people from all over the world. This is already the case for Genpact.
“I have already expanded my talent pool; I’m hiring all over the US and sometimes outside the country as well, because my team is able to work as effectively regardless of whether they are in the office or not,” says Dewan. However, he adds, this does pose some challenges, especially around team bonding.
“How do you keep the culture together, how do you make sure that there’s an established shared need within the organisation, when people are working remotely and some of them haven’t physically been to your building or office?
“And what happens to the social interaction? You can set up formal meetings in the calendar, but what happens to the talk that takes place when I’m passing by your desk, or standing by the water-cooler? That piece is missing,” Dewan says.
He reckons that having part of the team working remotely and part in the office could lead to external workers feeling excluded in meetings.
“You might have three people sitting in the office together, and four outside in their own remote locations,” he says.
“Typically, a lot of the conversation will be dominated by the group that is in the office because they’re sitting together.”
He predicts that these issues will lead companies to create new technological solutions and new etiquette to ensure everybody participates and feels included.
“People will learn, from technology and engagement perspectives, to operate in a very different manner where they are being inclusive of the people who are working remotely,” he says.
Accelerated technological advancement will lead to greater automation of certain processes, Dewan says.
“This will take away some of the more routine tasks so that people can focus on more advanced activities, such as finding new insights from analytics to guide decision-making,” he explains.
“People will be able to spend a lot more time understanding clients’ needs, engaging with them, understanding what risks they are covering, and creating products that service and support their clients’ very specific requirements.”
He adds that companies which, pre-COVID, had already embraced new technologies are now at a significant advantage.
“Looking back 12 months, the companies that had gone ahead and started the journey early—whether it was using artificial intelligence, the cloud, or any of the technology infrastructure and platforms—were way ahead when it came to switching to new ways of working without missing a beat. The companies that hadn’t invested were still reliant on more traditional infrastructure and past ways of working.”
Technological advancements go hand in hand with the need for staff to acquire new skills while leaving some of their existing skills behind.
“The ability to leave behind what you know, and learn new skillsets, is going to be core,” says Dewan. “People need to be trained in how to collaborate in these new ways of working, so they need be able to ‘unlearn’ some elements and be engaged in a different manner.
“It’s about deskilling in terms of the ways of working, and learning new skills based around engaging effectively.”
“Employees seek out what they want to learn and set their own path.”
New ways to learn
This points to another key element of the workforce of the future: adaptability. In a fast-changing world, Dewan believes the ability of workforces to adapt and develop will be at the heart of companies’ future success.
“You are transforming the business at a very quick pace—but how is the workforce adapting, changing, learning, and acquiring new skills? How do you go forward with that?” he asks. “You need to give people the opportunity to adapt, the tools to learn, and enable them to try out those skills in different parts of the organisation.”
In Genpact, this need led to the creation of its online platform, Genome, which offers a flexible approach to learning.
“You can spend 20 minutes or longer every day on it and learn something new. Across the company in 2020, almost 10 million hours of learning took place on the Genome platform, and it is completely online,” says Dewan.
Genome’s courses cover topics such as professional skills, domain skills, change management and conflict resolution. The content harnesses the collective intelligence of the workforce, leveraging existing experts to curate knowledge for others.
“Employees seek out what they want to learn and set their own path,” says Dewan. “We have ‘gurus’ and ‘master gurus’ who you can consult.
“In addition to the online training programme, there are experts who will support you through that process and mentor you. After that, we can also help employees find opportunities to use and implement some of the skills they’ve learned.”
The initiative has been so successful that last year Genpact opened a large portion of the Genome platform to the outside world, enabling individuals to leverage it for free. The uptake so far has been very enthusiastic.
“What we see is that people are consistently using it over and over again,” he says. “The whole objective is about making sure we’re not just investing in ourselves as an organisation but that we’re carrying the community and the ecosystem along with us.
“We felt that there was a broader need than just ours that was not being fulfilled—and this was an opportunity for us to do some good.”
Genome exemplifies the adaptive model that Dewan believes will drive companies’ success in the future. “There is the opportunity to transform the way you’ve been working, to engage a new set of clients and grow your business, to tap into a new talent pool, develop your workforce and become more efficient and far more effective,” he says.
“Four things are driving the workplaces and workforces of the future: the ability to work from anywhere, an adaptive workforce, digital transformation, and how you engage and collaborate. All of those will change, and that fundamentally affects how we do business today.
“Insurers across the board are investing, but some are clearly way ahead. This will create more differentiation between the leaders and the laggards. It’s time to choose which bucket you want to be in.”
Sameer Dewan is global business leader for insurance at professional services firm Genpact. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy of Shutterstock / Nata Bene