Liz Booth asks have working patterns in the insurance profession changed permanently as a result of Covid-19
Eight out of 10 women want to carry on with home working in some way after the Covid-19 lockdown lifts, according to a recent survey carried out by Insurance Supper Club Group (ISC), a global business community for females in insurance.
Barbara Schonhofer, chair and founder of ISC Group, believes there will be a major shift in the way the insurance profession works -- with a resulting improvement in gender balance.
The myths have been busted, agrees Claire McDonald, UK country manager for HDI Global, adding that improvements in technology have enabled these changes.
"I don't think we will go backwards now. We moved very quickly, for example to have electronic signatures in place. We were having that conversation for years but now we have done it and we will carry on using this once we are back in our offices," she says.
However, she does fear that some will want to rush back to the "old ways".
"I am hearing from some of the men that they are missing the social side of the market and that they want to come back to that," she reveals.
There is reason for optimism, however: "Where I have some hope is that I do think we will have a large proportion of people who will want to work two days a week from home and not all five days.
"If we can get both genders wanting that and also have the same demand across the age demographic, we will see a change. We have no credible reasons to deny that now because the technology works and we know you can work from home and deliver."
Ms McDonald stresses: "It is only when we get both genders wanting the same thing that we will see a genuine shift in attitudes. For example, we have already had changes in parental leave policies -- younger dads want more flexible solutions around parental leave and it has taken it away from being a women-only issue.
"If we can do this with home working, then women will get a bit more of the upside."
Diane Maxwell, former retirement commissioner in New Zealand, agrees: "If it can encompass the men as well, it will be easier."
A new style of leadership is needed now; it has to be based on mutual respect and trust. It becomes more of a coaching style of leadership and it is about wellbeing
NEW STYLE OF LEADERSHIP
ISC Group's Ms Schonhofer, however, notes: "It is not just about agile working. It is about flexibility. If you are used to command and control and being able to see people, you can relax, but Covid-19 has changed that. A new style of leadership is needed now; it has to be based on mutual respect and trust. It becomes more of a coaching style of leadership and it is about wellbeing."
She also says that home working means a change in approach to meetings. "On a team call it can be hard to be heard, particularly if you have a soft voice, so we all have to adjust to make sure everyone is being heard because women will often have good ideas, which are simply not being heard."
Ms Maxwell believes remote working will also massively help those with disabilities who face issues with commuting but who could make a real contribution, as well as helping single parents facing challenges balancing childcare and work.
Other benefits for companies will also come from enabling a greener agenda, says Ms Maxwell. "If you think about the shift to the greener economy, which we want but haven't quite found a way to deliver-¦ the idea of fewer of us getting into the car every day. There is something very powerful about making progress in the way we operate rather than slavishly getting up in the morning and heading to work.
"However, we need people at the top to be bold, show leadership and clearly articulate why it is a good thing and how it can work."
Ms McDonald agrees there is a need to move away from accepted social norms. "Until Covid-19 we tended to keep conversations about flexibility and home working to the moment a woman returned from maternity leave -- we need to get away from that.
"This is a bit of a sea change in managing work/life balance and the talent population as a whole. The government won't want everyone travelling at the same time so there will be an expectation for companies not to have a rigid 9am start time. It will give us that opening to have these conversations."
Ms Maxwell agrees, adding: "For the future, we have to think: 'What is the output from that person? I don't care where they do it as long as we get what we need from that individual.'"
All agree, however, that not everything needs to change, rather the working environment just needs to be balanced in a different way.
As Ms McDonald says: "The one thing we missed in lockdown was the chance to meet face to face and also to check in on people. It is hard to properly focus on more than one person at a time on a Zoom call and it is hard to casually check in on everyone, in the way you would at the office. We will still need to do that in the future too."
Liz Booth is contributing editor of The Journal