Remote Working Likely To Persist Post-Pandemic but Not without Risks

Man doing video call on laptop

March 31, 2021 |

Man doing video call on laptop

Among the major changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic was a move to remote working for many organizations, an arrangement likely to persist after the pandemic in some fashion and bring with it certain risks.

Speaking on a panel titled "Working from Home, Forever: A View from the Top" during Advisen's recent Casualty Insights Conference @ Home Virtual Series, Chris Kopser, president, global risk management at AXA XL, said that while his company hasn't seen a spike in injuries with people working from home during the pandemic, "some of those might be latent in their development."

In the office environment, the company can pay attention to the ergonomics of an employee's workspace to reduce the risk of injuries, he noted. "When you're working from home, it's suboptimal. You don't have the best chair, you don't have the best lighting," Mr. Kopser said. "All of those things might accumulate."

He said he's uncertain what the ultimate claim impact might be of those ergonomic risks in home workspaces.

Pam Ferrandino, vice president, Gallagher Bassett, noted that a number of states have made changes to workers compensation presumption laws over the past 12 months, which could affect businesses' exposure as employees work from home.

In addition, she said, many businesses' risk profiles have changed due to the pandemic. In retail, for example, many business models moved more toward home delivery and shipping, with retailers employing more third-party shoppers.

Stephen R. Hackenburg, chief broking officer, national casualty, Aon, suggested that after the pandemic, many organizations might move to a hybrid model, with some workers in the office and others working remotely. That will likely require establishing remote working policies for determining which employees work from home and who comes to the office, he said.

"Who do you decide is better suited to be a remote worker or an in-office worker?" asked Mr. Hackenburg. It will be essential that those decisions are made fairly across the organization, he said.

David T. Perez, chief underwriting officer, global risk solutions North America, Liberty Mutual Insurance, agreed that as businesses return to the office, it will likely be a mix of remote working and working in the office. "It's going to be a hybrid model," he said. "But I think it's going to have less flexibility than people think."

Decisions on work arrangements should be team focused, with policies applied evenly across the board, he said. "People are not going to be able to make up their own schedules," Mr. Perez said.

At present, the insurance industry isn't seeing a high volume of COVID-19-related casualty claims, Mr. Perez said. There are, however, "creative efforts" to bring claims, he said. "I don't think we know where it's going to end up yet," he said.

For now, the plaintiffs' bar is focused on business interruption, he said. "We all feel we're pretty safe on that," Mr. Perez said. "But we're still seeing new suits coming out every week. The plaintiffs' bar is not giving up on that.

"I think we're going to see an acceleration of social inflation trends in certain areas," Mr. Perez said. "But I think the long-term effects of COVID on the casualty area aren't known yet."

Remote working has brought some benefits. Mr. Kopser cited the results of an internal AXA XL survey on remote working that found 91 percent of those surveyed reporting that the biggest benefit was the lack of a commute. "I personally got about 3 hours of my day back from not commuting," he said.

Of those surveyed, 71 percent said they were significantly to slightly more productive working from home, Mr. Kopser said, noting that eliminating travel time has increased accessibility and productivity. Of those wanting to return to the office, 66 percent said the reason they wanted to go back to the office was to meet with colleagues. "That's the missing part," he said.

While there are some employees who want to work remotely permanently, "There's a spectrum of employees that really want to go back to the office," Mr. Kopser said. Still, 58 percent of those in the AXA XL internal survey preferred more work-from-home days in the future.

Ms. Ferrandino noted that what's missing in the remote working environment are spontaneity and the unplanned opportunities to make contact. "That's really the opportunity that will be missed if we move everybody to a remote environment," she said.

Mr. Hackenburg suggested that over time companies will settle in to the right culture for themselves. But many, particularly those that rely on innovation, will find that getting people together in the right ways will provide a competitive advantage. "The best firms will find that balance, find it quickly, and be able to compete more effectively," he said.

"There's no substitute for meeting people in person. We have a whole slew of people who've never met their managers, never met their team," Mr. Kopser said. But, he said, if an organization can operate virtually, "Why not grab the best talent wherever they are?" he asked. "It really changes the way you think about talent. Whether that will stick long-term, who knows."

Mr. Kopser said he thinks many organizations have learned to use technology effectively during the pandemic, allowing them to engage broader groups more efficiently. Video conferencing is likely here to stay, he said, and may have an impact as business travel resumes.

"I think companies are going to have an eye toward more efficiency when we do travel," Mr. Kopser said. "As companies look at enjoying the reduction in expenses that we've had over the past year, as (travel) resumes, I think that's going to put a little more focus on that, are we traveling for the right reason?"

James C. Riviezzo, head of business development at Briza, moderated the session.

March 31, 2021