A recent study found that 52% of insurance companies are in favor of a structured hybrid work environment, which mandates a mixture of mandatory in-office and remote work.
Collating data and responses from over 4,500 businesses with 30,000 offices employing over 100 million people globally, the Flex Index found that insurance is one of the top industries turning away from full flexibility to a more structured model, with an 18% increase in Q1 2023 from the previous quarter.
“This isn’t that surprising, especially considering the size of many of these insurers,” said Rob Sadow (pictured below), CEO of software firm Scoop and the person behind the Flex Index Report, a comprehensive survey about work preferences post-pandemic.
“Rather than giving employees the freedom to come into the office if they choose, [insurers] are now mandating in-person work for set days, the average being 2.53 days,” Sadow said.
The reason behind this shift to weekly in-office days is a result of a couple of key factors.
The first is that a certain amount of learning and mentorship is seen as best completed when witnessing upper management perform their duties in situ for new hires, especially as companies grow in size.
“There’s just certain parts of the job that can’t be replicated at home,” Sadow said. “Being shoulder to shoulder, having unscheduled conversations that create opportunities for learning — these things are more organic but still effective.”
Secondly, as businesses broaden their operations through expansions or M&A, a certain amount of cross functional interaction becomes more important as duties become intertwined, and projects get bigger.
Lastly, Sadow said that structured work schedules help add a bit of organization during the more chaotic times of an expansion.
However, companies with fewer than 500 employees are largely seeing benefits from full flexibility.
“Real estate is very expensive, and start-ups or smaller businesses don’t have the capital to stick to an in-office plan like that,” Sadow said.
Flex Index findings could paint a somewhat grim picture of the future of full-time in-person working.
In May 2023, only 16% of participants required full time in-office attendance, an 8% decline from data collected in February.
“Full-time office work is becoming increasingly less relevant,” Sadow said.
Employees are particularly drawn to more flexible workplaces, especially since pandemic-era lockdowns showcased that duties can be performed at home without sacrificing productivity.
“Having the option to go in-office and collaborate with colleagues and build relationships is also important — it’s all about having that balance,” Sadow said.
He also warned that those who implement strict in-office policies will eventually bleed a portion of their workforce, as shifting morals and an emphasis on a work/life equilibrium becomes the new normal.
Leaders are witnessing first-hand the impact of post-COVID policy changes. When Amazon issued its return-to-office policy, employee groups reportedly encouraged walkouts.
It is not just full-time office plans that have got employees’ hackles up. When Farmers Insurance this year announced it planned to reverse its remote schedule, switching to a three day a week in-office arrangement, some staff reacted with outrage on the company’s internal social media platform.
“One of the lasting impacts of COVID has been the notion that life is short,” Sadow said. “People would rather not spend time in traffic commuting or glued to a desk.”
Nevertheless, some CEOs have continued to take a hard line on work from home (WFH). Twitter CEO Elon Musk criticized WFH as “morally wrong” in an interview with CNBC, while JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon has said that remote work “doesn’t work” for younger staff or bosses, as reported by Bloomberg.
States located in the western part of America, particularly Oregon, Washington and Colorado, were more prone to implement less rigid work schedules compared to their southern counterparts such as Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana, the Flex study found. Idaho, on the other hand, was evenly split between full flexibility and full-time in office.
“Tech companies, who are more forthright in adopting novel working arrangements, are often found in this Bay Area states,” Sadow said.
The data was submitted to a professor at the University of Southern California, who was able to make some geopolitical connections with the findings.
“The areas that have stronger flexibility are generally more liberal in political values, while those on the opposite end are typically more conservative,” he said.
Sadow is interested to see how this holds up over time, especially as Gen Z individuals, who are more interested in an optimal work/life balance, make their way into the professional world.