‘Smart working’. It’s a phrase everybody has heard a lot over the last year or so and, as the UK eases out of lockdown restrictions and the future of work becomes a deliberate rather than an abstract concept, this new idiom continues to grow in popularity. But what does smart working really mean and what does it look like when it’s done well, with employee wellbeing and customer success as its foundations?
Leading the rollout of AXA XL’s UK smart working policy, Sean McGovern (pictured), CEO of the insurer’s UK & Lloyd’s business noted that the change will allow colleagues to divide their time between working remotely and working in the office. This will offer everybody the best of both worlds, he said, balancing the flexibility of in-person collaboration with resilience and well-being. This, in turn, he hopes, will further enhance AXA XL’s appeal with regards to attracting and retaining the best talent in the marketplace.
From reconfiguring office spaces (as seen below) to enable better collaboration and connectivity between colleagues and brokers, to creating diverse working environments within offices, McGovern noted the variety of actionable steps taken to make the UK smart working experience instinctive. Designated desks have been replaced by “departmental neighbourhoods”, larger break-out areas, and differently configured meeting spaces to better suit the needs of colleagues and clients.
“Our approach to how and where we work is centred on the needs of our clients and broker partners. The Square Mile, and even more precisely the Lloyd’s of London marketplace, are unique places of work where the hustle and bustle and interpersonal connections have been the lifeblood of how business is done.
“We’ve taken into account these unique qualities and devised not just a smart-working plan but also a set of guiding principles that put clients and broker partners at the heart of this new way of working – and which will allow our people to continue to build and maintain the relationships that help our market thrive.”
All AXA entities are making the shift to smart working, McGovern stated, and preparations for this significant leap took place before the pandemic hit. AXA XL adapted really well to the changes that COVID enforced, he said, and he has seen first-hand how well his colleagues have adjusted to ensure they can continue to provide valued support to clients and brokers alike. The business has taken on board the lessons it has learnt from the crisis and will continue to learn from these going forward.
“[As it stands],” he said, “we don’t anticipate colleagues in the UK returning to the office on anything but a voluntary basis until September at the earliest, when the smart working model will officially be rolled out for all UK colleagues assuming Government guidance allows.”
Offering a human resources perspective on this, chief HR officer for AXA XL, UK & Lloyd’s market, Kaylee Darkins noted that colleague feedback has been crucial in creating this new initiative. Surveys and focus groups of UK colleagues have been an effective means of determining the actions that will make a positive difference to them, as well as clients and broker partners. And it is this feedback that has allowed AXA XL to implement the right health and wellbeing measures to support its people and helped to shape its future plans.
“We recently carried out a specific smart-working survey to garner further opinion of what our colleagues want and need from their workspaces and work-life balance going forward. We’ve also carried out pilots to see how smart working will work in practice,” she said. “And as Sean mentioned, feedback from our clients and broker partners has also been vitally important in shaping the smart working policy. Our smart working philosophy has been designed to benefit our people, our clients and our broker partners and feedback and communication has been at the cornerstone of shaping the way we will work going forward.”
Several guiding principles underpin AXA XL’s commitment to smart working in the UK, Darkins said, and these are:
- “Client service is our priority. We will always be available to our clients and broker partners, whether in person or remotely.”
- “We use our offices for interaction. We recognise and value the benefits of being in the office to collaborate and to feel connected as a team and supported as individuals.”
- “Technology will support availability/connection. Our technology can connect regardless of location. App-enabled connectivity ensures our availability to brokers.”
- “Smart working reinforces our culture. We trust our colleagues to continue to deliver wherever they are.”
“To make smart working a success for everyone – colleagues, clients, brokers – we need to make a behavioural change,” Darkins said. “Things will be different – although flexible working has long been available for those colleagues who wished to work in that way, the vast majority of us, pre-pandemic, were very office-based.
“We want to see a change that engages our people in thinking about how, when and where we work so that we work smarter, and with the client always at the centre of that thinking. We believe smart working will allow us to maximise our individual and collective performance through an improved work/life balance, as well as a culture of accountability, trust and empowerment.”
Brokers and clients are at the heart of AXA XL’s proposition, so it stands to reason that this adaption has been crafted with these partners in mind, and McGovern noted that the company has taken clear steps to reinforce its commitments to its clients and broker partners, including through its recent ‘Availability App’ initiative.
“We believe that this change will enable us to enhance the service that we offer,” McGovern said. “We‘ve undertaken a series of commitments to ensure that this policy works not just for our colleagues but for our clients and broker partners too. I encourage brokers to take a look at our service charter.
“We recognise these are unprecedented times and that, during times of change, consistency and predictability are key. We commit, therefore, to offering a consistent approach to risk selection; to explain our pricing methodology to brokers, should they require it; to inform brokers of any change to our risk appetite; and to provide long-term, sustainable solutions for clients by putting the client at the very heart of our decision-making process.”
The move to smart working across many organisations in the UK and beyond will be a change, he said, and in some cases a big change, which requires everybody to adapt their behaviour. But AXA XL truly believes that smart working will not only improve the work-life balance, productivity and wellbeing of its colleagues, but will also support the core values that enable the business to enhance the service it offers in the market.