[UPDATE] Insurance companies weigh Delta variant risks

The recent spike in COVID cases delays insurance companies’ return-to-office plans.

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The recent surge in covid cases across the country could push back insurance carriers’ return-to-office plans and force companies to go fully remote again. Top insurers have stated that they would be closely monitoring medical and community conditions. 

In August, The Hartford officially delayed its return to office plans to October 4, with half of its employees working remotely full-time. Travelers also announced to delay its plan by at least a month. 

Erie Insurance is following Farmers’ footsteps and is delaying its return to office plans until January. Previously, the carrier was admitting a small number of its workers back into the office. Liberty Mutual also announced that it would delay its return to office plans to January as well. 

American Family is taking a different approach — the carrier is requiring all on-site employees to be vaccinated by Nov 1 and wear a mask on the premises and still plans to reopen its offices on Sept 13. This is the first P&C insurer to publicly confirm that it will require its on-site employees to be vaccinated against the disease. State Farm is another carrier that is requiring all on-site employees to wear a mask. 

The U.S. reported an average of 49,900 new cases each day over the last week of July, with the number growing exponentially. The Delta variant now accounts for 83% of all sequences of coronavirus cases across the country.

In late July, Erie and AIG both announced they would allow employees to return to the office via a hybrid schedule starting in mid-September. Travelers, AmFam and The Hartford also said they expected a broad return to office in early fall. 

Farmers, on the other hand, announced that it would allow anyone who wanted to keep working full-time remotely the choice to do so until the beginning of 2022, making it the first major carrier to grant such a significant extension of its remote work policy. 

P&C carriers were quick to embrace remote work when the pandemic first hit, and most carriers built their return-to-work plans to include hybrid work opportunities. 

According to a recent PwC study by the Society for Human Resource Management, about 68% of corporate executives think that workers should be in-person at least three days a week, although more than half of employees prefer to stay remote most of the time. Here is an update of insurance carriers that have recently modified their return-to-office plans. 

In April 2021, American Family announced that it started field-testing a hybrid work schedule that had about 50 employees return to the office for about two days a week. A month later, The Hartford outlined plans to start bringing employees back into the office sometime this summer, but hasn’t chosen a specific date or number of in-office employees. Travelers Insurance also plans on having its employees return to the office around Labor Day. 

Nationwide followed suit and announced in early June that it would open its offices at 50% capacity at any given time, in addition to offering employees a new flexible work model that alternates weeks of home and in-office work. Although the carrier hasn’t announced plans to modify its office floor plan, the company is still encouraging appropriate social distancing and vaccinations. 

Although USAA recently signed a lease for its new hub in Charlotte, North Carolina and plans to open its doors by the end of the year, the carrier still plans to have its entire workforce work remotely at least part of the time as per its employees’ requests. The insurer’s chief administrative officer, Andrew Walker, stated it’s extremely unlikely that the company will ever return to a 100% on-site workforce. 

While most insurers look to find a balance between having to be in the office and working from home, some have been actively looking to boost their headcount in addition to building out a return-to-work program. In early May, State Farm hosted a virtual career fair to add headcount to its claims department for a handful of its offices around the country. GEICO also reported at the end of May 2021 its aim of hiring up to 500 employees at its Florida regional office, just a month after the carrier announced similar plans for its Georgia location. Both offices are hiring claims service representatives and customer service employees.

Property and casualty insurers have been looking to adopt ways to split work between office and virtual for employees, transforming the office to be more of a collaborative and socializing space instead of a traditional cubicle-style environment. 

As more carriers adapt to this new business model, the industry is actively changing the purpose of the workplace from serving as a heads-down workspace into an  ecosystem of a variety of locations and experiences to support flexibility, functionality and employee wellbeing, according to  JLL’s head of consulting Sundar Nagarajan. This new change gives employees more choices, greater opportunities for purposeful engagement and better work-life balance. 

USAA  announced that it will be starting to phase employees back into the office with some form of a hybrid schedule starting in May, with workers expected to be back in the office by July. The carrier reported in February that it was the first insurance carrier  to receive a safety rating for 12 of its offices  to ensure the facilities were safe. 

American Family Insurance  announced plans to test a new hybrid work schedule via a volunteer pilot program that gives employees more flexibility over when they report to the office. Under this new plan, about 50 employees have returned to work two days a week in the office. The carrier is also experimenting with seating and office arrangements to find ways to support more collaboration and innovation;  by reducing the number of individual workstations and private spaces and creating more team gathering  areas, the company plans to incorporate an activity-based model into the office. 

Erie Insurance  is making tentative plans to bring employees back to the office and expects to return in July. The company successfully shifted 70% of its employees to work-from-home within three days of the pandemic shut-down in  March 2020, sending 6,000 employees home nationwide. The carrier plans to make the default work-from-office once the pandemic subsides, but states that it’s subject to change depending on how the pandemic continues to play out. 

Nationwide  announced in December 2020 that it would be delaying its office reopening plans until June 2021 and will continue to view its return to work plans as flexible. Almost all of Nationwide’s 28,000 employees have been working from home since the pandemic hit. The carrier also closed five of its smaller regional hubs, permanently shifting 30% of employees to work remotely in  April 2020

State Farm  announced at the end of 2020 that it plans to shut down 12 regional operation centers and have kept employees at home. The carrier is also looking for ways to deploy a hybrid work environment, according to P&C Specialist.  State Farm also announced in March 2021 that it would be exiting the banking and credit card business

Allstate  also plans to develop a hybrid work environment where employees will be divided into full-time office, split or all remote roles, and plan on informing workers of its new strategy by April. The carrier also launched the  “Good Office Program” and the “Allstate & You” initiative in November in an effort to support remote employees

The Hartford  brought a small number of employees back to the office in August but said the bulk of its workforce will continue to work from home through late spring-early summer 2021. 

CSAA Insurance Group also announced plans to return to the office by July 2021,  with some employees working from home permanently

As insurance companies reevaluate their business models through the pandemic, maintaining flexibility seems to be the key driving factor in how they support both customers and employees into 2021.