How Covid is changing the working environment
Working from home can have a negative impact on career development and lead to exhaustion and burnout. It can also adversely affect company culture and team cohesion, and have a knock-on impact on the local economy.
Those were discussion points for a group from the insurance sector who looked at the future of the working environment in the Covid-19 era.
An online poll found that there was a 50/50 split between those who wanted to return to their office environment, and those who wanted to continue working from home. Those opting to stay working remotely cited flexibility as the reason for their choice. The poll was conducted among those tuned in to the panel session at the Bermuda Insurance Institute Virtual Fall Market Conference.
Jenni Rowntree Estis, the moderator, said studies had shown Covid-19 had disrupted workplaces in ways never seen before, turning peoples lives and workplaces “upside down”.
She said: “Many employees are exhausted and burnout, others have been forced to press pause on their learning and growth trajectories, and women, particularly mothers, have been negatively impacted.”
Ms Estis, head of operations, senior vice-president, broking, Guy Carpenter said companies are having to change the way they work, so it is more flexible and sustainable for everyone.
One of the panellists was Tanya Corbridge, property manager at Waterfront Properties. She said a lot of changes have been made by property managers to ensure work places are safe and welcoming so that employees feel they can return.
She said there is hand sanitiser everywhere, signage everywhere, and things like limits on the number of people allowed in elevators.
Ms Corbridge said: “Something you see now, that you didn't before, is cleaning. You used to hide your cleaning activities at night. Now you see them in the daytime. You want to see them touching up that door handle or wiping down the elevator buttons.”
Unseen changes on “the mechanical side” include improved filters on air conditioning units.
“You see Plexiglas partitions at desks, a clean space that promotes wellness. It is on the property managers and owners to create a safe working environment, an environment that makes people want to come back to the office,” Ms Corbridge said.
During the online discussion, a poll revealed that 40 per cent of people listening-in had not yet returned to their physical office as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Of those who have ventured back, 40 per cent were doing so full-time and about 20 per cent were going back to the office part-time.
There was also a near 50/50 split between those who preferred to work from home, and those who did not. When asked if they were working from home for safety reasons or for flexibility reasons, all those who answered said it was for flexibility.
Katherine Cupidore, chief people officer at CG Insurance, said: “It's interesting to see the poll results are so split between returning and not returning.”
She said many people framed the home working experience in terms of convenience to themselves, such as not having to worry about what to wear each day, or whether to brush their hair - and also claiming that it made them more productive.
But she warned that other parts of the Bermuda economy are suffering as a result of office workers not being in town and patronising restaurants, cafes, and shops.
Ms Cupidore said: “While we are really happy snug as a bug in our house, comfortably hibernating, there is a real direct impact for Bermuda. While we have very little Covid, let's do what we can to be in the economy and with each other.
“We have to come out of our shells, our vacuum, and say, hang on, is this good for my career, is this good for my team, my business?”
She added: “Now, with so little Covid on the island, I encourage people to question themselves and say 'Am I really nervous to come back to my large office with more cleaning than ever before, with Plexiglas and masks, or do I like being at home?”
She said some people who say they are nervous to go back to their office are also at raft-ups, dinner parties, restaurants and football games, and “out and about everywhere else”.
Ms Cupidore said: “Be careful what you wish for, because employers are always looking at the cost of their talent pool, their workforce. Don't make it easier by convincing them that you could be in Halifax, for example.”
Also on the panel was Dale Chow, senior vice-president, Allied World Assurance Company. He said there were advantages to returning to an office environment.
“The greatest advantage is the greater ease for personal interaction, knowledge transfer and communication on both a formal and non-formal basis,” he said.
Mr Chow mentioned direct interaction and face-time with colleagues and clients, and the ability to go for meals, boat trips, or a game of golf, which can lead to better business outcomes than would be achieved in other jurisdictions.
He said: “It is important externally, and equally important internally. Teams feel connected because they have shared office birthday treats, discussions around the coffee machine about yesterday's football match or the latest Netflix series. Personal contact is an aid to building a strong team culture.”
He added that bringing new employees into a company is much more challenging in a remote working environment, and required a significant commitment of resources. He also said that informal communication is important in professional development.