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Mar 16
The Future of Work - Why It's All About Technology

The days when businesses kept employees neatly working within the confines of “in-house" systems are just a memory. In the not-so-distant past, many companies frowned upon staff using their own equipment for “offsite" work.  I personally recall a carrier I worked for many years ago requiring “site visits" to anyone's home who had been granted the “privilege" of occasional remote work from home.  Now enter, 2020…. the end of any sense of normalcy, our work and personal lives were turned upside down and we all oddly became accustomed to nothing being the same as in the past.  2020, where working from home BECAME the norm, and businesses had to scramble to implement the necessary processes, workflows, equipment, etc. to make it happen.  And happen it did.  A funny thing happened along the way; we adapted and many, dare I say, even thrived in this “new normal". 

Business continued and even grew.  We made it work. According to a Liberty Mutual/Safeco survey, 83% of employers say the shift to remote has been successful for their company.   Fast-forward to 2021 and it seems there is a large segment of the working population that has become so comfortable with the new face of their workplace that they don't want to go back.  A Growmotely  “Future of Work"  survey, featured in a recent article found 97% of the respondents did not wish to return to their offices full-time. The future of work has changed and continues to evolve.  The facts are that the places we work have changed and we are able to do our jobs from just about anywhere.  Thank you, technology!  Digital connectivity has made all of this possible.  The reality is that 15 or 20 years ago, the technology infrastructures that we have today just didn't exist and remote work was simply not nearly as convenient, productive, or efficient.

Although many companies are looking to push workers back to the “norm", the “norm" has irreversibly changed. The previously mentioned Liberty Mutual/Safeco survey found 83% of workers prefer hybrid working arrangements, and 49% of Millennials and Gen-Z workers would consider quitting if their employers weren't flexible about remote work.  

Technologies like video conferencing, VoIP calls, eSignature, and data download to name a few, have impacted our industry in ways we did not realize would end up being essential to day-to-day operations.  What happens from here, what direction are we heading?  Remote and hybrid work arrangements are without a doubt here to stay and those business leaders who have not fully embraced the technologies should consider their options and realize employee, as well as client expectations, have changed.   Customers, even pre-pandemic, were shifting their “wants" to get information quickly - when they want it and how they want it.  Texting, transactions processed by mobile applications, or at the very least websites are now table stakes. The agencies and carriers who recognize these shifting expectations and react accordingly are the ones who will retain customers and staff alike. Many of the processes customers want to fulfill their 'speed of service', ease of doing business expectations are the same technologies that enable remote workers to conduct business, stay connected to their employer and their clients as well.  Business owners must also understand implementing technology does not mean loss of personal connection with their clients.  Digital interactions such as self-service portals simply streamline processes and empower staff to direct their focus to client handling that is more complex and requires deeper investigation and explanations to their clients.

Hybrid options are appealing to many remote workers.  The isolation of working in a remote setting is a balance for many between the feelings of missing day-to-day social interactions and the flexibility remote work affords. Agencies and carriers need to realize this balance is essential for many individuals as opposed to sole remote or exclusive in-office work.  The technologies we have embraced and implemented during the last year or two will continue to support the hybrid working model.

New challenges and dangers in the form of cyber-attacks and security concerns, however, are an unfortunate casualty of the changes technology has brought to the way we work.  Recognizing this concern is essential for industry leaders and highlights the demands that a solid cyber-security strategy be included in any business technology plan. The Big 'I' Agents Council for Technology, among many free technology-related resources, has created guides to assist independent agents in understanding and navigating the issues that exist within this complex cyber environment.  The 'Remote Work Best Practices', and 'Remote Work Security Guide' help agencies ensure their remote work environments are safe and successful.  The Agency Cyber Guide 3.0 addresses many questions across all aspects of the agency and is not just limited to remote and hybrid work.    It includes information regarding compliance with state regulations, costs and penalties of non-compliance as well as listings of cyber security providers and self-assessment agents can use to focus on specific cyber security needs.  

The future of work IS technology, but the future of success may require a shift of thinking among business leaders to keep a digital focus within their corporate strategy.  An investment in technology is a key component to assure the path that is followed with the future of work can be achieved. This requires thinking forward, anticipating what might be next, and not shying away from future technologies that are sure to be coming. 

This is an extended version of the article: "Forward Focus"  that appeared in the Smart Agency: Tech Talk column in the IA Magazine March 2022 edition.  

Ginny Winkworth is program manager of the Big "I" Agents Council for Technology (ACT).


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