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Broker CEOs face back-to-office challenges

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Transitioning back to offices and adapting to a new COVID-normal may be as great a challenge as the pivot to home working, top executives have highlighted at the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) virtual convention.

Leaders from Gallagher, Steadfast, AUB, Aon, Marsh and Willis Towers Watson say employee well-being and mental health remains a key focus and good communication and ensuring people feel connected is essential as coronavirus risks remain.

“The next 12 months is going to be making sure we continue with this flexibility, continue communication, continue making sure we lead with passion and do it the right way, and making sure people feel like we have their backs,” Marsh Pacific CEO Nick Harris said.

Willis Towers Watson Australasia CEO Simon Weaver told the conference he had been a traditional leader who liked to see people in the office during regular hours, and he has learned a “huge amount” during the course of the pandemic.

Leaders will likely no longer see their entire workforces in offices at the same time, five days a week, and being conscious of individual circumstances will be critical as stresses remain high, he says.

“We are going to have to consider how do we manage people, how do we motivate them, how do we spot concerns around mental health or even performance, and equally how do you maintain your business culture,” he said. “We don’t know the answers yet, but we have certainly got to learn and adapt.”

Executives noted the dedication of remote-working staff, while recognising work-life balance risks and potential stresses from home circumstances and the situation of clients affected by government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

“Employee well-being is a key challenge, with the added challenge of helping clients at a time when they are most anxious about their future and ability to continue trading,” Gallagher Australia CEO Sarah Lyons said. “In some cases, brokers almost become counsellors.”

Aon Australia CEO James Baum says COVID impacts on colleagues depends also on where they are located, with Perth and Melbourne presenting vastly different experiences.

The company has encouraged people to put their own physical and mental well-being first, so they are then in the best position to deliver on their client’s expectations, he says.

“I think everybody understands that we are not going to go back to the way we were,” he said, while highlighting the potential for leaders to be “inquisitive” around opportunities and advantages that may emerge from the current circumstances.

Steadfast CEO Robert Kelly says that while Zoom and Team meetings have been helpful, the majority of people want to spend time back in offices, where they are able to interact in person with colleagues.

But issues include how they will safely commute, with one Sydney executive noting he was the only person wearing a mask while travelling into the city by train.

“This is probably the most difficult time we are going to go through right now, and that is starting to ease people back into it, and making sure people are safe travelling to and from work, and also looking after their mental health,” Mr Kelly said.

AUB CEO Mike Emmett says concerns through the pandemic have included making sure staff are supported and not feeling isolated and can remain engaged, and the path ahead will include more flexibility.

As the COVID-19 situation has eased, some AUB staff have worked four days at home and one day at work, which has offered benefits for people’s sense of community, connection and well-being, he says.

“The reality is that this is not a temporary event that is going to go away and we will go back to the old ways of working,” he said. “The realisation is we are living in a new normal and irrespective of when and how and if COVID goes away, the fact is that we have established new working patterns and working relationships.”