Having the opportunity to partner with some of the top regional and national insurance companies has taught us that there is more than meets the eye in a business sector that can often be perceived as less than adrenaline pumping. My fellow design expert, Jen Singson, and I met to discuss this unique industry and share our perspective on how design is re-shaping the insurance industry office landscape to support this evolving enterprise.
Not Your Parents' Insurance
The insurance industry has been faced with major disruptors and has responded with a fresh, vibrant outlook that is a far cry from its conservative legacy. With aims to be a genuine fit for employees (SECURA), protect and enhance the well-being of all (ACUITY), aid in achieving brighter financial futures (CUNA Mutual) and encourage us to dream fearlessly (American Family), our clients’ missions have been refocused from mitigating risk to supporting the consumer and community in a broader sense. This new chapter is authored by nimble business plans and startup mentalities. It is powered by embracing technology and harnessing data while overlaying deep historical knowledge, leading to a physical environment focused on innovation.
With the median insurance company employee demographic preparing for retirement, the door has opened for the next generation of analytical, strategic and technology focused minds to join this evolution. The transferring of knowledge through formal interactions and informal collisions is critical as the face of insurance transitions to the next generations. In this competitive national talent market, creating an environment that is inclusive to all employees (demographics, preferences and workstyles) so they may better serve the consumer is critical.
A Readiness to Embrace Change
The first step to success is recognizing opportunity. Risk aversion is natural in the insurance business, if not necessary. However, this can be crippling to culture. If the business is ready to move forward with new ventures and approaches, the culture and physical environment must move alongside in order to produce a successful result. This may not have been the case in the past – as we have found ourselves evaluating facilities that have not been updated in decades. These outdated facilities are not setup to adequately support the way teams work today; they are a network of isolated, uninviting and hierarchical spaces. With the insurance client’s we support, we are seeing a shift in leadership’s business outlook which sheds a new light on the physical barriers and limitations in the current environments. This recognition is key as it often precipitates buy-in from the leadership team, putting the employee experience at the forefront, allowing for change and enhancement of the business and cultural outcomes. Identifying the barriers can be done through a variety of exercises which allows the employees to become part of the process, heightening engagement. We often assist with day-in-the life scenarios, interviews, virtual reality immersion and communicating results via town halls. This allows us to extract what is most important and helpful, while incorporating their feedback into the design.
Engaging the Whole Person
As insurance companies continue to evolve, blurring the lines between tech, product, strategy and service, they find themselves competing for talent with companies outside the industry like never before. New candidates emerge from different geographic regions, business sectors and generations, who are craving a sense of connection and purpose. As opportunities are presented, candidates often begin to weigh more of the intangibles – corporate responsibility, policies and the total workplace experience (cultural and environmental). Space can play into this connection when showcasing culture or community engagement. Insurance has community at the core; serving and bettering consumers is often the driving force of the business. Many companies are taking this to heart, carving out spaces within their real estate to host programs, donate space for local and non-profit use or invite people on campus to enjoy trails or events. More and more, our clients are also requesting that their spaces be designed to meet WELL Building Standards, prioritizing occupant health in the built environment by focusing on seven categories: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. WELL Certified™ spaces can help create a built environment that improves the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns and performance of its occupants.
Employee programs and spaces are also on the rise, with the intent to connect and better the whole person so employees can be more trusting and open to contribute within their teams. Amenities are a balance of policy, programs and activities. Fitness centers are being balanced with yoga rooms, mindfulness spaces, reflection rooms, beverage bars and healthy dining options. Social gathering and alternative work environments are encouraged with mobility policies. Additional programs and services are being considered in the attempt to make life more stress-free for employees in the hopes that a clearer mind will heighten focus, engagement and retention.
Designing for Innovation
As the business migrates from a paper-heavy, policy and claims driven focus to a more diverse portfolio of consumer-focused products such as support technology, software development, venture capital acquisitions and investments, the job functions, and what they need to thrive, change with it. It is critical in our workplace strategy and programming processes to understand the unique facets of the company – what makes individual teams successful and what remains a roadblock? As you may imagine the answers are as diverse as the teams: Actuarial, Claims and Agile software teams have very different work styles, levels of acoustic sensitivity and degrees of mobility. Given the nuances and practicalities such as these, the design of an insurance environment cannot be successful unless we recognize the roadblock and embrace a variety of experiences. The solution is not cut and dry; through our experience we have learned that a universal, one-size-fits-all approach is not effective for an organization with such a wide range of roles. However, a unique solution for each user or role is also unrealistic as organizational structures and personnel frequently ebb and flow.
Crafting a unique menu of work profiles for each organization is a key driver to successfully balancing real estate/facility management efficiency, business unit support and flexibility. Approaches such as free-address, remote work, project team enclaves and dedicated environments are blended utilizing compatible modules to create a workplace of user choice based upon the function of the day or of the role.
Dependent upon the culture and business strategy, some organizations have propelled the start-up mentality to the forefront creating project-specific team spaces detached from the remainder of the organization in on- and off-site incubator spaces, allowing for additional freedom for recruiting, retention and innovation. The process of understanding and crafting semi-unique experiences for teams acknowledges the organizations’ commitment to the individual, heightening employee engagement and inviting teams to remove roadblocks, allowing them to narrow their focus on supporting the business goals and to the consumers they serve.
As we continue to learn about this insurance industry evolution, we are energized by the fresh perspective and renewed focus on elevating the employee experience and strengthening community engagement. We’re curious – if you were charged with designing an insurance environment to compete for top talent, what would be your “must haves”?
Renee Riviere, NCIDQ, IIDA, WRID
Senior Interior Designer : Associate