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The Actuary Magazine

Actuaries and Virtual Work: Part 1

In case you missed it, read Part 1 of this two-part series first!

Photo: iStock.com/Drazen_

Abracadabra! By mid-March 2020, suddenly everyone was working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The giant social experiment was on.

Eighteen months in, the results are clear: Actuaries can, in fact, be productive and generate results while working virtually. Technology innovations in video calling, home internet capabilities and IT infrastructure that enables secure remote login and access certainly helped make this possible.

The Evolution of the Actuarial Workplace (Continued)

Era 3: No One’s in the Office

Actuaries found themselves in a new wilderness without commutes into the office or travel to different campuses or clients. Actuarial workloads were heavier due to pandemic impacts to business profitability and expected claims experience (later/post-pandemic), the challenges of managing teams virtually and fostering teamwork and a cohesive culture, and the additional new roles of teacher/tutor/daycare provider and caregiver for sick/aging family members.

Somewhere in that chaos, however, many actuaries found themselves in a reflective place. The pandemic’s disruption to actuaries’ daily lives prompted many to evaluate their personal and professional priorities. A number of actuaries discovered a lack of alignment. It was as if the autopilot switch was turned off for the first time, and they were forced to look down the road they were on to see the consequences of where they were headed and how they were getting there. Some didn’t like what they saw, so they spent time digging into what was important, realigning their futures.

When COVID-19 hit, Brian Lenius, FSA, MAAA, was working at The Standard. Brian had planned to relocate to a different geographic region that offered the lifestyle he sought as he neared retirement. When his work became virtual, he figured there was no time like the present. Being able to work remotely for The Standard was his preferred state.

Brian shares: “For me, relocating gave me the power to reorganize my life in positive ways, including setting the stage to reach my retirement goals in a place where I may well retire. I think there are upsides for employers, too, including more power to retain talent and intellectual capital and having employees who are all around happier (I am!). Also, going remote is a great opportunity to learn how to manage a remote team. Living a remote reality puts how to enable remote work front and center as a practical matter, and it puts a particular focus on finding new ways to build a cohesive team.”

In October 2020, Kelly Rabin, FSA, MAAA, also accepted a fully remote position with Connecticut-headquartered Voya Financial while working from her home in Issaquah, Washington.

Kelly says: “I wouldn’t have considered this role if it wasn’t remote. I have children and an established life here, and my spouse is employed with a local company, so I was tied to the Seattle area. There’s a lot of risk with relocation. Who wants to move their family across the country and have it not work out? And if we’re going to be on the phone all day, why do we have to be in the office to do that? I joined Voya because if a company is willing to have employees be remote, it means they trust their employees, that they’ve figured out how to build relationships in alternate ways (they probably have invested in technology), and they’re building a culture of accountability and support instead of relying on being face to face. On the flip side, when it’s safe to travel again, I want to get to the East Coast once or twice a year to build relationships in person—it’s hard to fully substitute for that.”

Era 4: Now What? Employers Can’t Put the Genie Back in the Bottle

As pandemic restrictions are being lifted, employers are figuring out how to define the work environment going forward. The question is, now that the employees had a taste of virtual work (working from home or fully remote work), are they willing to be summoned back into the office?

Hybrid work seems to be the new normal that employers are willing to accommodate. However, what’s emerging from employers is a particular definition of hybrid—a combination of work from home and work in the office.

Bala Krishnaraj, head of Market Risk Management at Lincoln Financial Group, says: “We, as a company, are going to a flex schedule, where pretty much anybody can be part in the office and from home, not just during COVID-19 but going forward. This gives different personalities a chance to decide how they want to interact in their work life. What a change from earlier in my career at Goldman Sachs, where saying, ‘Tomorrow I have to work from home,’ was a very awkward ask because it was not the culture. Slowly as the years progressed, it was slightly more accepted. At my previous role at Voya, once every several weeks I worked a day from home, which evolved to people working one or two days a month from home, though not on a regular basis. That’s definitely switched in today’s world where we’re institutionalizing that flexibility.”

In contrast, employers’ embrace of fully remote work arrangements lags behind actuarial employees’ expectations. Many actuarial employers continue to have a preference for actuaries to be near the office rather than at a significant distance. Yet, many actuaries expect that most roles should be offered on a fully remote basis.

Some employers are beginning to embrace fully remote work. For example, a West Coast-based insurer announced in March 2021 that many of its actuarial positions have the option to work remotely, and it has gone further to state that its aspiration is that all actuarial positions will be open to remote employees.

The CEO of a leading reinsurer recently confided that he’s “seen the light” and feels there’s no reason that any role can’t be done remotely. This is a sea change for an organization that has held fast to the idea that everyone has to be at the mothership, period! He stated the main challenge that he sees in remote work is that “you can maintain existing relationships virtually, but it’s incredibly difficult to develop new relationships virtually.”

What Does All This Mean?

If you desire an alternate work arrangement to better meet your personal and professional priorities, ask. Now is the time because there is fertile ground for your request.

If you need some guidance on how to formulate the request to your employer, here is a template.

First, jot down concerns your team/manager may have. Can you effectively address those concerns? Consider it from your manager’s or your manager’s manager’s perspective. Is it compelling enough? If not (yet), revise and iterate.

Next, include the additional benefits that your request will bring to your manager, team and company, such as retaining a high-performance employee, leveraging institutional knowledge, reducing expenses by not providing office space, enhancing morale with happier staff—get creative. Most compelling, any time you can connect the dots to the “big levers” of profitability— risk, expenses, revenue—you will get your manager’s attention and increase your odds of securing your desired workplace arrangement.

One final note: Don’t let the fear of rejection refrain you from asking. If you are committed to finding a way to realize both your personal and professional goals, step up and propose a solution. You just may get what you want.

James Clear, author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits, says: “A surprisingly effective way to get what you want is to not settle for less than what you want. It doesn’t always work—you can’t force the world to be a certain way—and you may need healthy doses of patience and doggedness, but your life bends toward what you accept.”

Lisa Bull is president of Lechner & Associates Inc.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

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