AXA's 120,000 staff will be 'hybrid working' after the COVID pandemic. This is how one of the world's largest insurers is trying to navigate the challenges.

  • Many are wondering about the future of home working as returning to the office looms after COVID.
  • Insurer AXA aims to make all 120,000 staff able to “hybrid work” at home and the office by 2023.
  • Its HR chief explains how it will work – including how it plans to avoid everyone taking long weekends at home.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As the global rush to vaccinate people against COVID continues, a return to the office in 2021 is looming for many workers.

But staff of multinational insurer AXA, a company that employs 120,000 people across six continents, aren’t going back the way they were before.

The company is to introduce “hybrid working” – two days a week working remotely and the remainder in the office. The company says 70% of its employees will be able to do this, if they choose, by the end of this year. It will be open to all by the end of 2023. 

AXA’s group chief human resources officer Karima Silvent told Insider the approach had significant benefits, for both the company and its people, but added there were also challenges that will have to be navigated carefully.

The most obvious benefit, she said, was the improvement in work-life balance people feel when they do not have to travel long distances to their desks. “We know from surveys, this is something employees really wanted. Many were commuting several hours a day, so two days working from home gives a balance,” she said. 

When the pandemic hit, the company had permitted employees to work remotely since 2016, and as many as 60% of staff in offices in Europe were regularly working remotely for one or two days a week. “Productivity has been the same or, in some instances, increased,” she said.

Reducing the need for people to travel to work also means physical office spaces can become smaller. “In many cities, AXA will now try to operate a maximum ‘one roof’ policy, so we’ll have all of our people in that city under one roof,” Silvent said, adding this would be taking place shortly at AXA offices in London and Tokyo.

The company is conscious that many will be tempted to take Monday and Friday as their away days to give themselves four continuous days at home but potentially meaning overcrowding on other days. 

To deal with this, Silvent said that the company would enforce a rule that staff cannot take a Friday at home if they’re taking a Monday, and vice versa. All employees will be encouraged to share their plans with colleagues two weeks in advance. 

“It self-regulates,” she added. “I’ve never heard of any issue of overcrowding in any of the places where we’ve been doing this.”

Another benefit of hybrid working, the human resources chief noted, is increased operational resilience. When productivity can be maintained without the need to congregate, a company is in a far stronger position in the event of a crisis. “You never know what will happen,” she said.

What about the potential for hard working employees to lose motivation as a result of being separated from physical teams? Silvent said managers would be responsible for preventing that happening among their teams, adding that AXA was investing in the necessary training.

“Pre-pandemic, line managers found it hard to adjust sometimes. It’s a different way of managing,” she said.

“The pandemic … meant everyone had to do it at the same time. Managing hybrid doesn’t mean you are more remote. On the contrary, you need to be more present and more empathetic. And you need to be clearer on the objectives you are setting.” 

She added the company will emphasize that days spent in the office should focus on different areas of work to days spent at home.

“The days you are in the office should be about brainstorming, training, meeting your team and solving issues with other teams. The office must be a hub for social interactions. That’s what we want to achieve,” Silvent said.

One potential drawback of  remote working is isolation, and resulting heightened risk of mental health issues – particularly for people whose jobs don’t require them to interact frequently with others over video. Silvent said AXA has taken steps to address this through training and support.

“Remote working at AXA is voluntary,” she said. “No one is obliged to do it. If you want to, you can work five days a week in the office. 95% don’t but there are situations where people prefer to work [in the office] full-time, for example people who live in small apartments, or who live with parents, and so on.”

When asked if working from home could mean living in the office, Silvent replied: “There must be no blurring. If you are working from home, separating work from home-life is so important.

“That means when you close your laptop at lunch or at the end of the day, work stops.”

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