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Embedding virtual ways of working. An interview with Claire Hird

This year has been a test for us all in different ways, and it’s been no different for businesses. We’ve had to adapt and evolve as the coronavirus pandemic has continued. We sat down for a chat with Claire Hird, Head of Operations here at LV= to understand what we’ve been doing to look after our teams…

So, tell us a little bit about how the pandemic affected the working life of LV= employees?

I think it’s changed working life completely and maybe even permanently. We usually have around 4,000 people based in our Bournemouth site (which is our head office), so it was a huge shift for us to enable everyone to work from home. First and foremost, we wanted to ensure that our people were safe and had all the equipment and support they needed. The move to homeworking was the target from the outset, and in the early days, 100% of mine and Ben Turners’ efforts were put into that. For a while it seemed like no sooner had we successfully tackled something, another 300 problems emerged, but teamwork and open communication was crucial and I think through all of this. It’s made us realise how much we need to support each other in the workplace, not just professionally, but personally too. This has been a huge positive for us.

You enabled 4,000 people to work from home in a very short amount of time. How did you do it?

I have no idea! Like I said before, it’s thanks to monumental efforts from everyone and great teamwork. We relied heavily on collaboration and co-ordination across teams to get laptops in, re-built and then back out again, as well as then training people to work from laptops and ‘soft phones’ when most people had never worked in this way before.

You and some of the teams you work with enabled around 4,000 employees to work from home safely, while maintaining a level of service for your customers. How did you do this?

We knew that the most important thing for us to focus on, was being there for our customers when they needed us most, so it was all about having sensible targets and priorities. We de-prioritised sales so that we could focus on critical services like claims and roadside assistance. We made it very clear to customers through our website, social channels and telephone messaging that we were operating a reduced level of service due to the circumstances, but we increased the capacity of our digital platforms to cover this. We also made Smart Claim (LV= Birmingham’s digital claims offering) open to all perils and we increased all our Chat Bot capability so that everyone could use these methods to contact us as well as the traditional phone and email channels.

What are some examples of the challenges you had to overcome when enabling people to work from home?

Where do I start?! Broadbands failing, internal systems failing, staff unable to take phone calls due to technical issues, lack of laptops, facilitating desk and chair deliveries…the list goes on. Collaborative teamwork and constant communication across teams meant we could solve these issues quickly. We were all learning as we went along, but we got there in the end.

How did it feel to be involved with this project?

Humbling, eye opening and fairly stressful! If someone had told me 12 months ago that we’d have an entire site working from home, much less our 4,000-person head office, I’d have said they were mad! The world we live in has changed completely and I think everyone is just getting used to that – including us.

How do you think this will affect long term flexible working for your teams?

I think there will always need to be a balance. We are getting by with working as we are but it’s not ideal for the business, the customers or our people, so whilst I think we will have more flexibility in the future, I don’t see us being a permanent fully home-working organisation.

Have you heard any standout feedback or stories from employees about how being able to work from home has helped them and how supported they have felt?

I think it’s very mixed, there are those that love it and those who don’t. Personally, I like the fact that I am not travelling all the time and commuting every day, I enjoy having more time, but working from home on the phone and laptop all day with very few breaks is also challenging.

What actions have you taken to ensure the teams are supported remotely, not just in terms of physical equipment but also their mental health?

Wellbeing webinars, team check-ins, advice on managing stress, working from home top tips, lessons in meditation and yoga, weekly motivational emails, lockdown activity ideas…and so much more! We’ve also made sure that all teams have updates direct from the exec team, to ensure everyone has stayed in the loop with what’s happening in the business and what’s coming up. This open line of communication has been key to managing people’s expectations and questions throughout all the changes. The wellbeing of our teams is paramount – LV= wouldn’t be here without them and their hard work, so we’re doing all we can to support each other.