Executive summary:

COVID-19: a relatively predictable system to model compared to conventional insurance and reinsurance claims

The processes that drive many insurance and reinsurance claims – such as natural peril events, and man-made accidents – are uncertain, spontaneous and impossible to ‘predict’. The impact COVID-19 would have on humanity was, in some way, conceived in its genetic code when it infected the first human. Thereafter, the spread of the virus has followed mathematical principles. Although it may not be immediately clear how to parameterise the model, using the broadest worldview allows us to learn from other countries as to what our immediate future may hold.
James Robinson, PhD, COVID-19 Pandemic Modelling Analyst

COVID-19 has changed the working world beyond recognition, and the impact of the pandemic is still being realised. The interconnectivity of the risks COVID-19 presents is something that few were prepared for. Every organisation is working through the crisis, making decisions for their business and supporting their workforces. As the pandemic unfolded, Aon decided to look forward to a ‘New Better’ and define this in collaboration with our clients.

That is the reason Aon brought together some of London’s largest organisations to form a coalition – to join forces, share expertise, learn from each other and focus on the here and now: how do we tackle this crisis and shape the future world? And so the London Work, Travel, Convene Coalition was launched.

Our coalition insights to date include some of the best minds from next-gen talent, future working, cyber, and vaccine development.

Hopefully, by 2024, we will have a good rollout of COVID-19 vaccines globally

The number of adults suffering from depression has doubled, increasing from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 since March 2020 (Office of National Statistics)

Even before COVID-19, the WHO predicted that depression would become the leading cause of the global burden of disease by 2030

All Paths Lead to Workforce Health in 2021: Foreword by Julie Page

When offices shut their doors in March 2020, it was a situation unlike any we had encountered before; there was a presumption that many, if not all of us, would have returned to the office by the end of 2020. This was not to be, and the landscape has shifted several times over, with the government most recently asking people to continue to work from home until July 2021.

News of the vaccine approval had been the hope that the UK was waiting for, but as Dr Rodriguez-Fernandez tells us – a rollout that enables what we have previously understood to be a ‘normal’ environment will probably take until 2024 globally, so we must make provisions to adjust to a new workplace culture when we do return.

In the longer term, there is every chance that the office, as we previously knew it, will change significantly. This possibility has huge commercial ramifications and forces us to truly think about the office of the future and our work lives reimagined. The objective of the London Work, Travel and Convene Coalition is to help facilitate those conversations and utilise expert insight to help guide our decision-making regarding a safe return to the workplace.

Thinking now and for the future

As we continue to learn more about the path of the pandemic and the implications for organisations, we are engaging with experts responsive to the ever-changing picture. Most recently, we have had authorities from the world of next-gen talent, future working, cyber and vaccines, providing invaluable insight. What we have learnt in the London coalition applies across most towns and cities in the UK. Our journey is far from over, and our ongoing collaboration is crucial to shaping how London responds to the future world of work. Whilst we are unable to manage the virus directly, we can manage how we build resilience in our organisations and physically and mentally support and protect our colleagues.

Every organisation is now a healthcare organisation

The future may be far from clear, but one definitive trend has emerged from the coalition sessions. While the speakers derive their expertise from different sources, at the centre of a Venn diagram the same words can be found: workforce health is a strategic imperative for firms.

This insight report aims to showcase the coalition's work so far, underpinned by Aon's data and analytics, and considers what may influence the trajectory of the UK's recovery over the coming months. While no-one has all the answers, we share our own experience, alongside coalition members, to help shine a light on the future world of work and the ways in which we can build resilience in by design.

Julie Page

CEO, Aon UK Ltd & London Work, Travel, Convene Coalition Chair

What is the London, Work, Travel, Convene Coalition

The appetite to return has not wavered

There is still a genuine appetite from employers in the City and Canary Wharf to get people back to the workplace, recognising that they are part of a greater ecosystem that's critical for the overall health of the economy. Making decisions as part of the coalition will help accelerate that return with three key areas of focus: the first is around planning; the second looks at issues that businesses can't consider without some form of external validation; while the third explores how businesses will 'reshape' to thrive and prosper in the post-COVID world.
Richard Waterer, Managing Director EMEA, Global Risk Consulting Aon

The London Work, Travel, Convene Coalition launched in September 2020. It brings together large employers in the City and Canary Wharf to share key learnings and insights related to planning and operations, to assess impact and measurement of efforts and to evaluate the latest technologies. The coalition’s aim is to develop a set of guidelines to help navigate the challenges businesses face as society re-opens throughout the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founding members of the coalition include, Accenture, Ashurst, Aviva, Clyde & Co, JLL, Legal & General and others. Member roles range from Chief Operating Officer, Director of People Services, Director of Employee Experience, and Future Workplace Director.

London as an interconnected ecosystem

While all parts of London face challenges in acclimatising to the 'new better' following the government-mandated restrictions, the City and Canary Wharf face specific challenges in getting people back to the workplace, such as high-rise buildings, the density of buildings and people, and dependence on public transport.

These parts of London also form an interconnected ecosystem, and decisions made by the large employers that inhabit them will be a determinant in London's ability to move toward societal and economic recovery.
Julie Page, CEO of Aon UK Ltd & London Work, Travel, Convene Coalition Chair

Key dates

London WTC Coalition kick-off

Transport & Commuting

Preparedness & Communication, Pandemic Modelling

Mental Health & Leadership

Vaccines: Our corporate role

Strategic Themes

Supporting the Next Generation of Talent

Vaccines Update

Leading with Purpose

The Office Reimagined: Smart Working towards a Resilient Future

All Change: Transport & Commuting

Vaccines: Pathway to Immunity is Littered with Obstacles

Health: a Strategic Priority

Preparedness: COVID-19 and Pandemic Modelling

Case Studies

What lessons have we learnt?

Rather than lessons learnt, we prefer to say lessons learning. The main one being that our people are more resilient than we thought they could be. The second is how we need to adapt to meet needs of the future world of work. We used to class employees as office workers or home workers with very little in the middle.

“This mindset needs to change as everyone is an Aon worker, wherever they are as the effort and skills are the same. But this shift needs careful managing as people must feel part of the organisation and this is difficult if people never come into the office. How can we make sure everyone feels included and is treated the same? This is still something we are working on,” Winterbottom says.

At the start of the last year, many thought lockdown would last three months, and firms would return to the office. The second lockdown was harder and took an emotional toll on everyone. Aon has had to hone its skills in managing wellbeing and helping people who don’t put their hands up. We need to pre-empt and identify concerns. We are working hard to understand this better.

Cyber resilience

With more laptops being issued and more colleagues working from home, there was greater potential for cyber-breaches. We utilised the experience of our cyber practice, including workshops, advice, best practice, support and communications around the threats and mitigations. Hardware and software was reviewed and, where necessary, upgraded. Aon’s planned introduction of new security/login platforms last year was accelerated by the pandemic.

The Aon outlook

Over the coming months, we will need to adapt our position on remote working, travel and meeting with clients and partners. We plan to do this through two key workstreams;

Preparing for the vaccine – As the vaccine is distributed, we will need to adapt our travel plans and look to understand how we can best use the physical space available. We will leverage our Aon Risk Consulting teams to support us in developing and prioritising use cases and capacity planning while maximising our agility and response to client and colleague needs. We will also look to increase international travel, where it is safe to do so. All of this needs to be considered in lock-step with our clients, their needs and appetite to meet physically.

Future of work – Over the next couple of months, we will be working with our Human Capital Solutions teams to understand the agility of colleagues’ roles, individual colleague’s preferred way of working and home working environment (physical and situational). This will provide us with the data to develop detailed policy, procedural, HR, training, technology and real estate changes to support colleagues and our business. This activity will be underpinned by a change management programme and two studies into trust and habits, led by teams of colleagues undertaking an Aon supported MSc.

Top priorities

Operational resilience has been L&G’s top priority during the pandemic. Alongside its COVID-19 response, it has a programme of work focused on resilience, and lessons learnt have fed into this strategy. The business understood the importance of senior operational managers — making sure they are present and mobile when managing their issues and operational performance. Beyond this, managers have a team reporting to them that operates efficiently and acts as a communication mechanism, and brings specific issues to the fore quickly. Having strong senior support and being able to make decisions very quickly worked well for L&G, and it confirmed why the business needs to have the right people in those senior positions. Any decisions affecting the treatment of employees needed immediate discussion and decision-making, and it had proactive and robust governance around this.

New ways to support workforce

L&G had strong comms early on, which made everyone feel still part of the organisation even though they were remote; it made them realise the firm was doing its best for them.

“We have made sure that we have kept up this momentum, helping people understand that we are still one organisation,” Andy Young, Head of Group Real Estate Planning & Programmes says. “We are now taking extra steps to look after employees’ mental wellbeing and workspace environments at home. We have 10% of people in the office performing our critical services; the other 90% of people have been at home for months working, so that shift has been acknowledged and is a focus for us.”

Thinking for the future

L&G is now starting to think about what the blend of office vs remote working will be in the future. The organisation acknowledges that work-life balance is a significant challenge, the situation is different from employee to employee, so the needs are different. Providing an operating model that supports this is critical.

From a group real estate perspective, Young says, “We are trying to understand the future office's purpose as a workplace. It is not about someone having a desk or saying they are going to go into the office two days a week. It is now about questioning why you need to be in the office, what is the purpose of the visit, and how will it add value from a personal perspective and for the organisation.

“You might say: I plan to go into the office one day a week, but in reality, there may be limited value if the visit doesn’t coincide with other people’s plans, and you end up doing exactly what you would have done at home. However, that might still be what you want to do for a period of time from a wellbeing perspective.”

L&G wants people to think about why they need the office. They might want to go in for some quiet, to collaborate, or to meet clients – this is what will drive its use case and demand for space going forward.

Everyone must adjust and find the right way of working in the future workplace, with the blend of home and office work environments.

L&G has space for 30% of employees in its current COVID-safe offices given social distancing, but it has not filled these desks as it continues to reinforce the “stay at home if you can work from home” message.

What lessons have we learnt?

With offices in more than 120 countries, Accenture leadership first saw the pandemic unfold in China at the start of 2020 and started to prepare for COVID-19’s spread across the world. The company’s leaders prioritised keeping people safe and healthy—employees, clients, vendors, and everyone coming through their offices — and at the same time prioritising the stability and continuity of their client services. Accenture also mobilised to set everyone up to work from home. The base infrastructure was there, with services in the cloud, but the CIO group quickly expanded the company’s networks and ensured access to laptops and internet across the world—enabling people to go remote in an extremely short period of time.

Establishing a strategy was critical to Accenture’s COVID-19 response. “From my perspective, doing the strategic planning on the front end was invaluable, and we benefitted from being able to build off a pandemic plan that had previously been prepared – most of our changes involved scaling up to deal with the sheer volume this pandemic created,” says David Sawyer, Managing Director, Facilities & Services, UK & Ireland, at Accenture. “That strategy and planning helped us be as well prepared as we could be and iterate as needed both for business continuity and rapid response purposes.”

Continuously adapting, adjusting and improving frameworks

Unlike preparedness plans for large-scale disasters such as hurricanes, the pandemic’s global impact was far more complex. Laura Schlicting, Accenture’s North America Geographic Services Lead, recalls the lessons learned from teams in China – the country first imposing lockdowns due to COVID-19: “We were able to learn from the approach that China took - how our teams were able to get ready and respond.” As the pandemic’s scope and scale grew, Accenture’s teams were able to build from the approach that was taken in China and continuously iterate and improve, all the while taking into account local variances – from government regulations in specific countries or in the case of the United States, a patchwork of local laws.

Aon Insights:

87.2% of companies* have defined protocols with their key vendors to support the management process and coordination of return to work and medical status updates

*Data collected by Aon’s proprietary Readiness Assessment from over 50 Work Travel Convene Coalition participants from the US, Europe, and Asia. Respondents span over 15 industries and represent multinational organizations with global footprint

Making the best decisions during rapidly evolving situations

A structure that supported integrated decision-making helped Accenture put strategic action plans in place. Leadership set strategic direction while various subgroups — procurement, HR, employee relations, technology — brought their own targeted solutions. “Across our most senior leadership, there was a group that met routinely, regularly, daily, as they set the strategic direction,” Schlicting says, and that “all-in” approach was replicated throughout geographies. “We pulled together a configuration of people who wouldn’t typically work together, at least in such a collective way,” says Sawyer. “That constant communication helped all of our teams prepare for rapid shifts in direction. Everybody had a 360° view on the totality of the situation on an ongoing daily basis. We were able to continuously manage the situation because of really close coordination and collaboration.”

Francesco Bianco, Global Talent, Capabilities, and Organisational Development Director, explains how inclusion and engagement have been at the forefront of Vodafone’s Future of Work strategy.

While it has been a year of accelerated learning for Vodafone, the telecoms giant has reported high levels of engagement during the pandemic. Francesco Bianco, Global Talent, Capabilities, and Organisational Development Director for Vodafone, credits a strong connection to purpose throughout the organisation, empowerment, learning and skills application.

Something else that has proven invaluable is investment in data. Francesco says he uses data to look at three things: “We listen to our people through a structured and continuous listening approach. We complement this with aggregated data that gives insight into how teams work, collaborate and spend their time. Finally we look outside for trends, learning from what other companies are doing and what's going on in the world more broadly.”

One learning that has emerged from the data is that autonomy is a crucial driver of creativity and innovation. This understanding was integral Vodafone’s approach to reshaping the office. Yet autonomy alone is not enough; it must exist within the right culture. “In order to change the culture, we need to support a shift in individual habits,” Francesco explains. “Because if we change our individual behaviours, ultimately we can change and influence organisational behaviours that create a culture that fosters engagement and innovation. And there are tools and resources available today to do exactly that – they help us to understand which individual behaviours and patterns to shift in order to drive more collaboration and innovation across the organisation.”

Vodafone has partnered with Humu to launch Spirit Beat, a personal digital coach, which delivers precise, personalised coaching to help people in their daily work. Thanks to Spirit Beat, Vodafone regularly and confidentially assesses the culture using employee feedback. This feedback is shared through aggregated insights with every individual and team. Spirit Beat sends ‘nudges’ to each employee to help address the feedback and help develop new habits to shift the culture. Vodafone has sent almost a million of these nudges in the last three months to support the culture change.

Investment in leadership is also required to develop the right organisational culture - how do you help your leaders foster innovation? Francesco answers: “The key thing we're working on is the idea of psychological safety, which is quite important when you look at the driving innovation theme. How do I help my leaders create an environment where people feel free to raise their hand, have an idea, make a mistake? Our leadership development and training are centred around this idea of leaders creating a safe place for people to have an idea, work on that idea, and make mistakes.” Vodafone has removed individual performance multipliers from its bonus scheme, and bonuses are now based on how teams perform.

Hybrid work combines the best of the office and virtual working

Vodafone believes that being a future-ready company is about building an inclusive environment where its business and everyone who is part of it can thrive.

Vodafone Global Model

Increased flexibility is core to that environment. Over the last year, teams have demonstrated resilience and flexibility to deliver on Vodafone’s purpose and strategy. As it moves forwards, it wants to enable everyone at Vodafone to do their best work in the way that works best for them and their teams, inside and outside its offices.

For nearly 40 years, Vodafone’s offices have been an integral part of the community, where they worked together to connect societies, businesses and customers. Vodafone also learned that over the past year, despite the challenges we have all faced, they found remote working to be productive and have wider benefits. They are now looking to enhance their physical and virtual workplaces, ensuring that they can work together better and more productively than ever before.

Vodafone’s research shows that as societies reopen, teams want the freedom to determine how they work best, and a more hybrid and flexible way of working is here to stay. Hybrid working for Vodafone combines the best of access to the office and remote working, supported by the right tools and technology. Offices will be used primarily for creation and collaboration and have been designed as such; they will also continue to provide a safe place to work for those who need it.

To support remote working Vodafone has a concept called ‘office in a box’. It provides people with a complete office experience: desk, monitor, connectivity, lamps, giving them some design choices. The organisation is also experimenting with co-working spaces closer to where people live to provide options to work in an office environment with the convenience of reduced commuting.

Technology will be important in determining the hybrid breakdown going forward, and Vodafone is testing out its new office concept and tools across its global campuses. It’s using hybrid working as an opportunity to build accessibility into the physical and digital workplace. “We want to learn, see how people use the new spaces and tools, and then adjust as we go forward, because in these things clearly there is also an investment component, so we want to get it right. We want to learn from how people are using the space and ensure accessibility is built into our design,” Francesco says.

Improving Inclusion

Vodafone plans to expand its options to reach the best and most diverse talent through the introduction of skill hubs in different cities and changing ways of working. For example, by offering options to work from home between 80 and 100% of the time for customer care roles. This type of flexibility is designed to leverage flexible ways of working to improve inclusion and attract a broader, diverse group of candidates to roles.

Francesco says: “For us, this is also an opportunity to engage in a better way with communities as everyone is looking at the future post-pandemic and investing to reignite the economy, in different cities, places and parts of the country. And we clearly have a role to play as an employer. Now, that's really a win-win opportunity because it means access to a broader and more diverse pool of talent for us and we support local communities.”

To further accelerate its work on inclusion, Vodafone needed to have the right data. So the firm launched a voluntary self-declaration campaign, Count Me In, which will allow employees to voluntarily share their gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity and caring responsibilities to enable measurement of inclusion and equity across critical processes such as remuneration and progression. “We want our workforce to represent the demographics of our markets and ensure inclusion is embedded across the employee lifecycle,” Francesco says.

A chance to experiment, learn and adjust

Francesco is clear that Vodafone’s journey is far from over. He explains: “We will keep listening to our people to inform what we do next. We may make mistakes, which is an opportunity to learn, adjust and change. And it's not easy because we all like clear and definitive answers, and we want them now. I think we have to resist that temptation to say this how it is always going to be. We're still learning and one of the learnings is that it's important to keep all the doors open at this stage without making statements that are, to some extent, irreversible because things continue to evolve. It's important that we can evolve the organisation together.”