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DALLAS — Leveraging technology and creating new work paradigms is one way to infuse an entrepreneurial spirit in even the largest established insurers and reinsurers, according to Eric Smith, president and CEO of Swiss Re Americas.
Addressing the MarketScout Entrepreneurial Insurance Symposium in Dallas on Tuesday, Mr. Smith spoke about enhancing performance through virtual workers. “I saw it both at USAA (Life Insurance Co.) and now at Swiss Re — you end up with better productivity from your virtual workers than you did from those that had to come to a physical space,” said Mr. Smith.
Swiss Re's “Own the Way You Work” program allows employees to determine their own working parameters.
“We want people to figure out what works best for them,” said Mr. Smith. “If they want to be virtual workers, they'll be virtual workers; if they want to have untraditional hours, they can work untraditional hours; if they want to work out of a couple of different locations, then they'll do that,” he said.
Giving employees too much structure can sap productivity, asserted Mr. Smith. “What you're going to find is that the worst possible thing you can do is tell them exactly what time to be there, exactly what time to leave and exactly what to wear, and then put them in cubicles and watch them wither,” he said.
The program has already been put in place in the company's New York office, and Swiss Re is building a new facility in Zurich designed specifically to be a workplace for a virtual workforce.
“Right now we're in the process of building a massive new building, which will have enough space for about one-third of the people who usually work there,” Mr. Smith said. “It's going to be very flexible, and we're going to assume that most people will not come in most days — and as time goes on we're going to do that across the globe.”
The move is not without its hurdles.
“The greatest challenge you'll have is the line leaders that are traditional, that are used to seeing their eight-person team. It is breaking the mindset of those midlevel managers,” said Mr. Smith, who remains undaunted.
“The opportunity to turn Swiss Re and make it more client-centric and make it more of an outward-facing enterprise — that's mission one for me.”
Employers who allow telecommuting as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act may be required to provide some equipment for an employee's home office, but there are no clear-cut rules regarding what an employer must provide, said Linda Batiste, principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network in Morgantown, West Virginia.