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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Peter O’Donnell

Hoggett Bowers 2 minute interview Peter O'Donnell
Unum is a leading employee benefits provider offering financial protection through the workplace including: Income Protection, Life insurance, Critical Illness, and Dental cover.

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

It’s a constant challenge to make sure Unum are focused on actions for success in the long term, whilst managing the day to day issues of the pandemic i.e. how we are looking after our people and serving our customers whilst changing our operating model so we can push forward key strategic initiatives. This is tricky when people are continually caught up with the latest developments causing anxiety e.g. the recent rule of 6. We are determined to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

The new opportunities and risks the pandemic is causing. There has been a significant shift in how we work and how our sector operates in terms of the digitisation of remote health and remote working. Both present new business opportunities. They also have risks associated e.g. mental health problems from the lack of ’in the office’ day to day engagement with colleagues.

In retrospect what would you have done differently in lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for any future lockdown (local or national)?

Unum has done an amazing job managing lock-down with tremendous feedback from customers, brokers and employees.  It shows how businesses can execute quickly, underpinned by a clear goal. Prior to Covid, it would have taken years to mobilise remote working on this scale, we may never have got there! However, we achieved remote working overnight due to the urgency caused by the pandemic. Taking things we have learnt through the crisis that we can take to the ‘new world’ is what I reflect on.

Given the reliance on technology during lockdown, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

This has been accelerated by 3-5 years. The way we think about our operating models has shifted materially i.e. a small example is what used to be a coffee in London is now a coffee over Teams. We can run our businesses, network and improve effectiveness using digital channels. There will always be a place for face to face in person interaction, but we will do it less often.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

It’s still early days for Unum. At present we have 95% of our employees working remotely. We are starting to think about the future of work and where the office will fit in. Our current view is there will be a lot more flexible working, but certain roles will always be better served in the office environment i.e. a school leaver in their first job will learn their job better and the disciplines required in the office compared to working remotely.  Equally, a working dad or mum may require more flexibility to work at home to do the school run. Looking at the type of job and work will be important when assessing the best solution.

There was a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint during lockdown, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

One of the big benefits of lockdown is the reduction of our carbon footprint. At Unum we are looking at business travel, previously travelling to meetings in the UK or overseas. Through embracing technology and seeing how efficient we can run meetings virtually; we can sustainably reduce business travel. Another benefit is reduced paper usage e.g. I used to sign large paper contracts but now we have electronic signatures. We have also supplied masks which are washable to all staff.

What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown period going forward?

Having no commute, I have managed to work-out in the mornings more often. This is something I intend to keep doing. However, I am also snacking more due to the fridge being close by which I need to stop!

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

My brother is an Intensive Care Consultant in London. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been inspirational to talk with him and his team. It puts things into perspective!

Did you manage a holiday this summer and if so where / how did you spend it?

We (my wife and I) are going on holiday in October to Dartmoor for 1 week with the dog to walk across the moors.

Any words of wisdom?

Embrace the change. Those that do will be successful!