Pre-pandemic remote working plan gave insurance company ‘competitive edge’

Liberty Insurance’s operations in Spain, Portugal and Ireland required systems overhaul, so firm used opportunity to reflect on business

For many companies the sudden switch to remote working when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out was accompanied by a period of slightly chaotic improvisation, with management and staff trying to function in ways nobody ever thought they would have to.

At Liberty Insurance, things were slightly different. Long before the days of pandemic restrictions, the company, which employed about 400 staff at offices in Blanchardstown, Cavan and Enniskillen, started putting together a framework for a new way of working.

The merger of its operations across Spain, Portugal and Ireland required an overhaul of legacy systems, and so Liberty used the opportunity to more fundamentally reassess how it functioned.

An investment of €100 million across the group in what came to be known as the Liberty Digital Way might have seemed like a gamble at the time, but when Covid-19 struck, the insurer was confident enough in what had been planned to send staff home before things started to shut down more widely.


“So the pandemic didn’t make us decide to go to remote work,” says Roseanne Regan, Liberty’s sustainability manager for Europe. “It just accelerated what we were already doing.”

“Contact centre” work and team-based projects, she says, were all relatively straightforward to take home and easy for managers to monitor, whether in terms of calls taken or goals completed.

By the time offices started reopening, Liberty was comfortable with the idea of not really returning full-time. A poll of staff indicated 93 per cent were happy with the prospect of continuing to largely operate from home. This allowed Liberty to reduce the amount of office space it rents, most significantly in Blanchardstown, and revamp what was kept to gear it more towards team meetings. On a typical day in recent months, there has been 10 per cent occupancy.

Staff are provided with the equipment they need to work from home and get €60 a month towards bills. They can come into the office for up to eight days a month, but any more than that is discouraged with the policy applying across the board.

“It has been highlighted in other companies that you can have some inequality there in terms of promotion opportunities if you have a certain cohort going in every day and the senior management are going in too, but the other aspect was that it suited our model,” Regan says.

“We have this multicountry model and not going into the office has actually made people work better in teams which are international teams, not just based in the Dublin office. It’s easier to get into that team mindset.”

Liberty continues to consult staff about their experience, but support for the model is likely to be reinforced by the fact that new hires know the way things work at the company and many, Regan says, are specifically drawn to it.

“One of the greatest things has been from a recruitment standpoint,” she says. “Sixty per cent of new hires since we launched this have been from counties outside of where we are based. The talent pool is so much wider and so it gives us kind of a bit of a competitive edge, you know, for going up against some of the tech companies for people. In that sense, it’s been great.”

Regan, who is from Galway, understands the attraction many see in not having to throw themselves into the Dublin housing market. She joined Liberty during the pandemic and is happy to have avoided even a relatively short commute. Others benefit in terms of time with family, she says, and feedback about the approach continues to be extremely positive.

Not for everyone

Still, she accepts that the switch obviously will not work for every company and may not appeal to every group of staff. Training is provided to managers at Liberty to deal with those who might be less happy with all of the change.

“I definitely think it isn’t for everyone,” she says. “I’m a big advocate of remote working, but do I think every company should go in and say, ‘hey, guess what, we’re announcing a new model?’ I think you need to check because it’s not for everyone and if it doesn’t suit your employees, then there’s no point.”

While many companies are still very much figuring out how the dust will settle on their return to office/remote working policies, Regan believes Liberty’s is fairly settled, at least for now. “I think the only evolution that’s left is if employees tell us they want something different, or no one ever goes into the offices again.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times