NOTE: The abstract below is a shortened version of the Health Plan Weekly article “With Pandemic’s End in View, Insurers Rethink Workplaces.”

By Leslie Small

With COVID-19 vaccination becoming increasingly widespread, businesses of all types are starting to plan for what their workplaces — both remote and office-based — will look like in the “new normal” created in the pandemic’s aftermath. Health insurers are no exception.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, for example, recently unveiled “the next phase of a reimagined employee and workplace experience strategy.” The nonprofit insurer explained in a March 24 news release that it is “working collaboratively with technology partners to design a new multi-faceted platform for employees that will be interactive and help foster a fully integrated work experience” wherever workers are located.

CareFirst just passed the one-year anniversary of having 95% of its associates working fully remote, the insurer noted, but it doesn’t plan to have that be the case forever. “In the future we plan to implement a hybrid strategy,” the insurer tells AIS Health. “Approximately 55% [of workers] will be enabled to work in a full-time remote capacity spending one day or less a week in an office setting; 30% will divide their time in an office 2-3 days a week and [be] remote the remainder of the time; and close to 15% will be full-time in a CareFirst office location 4-5 days a week.”

Similar to CareFirst, Highmark Inc. has kept most of its associates out of the office since the start of the pandemic. “And we have told employees it is unlikely that any employees will return to an office environment before July of this year,” the company said.

Those two insurers’ strategies are not out of step with what Willis Towers Watson has been observing through its polling and conversations with employers, says Rachael McCann, senior director of health and benefits at the benefits consulting firm.

“For the most part…we are seeing more companies across all industries, [in] the U.S. and global in nature, pushing pause because they’re looking at their real estate,” she says.

In Willis Towers Watson’s “2021 Emerging From the Pandemic Survey,” released in February, companies in the health care industry reported that an average of 44% of their employees worked remotely as of the first quarter of 2021, and they expect the share to be 30% by the end of the year.