Virtual reality and other digital tools are helping Cigna reinvent the workplace during a pandemic

If you visit a Cigna conference room at the health insurer’s Bloomfield headquarters, you might see employees wearing virtual reality headsets.

They don’t play the latest VR games; they participate in a virtual staff meeting that brings together employees working remotely and in the office.

Using Oculus headsets to host meetings in the metaverse is still in the experimental stage, but it was prompted by pandemic-induced changes to how most businesses operate, according to Cindy Ryan, vice president. -Executive President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Cigna. .

Although Cigna has reopened its offices to fully vaccinated employees, approximately 90% of its workforce continues to work remotely on a part-time or full-time basis. This requires innovative ways to keep employees connected, Ryan said.

Ryan recently spoke with the Hartford Business Journal about the future of work and how the pandemic has changed the way the health insurer does business, including how it recruits employees and the technology it uses. adopted to keep workers engaged, wherever they are.

She’s a long-time human resources professional who was named Cigna’s top human resources manager in August. Previously, she spent 23 years at Cigna in roles of increasing responsibility, most recently as senior vice president and head of human resources for the company’s US operations, responsible for talent management strategies, employee engagement and leadership effectiveness.

Ryan spoke to HBJ in December before the omicron variant spread rapidly during and after the holiday season, and again heightened state and nation’s attention to the pandemic.

She said Cigna — one of Greater Hartford’s largest employers with thousands of local workers and more than 70,000 employees worldwide — has an ongoing advisory group of business and HR leaders who constantly discuss return-to-work strategies. The main priority of any decision, Ryan said, is to maintain the safety and well-being of the workforce. This is especially important for a healthcare services company, whose revenues and profits are directly tied to the health of its customers.

“It’s a really fluid and agile environment and I think flexibility is super important to every employer right now, and I know we’re keeping it front and center,” Ryan said.

Here’s what else she had to say:

What is Cigna’s current return to office strategy?

We have been very responsive to the needs of our employees throughout the pandemic and since it started, over 90% of our employees have been working from home. The remaining 10% were considered dependent on the workplace – providing patient care or dispensing medicine.

By allowing the majority of our employees to work from home, this has allowed us to keep everyone safe, but has also given people the flexibility to manage the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19.

Since then, we have physically reopened our offices so that all our employees who are vaccinated and who wish to do so, have the opportunity to come on site.

In the midst of all this, we are piloting a few projects at our headquarters to create more collaborative spaces and even test some virtual reality technologies.

Oculus headsets are especially important when you have a mixed group or a group of people who are together in a physical location and then have other participants joining remotely.

The Oculus lets you see each person and interact with them on an individual level, so it’s a level playing field. This removes the difference in terms of physical presence and virtual presence.

We also have collaboration tools that allow people to do virtual whiteboard sessions and other things that would have happened in a physical workspace.

In general, we know that workforce expectations are changing rapidly, which is why we continuously evaluate how we provide flexibility in terms of where, when and how our employees work.

Beyond the pandemic, how do you think Cigna’s workforce will perform?

In a post-pandemic environment, we anticipate that 60% of our workforce will work from home full-time and 30% will have a flexible role, meaning they will split their time between the office and home. The remaining 10% of our workers are dependent on the construction site.

When did Cigna reopen its offices?

We started partially reopening in September 2020, just a limited number of locations, including our Bloomfield headquarters.

But the vast majority of sites have only been open in the last four or five months and are now available for people to enter.

We used the first pilot sites to shape our approach.

Are you still 90% remote or has that number changed as you opened more offices?

It’s offbeat, but it depends on the week and the day. It’s very dynamic.

The vast majority of our workforce still remains in this full-time work from home or flexible work category.

But I have to point out that before the pandemic, we had around 35-40% of our workforce working from home all the time.

What does a flexible or hybrid workforce mean to Cigna?

Employees who have a flexible schedule can choose, depending on business and personal needs, when they come to the office and when they work from home.

We’re starting to see new models, where people come into offices typically on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for group meetings, for collaboration, for innovation, for a variety of different things where work is better done together.

There is no requirement at this point as to how many days a hybrid employee must be in the office.

Have the variants – delta and omicron – changed the rules of your office?

They do not have. To be in the office, someone must be fully vaccinated, which has remained unchanged despite the variations. Additionally, we strongly encourage employees to wear surgical grade masks or better when in the office.

How will a larger remote workforce impact your recruiting efforts/strategy?

I think the boundaries that once existed geographically have changed because you can access talent in different places than you were before.

Being able to recruit people who can work from home or in different locations allows us to continuously meet the needs of the company both locally and nationally.

In terms of recruiting strategies, we have remained anchored on a few things that have served us well over time and continue to do so during the pandemic. One is our company’s overall mission and values, which are focused on improving people’s health and well-being. We know this helps attract people to the business and engage them.

Second, we focus on diversity and inclusion and our employee value proposition. We have a variety of people who have been here for a very long time, 20, 30 or 40 years. We also have a high boomerang rate of people who left us but later returned.

We have continued some best practices like our employee referral program which offers a bonus and incentive. Our employees are actually one of our best sources of employment.

We have ramped up all of our college recruiting, which I know a lot of employers have abandoned during the pandemic. We had 283 interns last year at 110 schools and hope to have all of our interns back in the office this summer if it’s safe.

We also did a lot of social media to reach candidates in different ways.

Much attention has been given to the Great Resignation. How has the pandemic impacted employee retention and how is Cigna responding?

So while we have seen an increase in turnover, we have not seen the high levels that have been reported in other industries. We believe this is largely due to the focus and care we have taken to keep people safe.

We’ve also offered additional benefits during the pandemic, like emergency leave, compassionate care leave, huge flexibility so people can really balance their personal and professional needs.

And we really pride ourselves on strong communication, but we’ve taken that to a new high during the pandemic. We held town hall meetings for all employees, regular calls with our managers on pandemic-related issues, business updates, and more.

Has the pandemic changed Cigna’s office space needs?

In conference rooms, we’ve removed chairs so it’s easy to social distance, and we have limits on how many people can be in rooms.

We still have collaboration spaces, but have made them more spacious to allow for social distancing.

We recently renovated our headquarters in Bloomfield. We now have this beautiful space where people can come back with modern technology and really flexible and ergonomic workstations and great collaboration spaces.

It includes private offices as well as shared offices.

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