Staff at insurance giant Axa set to split work between home and office post-pandemic
- Credit: Sam Dawes
Ipswich town centre is facing a new challenge after one of the town's largest employers announced most staff will not return to full-time work in its office, even after Covid restrictions are lifted.
Axa insurance has one of its largest offices in the country in the town - employing more than 1,000 people at its office in Civic Drive.
Since the first lockdown many of the company's staff have been working from home - and now it has announced a new global strategy of smart working with staff encouraged to split their time between office and home working.
That is likely to mean it has fewer staff in the town centre every day - visiting shops, takeaways and cafes during their lunch hours.
The company says it expects most staff to work from home two days a week - but it accepts that some people might have to work full-time in the office.
Before the pandemic 38% of its staff around the world regularly worked at home - but now 90% wanted to increase the amount of time they worked at home.
However, enforced absence from the office had shown the company it was necessary to get together on some days to work as a team.
Axa's chief human resources officer Karima Silvent said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a tipping point in our working methods. Continued investments in our digital transformation made it possible to massively recourse to remote working during the crisis, which confirmed the resilience of our organisation in an unprecedented context.
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"Moreover, this crisis has reminded us of the importance of having places in which we can meet and work together.
“By extending our smart working strategy, we want to adapt our organisation to the post-Covid era and offer our employees a balanced framework that combines the flexibility of remote work, while keeping the office as an important anchor for social interactions and community building.”
Axa is not expected to be the only large employer in the town centre to introduce more flexible. Hundreds of local authority staff work at Endeavour House in Russell Road. A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said no decisions on working after the pandemic had yet been made.
But he added: "Many people have been able to work well from home, and no decisions will be made without talking to everyone about how they want to work in future."
Last summer Ipswich Central - which works with town centre businesses - worked hard to try to persuade companies to bring their staff back to offices to give the town centre a boost.
Its chief executive, Paul Clement, said the move by Axa was not a surprise - and he expected other employers to do the same. But there could be a benefit for Ipswich from this move.
He said: "You have to look at what is going to happen to the spare office space. We will see companies, especially in London, not needing their staff to commute every day - but those staff may need office services near home and space in towns like Ipswich could meet that need for people who live locally.
"Ipswich does need to adapt and what is key to that is getting more people to live in the town centre. That is what we are working at and this kind of change is exactly what we are expecting."