Commuting is overrated, says the CEO of Allstate: ‘Nobody wants to drive to an office to do a Zoom call’

March 21, 2023, 2:00 PM UTC
Tom Wilson headshot
“We found out flexibility really sells," Tom Wilson said on an exclusive Fortune Connect panel last week.
Courtesy of Allstate

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You don’t have to look far to see that workers’ loyalty to their jobs plummeted as they took stock of their lives during the pandemic. Whether or not they ended up regretting it, many opted to spring for greener pastures, joining the Great Resignation. The hiring market consequently went haywire, and amid record-breaking inflation and seemingly endless layoffs, has yet to return to normalcy

At insurance giant Allstate, president, chair, and CEO Tom Wilson has identified a method for both attracting new talent and ensuring existing talent continues feeling valued in such a market: prioritizing purpose and treating every worker like they’re an Allstate customer. 

He and his senior team at Allstate carried out that mindset shift during the pandemic, Wilson recalled during an exclusive interview with Fortune Connect.

“We say, we’re selling you a job. That job comes with some professional work, some personal growth, some money, and an inclusive environment,” Wilson explained. “And you pay us for that with your expertise, your engagement, your loyalty, your commitment, and the extra 10% of the work.”

It was viewing a job at Allstate through this lens that led Wilson to the no-brainer that still manages to evade countless other Fortune 500 executives: Workers want flexibility. At Allstate, that means adding flexibility to its customer value proposition.

“We found out flexibility really sells and, you know, nobody wants to drive to an office to do a Zoom call, and they don’t have to,” Wilson said. “And commuting is way overrated.”

Centering the employee pays off

Allstate, 66th on the Fortune 500, employs nearly 55,000 people and generates over $53 million in annual revenue. So it’s still ironing out the details of its flexible work arrangement. But even as it stands, Wilson’s vocal commitment to employee choice has given the company greater loyalty and commitment across the board, “and it has us thinking differently about where we want to go from here,” he said.

Shortly after lockdowns, Allstate sold its main campus real estate outside of Chicago, but has maintained a significant presence in the Chicago area, its vice president of people solutions and experiences, Stephanie Roseman, told Employee Benefit News

“We just wanted to be really purposeful and let employees drive what that means,” Roseman said. “We’re watching who’s coming in and when they’re coming in and letting that dictate a lot about our real estate plans. We’re trying to make sure that we’re investing in the talent pool so that there aren’t geographical constraints, while keeping in mind that 76% of our employees are near an office—we made sure that we have offices so that we can gather when they want to gather.”

Wilson, for his part, embraces workplace evolution. “We’re really thinking about creating the future, rather than following trends,” he said. “And I think all companies, all people, can do that. You just have to empower yourself to do it.”

Granted, flexibility may be less of a trend and more of an inarguably permanent feature of modern white collar work. 

By centering the employee—their preferences, their needs, their priorities—in all decision-making, Wilson has landed on another foundational part of the puzzle: purpose. His personal purpose is to help other people achieve more meaningful, successful lives, he said during his panel. He hopes the same goes for every worker at Allstate; purpose, he said, provides focus, engagement, and business-wide resiliency. 

Wilson, a “purpose-driven leader” who considers purpose “a gift you can give yourself and others,” encourages each worker to write out what motivates them. The answer is unlikely to be commuting to an office to be on Zooms all day.

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