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Employee Benefits Strategies for a Remote Workforce

More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, many employers are evaluating how to transition a remote workforce back to a physical office. Organizations are postponing return dates, signaling that many employees will be working from home well beyond 2021. More than a third of employers aren’t sure when they’ll bring employees back and ~20% of employers say they don’t ever plan on returning to an office setting.

Further, employees aren’t eager to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic: More than half (52%) say they would choose to work from home permanently if given the option.

It’s clear that remote work is here to stay. For employers, this begs the question: Does your benefits strategy change in a virtual world? The obvious answer? Yes — it has to.

Rethinking Employee Benefits

Company leaders must think differently about employee benefits. Pre-pandemic, employee benefits were primarily used to attract and retain quality talent. Thus, it was imperative for companies of all sizes to offer competitive benefit packages.

That’s still the case today, at least when it comes to traditional offerings like health insurance and retirement programs. However, the inability to come together face-to-face dramatically changes what employers can offer.

Before the pandemic, employers could provide office perks like employee lunches, happy hours, lunch and learns, massages and dry cleaning (to name a few). In the case of professional development, there was ample opportunity to bring people together for team building and interactive training programs. Employers that are now managing a remote workforce no longer have the ability to offer these in-person employee benefits.

Working remotely also impacts company culture. For instance, it hinders employers’ ability to cultivate a sense of belonging within their workforce. An extension of diversity, equity and inclusion, belonging exists when employees feel “seen,” respected and engaged with their coworkers. Without the ability to gather in a physical space where they can easily receive social validation and approval from others, workers often feel isolated — yet another challenge employers face in this brave, new virtual world.

Are there benefits that can truly replace those offered when employees are in the office?

Employee Benefits in a Virtual World 

The sky’s the limit for what can be offered, but it largely depends on the creativity and thoughtfulness of leadership. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Charitable Matching programs: Employers can offer matching contributions to a philanthropic cause of an employee’s choosing through new technology solutions, like Cauze, an app that enables donations to any U.S.-based nonprofit with the tap of a button. These programs allow employees to support issues they care about while leveraging their employer’s generosity and resources.  
  • Emergency savings programs: Emergency savings programs have emerged as a new employee benefit within the last year. And emergency savings assistance is more necessary than ever for today’s workers. Pandemic research from LIMRA, a financial services industry group, shows that a quarter of all employees have no emergency savings whatsoever. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Americans have been living paycheck to paycheck since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report from technology company Highland Solutions.

Emergency savings programs are similar to retirement programs, but offer employers the flexibility to promote savings without having to worry about the complex ERISA requirements inherent in retirement programs. Several providers have emerged in this space. For instance, Secure is a Seattle-based fintech start-up that makes it easy for employers to add emergency savings accounts to their benefits package.

  • Home office benefits: With most employees working remotely, their home offices should be set up ergonomically to prevent injury while promoting productivity and overall well-being. Employers may choose to offer reimbursements for items such as standing or walking desks, ergonomic chairs, standing mats, blue-blocking screens or glasses, and other equipment that improves employees’ health and productivity while working from home.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): While by no means a new benefit, EAPs are vastly under-utilized — usage typically averages less than 10% in the U.S.

After more than a year of living with the uncertainty of a pandemic and the resulting economic and social crises, employees need access to a mental health benefit more than ever. EAPs enable employees to seek counseling, addiction recovery, and similar mental health services at no cost, several times a year. Increasing employee awareness and educating them on the benefits of using the EAP can help to improve utilization rates.

As we continue to operate in a virtual world, employers must take responsibility for delivering benefits that improve employees’ quality of life, make them feel valued and included, and develop them as individuals.

Company leaders should consult with peers and other resources to learn how organizations are evolving to address these challenges. WTIA membership provides ample opportunity for company leaders to get the support they need in establishing and maintaining benefits for a remote workforce.

For more information, join WTIA today.

 

1Maurer, Roy. Society for Human Resources Management. “Half of Workers Wish to Remain Remote Permanently.”  March 3, 2021. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/SHRM-Half-Workers-Wish-Remain-Remote-Permanently.aspx

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