While working from home is not a new trend, the coronavirus pandemic has caused an upsurge in employees working remotely throughout industries worldwide. Modern-day cloud technology has been present since 2006, but it had reached a whole new level of popularity in the last several months. It has made teleworking possible for many who haven't even considered it before the 2020 lockdown.
When work from home became the only safe option for maintaining productivity amid the crisis, employers didn't have much choice but to make the revisions and necessary modifications. Most job positions had to undergo adjustments, and many companies and employees still do their best to adapt to the ever-changing business circumstances. Inevitably, as the work conditions change, so should the fringe benefits that have become their inseparable part.
So, the answer is relatively simple - yes, you should modify fringe benefits for your newly-remote employees. It is simply because the old perks are most likely not useful or feasible anymore. And here pops up the real topic for brainstorming: which fringe benefits you should keep, which you should modify and how, and how to deliver them to your employees. Some of the biggest companies in the world have already taken steps in this direction. You can learn from their experiences or ask your employees what they need and would appreciate the most.
One of the positive sides of remote work is the workplace flexibility it provides to employees who don't lead the conventional nine-to-five lifestyle. Single parents and caregivers, in general, struggled to achieve a bare minimum of work-life balance. With more flexible working conditions, they finally got a chance to organize their work and private life. And, not less critical, significantly boost their productivity. This simple example leads to the conclusion that flexibility is the key to getting the best from the ongoing situation. The same should apply when you're about to modify fringe benefits.
Reasonably, the most important benefits an employer can provide nowadays are healthcare benefits, with the addition of mental health care. It has become evident that healthcare fringe benefits based on corporate health insurance plans need to adapt too. And, with the number of people asking for mental health support on the rise, it would be wrong to neglect this aspect. Employers are extending the regular health care benefits with telehealth services, especially one-on-one online therapy sessions for their employees. Battling anxiety is difficult in the best of times. Focusing on mental health through fringe benefits at this critical moment will help form a more satisfied, empowered, and loyal workforce.
But this is not the end - some companies have gone beyond the fundamentals and invested in their employees' health and wellbeing through wellness plans. Benefits related to online wellness services are varied; they can include
• subscriptions to online yoga classes
• equipment for home exercise including workout apps
• virtual trainer memberships
• healthy meal delivery services based on custom nutrition plans, and more.
Remote work had come as a blow to many who appreciated the simplicity of conventional working duties and hours. The "you go to work, you work, and then you go home, leaving your job behind until the next working day" doesn't fit the ongoing situation for the time being. It doesn't surprise that most of those negatively affected by teleworking are those who could not afford, expected, or wanted to sacrifice their personal space and make their home their office. However, with health concerns in mind, this unwelcome change had to be accepted and adjusted to.
So, once your employees had to move out of the office and leave your brick-and-mortar behind, their needs and habits changed. The best employers can do is help employees acclimate to those changes. Setting up a workstation at an employee's home involves transport, installing office equipment and software, and providing all services necessary for undisturbed job performance, such as the installation of high-speed internet. Of course, an employer can reimburse the expenses employees had if they set up the workstation on their own. In line with that, an employer can provide additional equipment, like noise-canceling headphones, as an inexpensive way to help workers ignore distractions and focus on work. After all, creating a workspace and maintaining a routine makes employees as productive as possible, wherever they work from.
One of the most common fringe benefits was certainly free office food, which, now that the offices are empty can be modified to serve its purpose better. Companies are already exploring ways to treat their workers. One of the solutions is stipends for food delivery from restaurants. Delivering free prepared meals to an employee's home is a proven way to raise the spirits but also the productivity of remote workers. In the spirit of flexibility, weekly stipends can also cover delivery from cafes or grocery stores.
If workers deliver (even more than) what is required of them, does it matter at which time of the day they work? The answer is still a matter of debate among employers, as not all businesses can afford this level of flexibility. Some teams rely on networking, and team members depend on each other's contribution. On the other hand, some companies employ individuals, perfectly able to do their part independently from others and deliver excellent results with little or no interaction. In the latter case, the communication provided through video conferencing and apps is sufficient. Such a work structure enables companies to allow each employee the liberty of working when they feel most productive.
Those employers whose line of business isn't severely affected by the pandemic have the luxury of a smoother transition to remote working. With lower workspace expenses will come the savings, but what one manages to save, another needs to spend. And that burden will inevitably fall on your workforce. Working from home implies higher bills, and everything else employees didn't have to invest in during regular weekdays at work. Employers should rethink bonuses as well as modify fringe benefits to incorporate financial aid, stipends, loan payoff assistance, or financial counseling.
Offering home services to relieve employees from some of the daily duties arose as a new approach to fringe benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. The ones remote workers appreciated the most were home cleaning, disinfection and laundry services, and professional babysitting and child care services. Finally, not a single employee will ever refuse a free subscription to one of the popular streaming platforms. Keeping children and other family members entertained during work hours and relaxing after the job's done makes binge-watching a great fringe benefit.
The importance of fringe benefits amid the COVID-19 crisis is undeniable. Workers are confused and concerned with everyday prospects. During uncertain times such as these, fringe benefits, no matter how modest, and strong, unwavering leadership let the employees know someone cares about their needs.
But just as everything is transforming, so should the benefits. It is up to employers to discover what their employees necessitate the most, as no business is the same. Next, they need to become creative and practical in delivering those benefits to their workforce. And, of course, follow the health and safety measures all along.
Neil Cartwright runs a blog, Taking Back Monday - life is too short to dread Monday mornings, right? He provides people and companies with advice on remote working. Setting up the ideal home office, how to manage a distributed workforce, how to stay sane during pandemics, stuff like that. Send him an email on any remote work subject but don’t expect an answer straight away. He works in an asynchronous time mode but promises to reply in his own time.
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