While the number of employers that have allowed employees to work remotely has grown in recent years, the pandemic forced the work-from-home concept into reality for many organizations. As such, countless employees have grown used to the benefits of working from home, such as saving time on their commute and having a better work/life balance. As the pandemic subsides, some employees can’t wait to get back to the workplace. However, other employees are interested in continuing their remote work arrangement permanently, or for at least for a few days each week. Employers who are debating the reopening of their workplace(s) have realized that encouraging remote work may be part of a larger strategy to improve motivation, productivity, retention, and lessen costs. Employers should be prepared, though, to help their remote employees succeed as they will have some different and even additional challenges than those of their onsite coworkers. Consider technology for a moment – while both onsite and remote employees may need the same software for their jobs, information technology (IT) services may be different. Defining potential challenges and responses to those challenges is needed to proactively ensure the long-term remote work strategy’s goals. Employers may also consider also offering creative benefits catered to remote employees, such as those listed below, to help them thrive in their jobs.
Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) – During the pandemic, many employers required remote employees to work a set schedule, with a designated lunch break and possibly even a designated morning and afternoon rest break. However, providing for a more permanent remote work arrangement may call for flexibility, such as allowing a pre-determined split schedule if an employee needs to take a few hours in the afternoon with their children, or even allowing flexible daily start and end times and work on weekends.
While some may consider the term “flexible work arrangements” to be synonymous with “remote work”, these arrangements may also be beneficial for onsite employees as well. Consider employees who meet the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Its Amendments Act (ADAAA). Many of them have the skills and the motivation to be a top performer, but the additional burden of being away from their home may limit their productivity. A flexible work arrangement could benefit both the employee and the employer by providing diversity to the workforce and improving employee retention. Consider also working mothers with children at home. They have learned to juggle their careers with family, but the pandemic brought to the forefront how much of extra stress these mothers faced when working at the onsite workplace. Of course, there are single fathers who also struggle with the work/life balance and many times these parents, with or without a significant other, are expected to maintain their household and care for children while working their full-time jobs. It’s no wonder that many of them have no desire to return to their onsite employment. If their current employer won’t offer a flexible work arrangement, they will find an employer who values the contributions they bring and has structures in place so they may thrive as an employee and as a parent, without having to choose between family and work.
Assistance and Support for Remote Office Set-Up and Maintenance – While there may be state or local laws requiring reimbursement of employer-related expenses for remote employees, there are no federal laws or regulations for this, unless the wages of an employee who has to pay these expenses drops below the minimum wage threshold. As such, many employees who worked remotely from their homes during the pandemic tended to “make do” temporarily, sitting at a kitchen table, using a printer in another room, or working in their living rooms with other family members watching TV. Just as an onsite employee may “nest” in their cubicle, remote employees need to have a place conducive to focusing on work. Employers may consider providing stipends or reimbursement for employer-owned technology, equipment, and even furniture. Employers may also offer assistance and support needs for computers, printers, monitors, software, Internet bandwidth, Internet backup, security and home firewalls, and mobile devices.
Learning Opportunities and Professional Development – Often remote employees tend to be forgotten and left behind when learning and professional development opportunities arise. Instead, the employees that are onsite tend to be in the “right place at the right time” when their manager learns of an opportunity. All employees should have the opportunity for training and, for remote employees, this may be completed through web-based online training, occasional onsite training opportunities, or even local in-person conferences. Having the ability to participate in learning opportunities benefits both the employer and the employees as the employees gain skills and knowledge. Further, if more than one employee participates in a training, that may facilitate interaction and collaboration between employees.
Paid Time Off – Employers who provide paid time off above and beyond the mandated state and local leave laws demonstrate employee value by recognizing their need for recuperation and refreshment. One may wonder why paid time off is such a big deal for employees who work remotely? Unfortunately, work/life boundaries often become blurred and remote employees, especially those classified as exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), may work longer hours than their onsite coworkers, especially if they feel the need to prove their worth to their employer. For long-term productivity, all employees need the opportunity to unplug from work in order to remain healthy. Some employers are now extravagantly providing unlimited paid time off policies and these generous policies have proven to help not only employees, but also employers through the retention of current employees and attracting new top talent.
Employee Wellness – Employee wellness has become a popular benefit for employees as there appears to be a direct correlation between healthy employees and higher productivity, lower absentee rates, increased employee motivation, longer engagement and retention of employees, and lower healthcare costs. Employers who have remote employees may consider tailoring their wellness program to remote employees by providing gym membership discounts, paying for online or virtual training sessions, providing health-related apps, access to onsite yoga classes, fitness trackers, or even home exercise equipment. Employers may also encourage the use of a wellness platform that provides health awareness through risk assessments, personal and team wellness challenges and games, education, and rewards for employees who meet certain goals.
Employee Perquisites (“Perks”) – Most employers provide a number of perks to their onsite employees to promote a healthy culture, whether it is through free coffee or snacks, an onsite gym, or lunch meetings with lunch provided. Employers are encouraged to consider creative ways to extend perks to those who work remotely. Some employers provide lunch delivered for lunch meetings. Some give a gift in lieu of attendance for employer-related events, or give a monthly gift card to make up for events they miss. Others allow remote employees to stop working when onsite employees are allowed to leave early for a special occasion. Still others proudly provide opportunities for remote employees to participate in employer-sponsored online affinity groups, provide subscriptions to online entertainment, provide a service to help with meals or cleaning, provide for activities for children, or even allow childcare expenses to be reimbursable.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Many employers offer the benefit of an employee assistance program, either directly through their health insurance or through a separate vendor. These programs are inexpensive for the employer and they offer confidential support for personal issues, such as mental and emotional health, stress management, substance abuse, and financial counseling. Because appointments may be in-person, virtual, or via video, phone or even text, these programs provide employees with access to quick and easy help when needed.
None of the benefits listed above should be considered to replace typical employee benefits that are valued by all employees, such as health insurance or retirement planning. However, employers who offer benefits tailored to remote employees may quickly find that these benefits are worth the additional expense involved.
For additional information on remote work benefits, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.
Written By: Kathi A. Walker, SHRM-SCP, PHR
Sr. HR Consultant