The reverse-exodus back to the workplace that was supposed to follow the vaccine rollout never materialized, and the return to the office has been more of a trickle than a flood. In fact, workers across the country are second-guessing the concept of the office altogether, not to mention their salaries, benefits and what, exactly, it is they’ve been laboring for all this time. GOBankingRates talked to career experts, business owners and employee advocates to see how employers are keeping up with the concerns of their workers and what they can do to adjust to changing times.
Workers Have Reevaluated the Concept of ‘Benefits’ — Employer Must, Too
Before 2020, employee benefits were viewed as icing on the salary cake — extra add-ons to attract and retain the best employees. The pandemic forced a shift in that thinking — and the “Great Resignation” followed.
“Employees are voting with their feet, leaving companies that will not adjust to the new normal or new way of work,” said Ben Lamarche, career counselor and lead manager for the talent and recruitment firm Lock Search Group. “Mental well-being, work-life balance and family benefits such as child care have suddenly gained prominence among employees’ list of factors to consider when choosing an employer. Employers stand a better chance of attracting and retaining top talent by reviewing their policies and creating processes and structures that prioritize employee well-being and safety, and attaining their lifestyle goals as much as their professional goals.”
Employees now want meaningful benefits — and they no longer view them as extras. Life-quality policies are now considered to be as fundamental as fair hourly wages.
“Gone are the days of offering perks such as ping pong tables, free Friday catered lunches or ‘cool’ office surroundings,” said Betsy Kauffman, CEO and organizational agility consultant at Cross Impact Consulting. “Individuals now value balance, flexibility and engaging work over the office perks.”
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Post-COVID, One Benefit Reigns Supreme
Virtually every expert GOBankingRates consulted agreed that one benefit now stands out above all the others — the ability to work from anywhere.
“Post-COVID, employers will have to make the most adjustments around expectations for remote work options and flexibility of hours,” said Julie Titterington, chief culture officer at small business site MerchantMaverick.com. “The American workforce has had a taste of how life can be with no commutes, more time with family and at home to take care of basic chores. Some of them will categorically refuse to return to the old ways of life, which relied on stresses of in-office workplace culture and politics and rush-hour traffic. Employers who don’t adjust or offer at least some flexibility may find that their offices are still empty when this is all over. Those employers will, undoubtedly, have trouble finding people who are willing to do the traditional 9-to-5 grind.”
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Hybrid Schedules Demand Hybrid Benefits
Most businesses still plan to move forward with a hybrid format where at least some employees are on-site some of the time. The smartest employers are now experimenting with blended benefits packages to serve employees on both sides of that dynamic.
“It’s going to be important to think about what the benefits are for those who are actually coming into the office versus those we’re providing for employees who are staying at home,” said Dr. Shirley Davis, president and CEO of SDS Global Enterprises. “We’re going to have to start considering benefits that we haven’t had to think of ever before. For example, it could be a policy around compensation for utilities for employees who work from home. Remote employees are consuming an increased amount of utilities including electricity, cable, internet and phone. So we have to think about what our policies would be around that. Another might be a benefits program providing employees upgrades to new computers or a partnership program that entails certain discounts at their local Best Buy.”
More Than Just a Perk, Remote Work Can Extend a Company’s Reach
Transitioning to remote or hybrid work is neither cheap nor easy — but smart businesses view it as an investment for future growth.
“Our workplace looks completely different from what it used to be before the pandemic,” said Maciek Kubiak, head of people at PhotoAiD, a fast-growing biometric photography startup.
For his company, remote work gave a global footprint to a young company that wouldn’t otherwise have had one.
“First of all, it has allowed us to expand our workforce and hire people from the most remote places in the world,” Kubiak said. “We now have more than 80 members from 10 different countries. The best of it? Our website is translated to more than 20 languages, reaching a much wider audience.”
According to Kubiak, the company hasn’t increased salaries — but it didn’t have to.
“There is a bonus, and that is the emotional wage,” said Kubiak, who spoke of an internal company survey that showed how much employees appreciate “no daily commute, no rushed lunches and no extra hours in the office away from family and friends.”
Letting employees work when they wanted proved to be as consequential as letting them work where they wanted.
“We have moved to project-based work culture, so we let each employee decide to work at their peak productivity,” Kubiak said. “For some, it may be 6 o’clock in the morning, while for others, it may be 8 o’clock in the evening.”
But Extended Reach and Happy Employees Aren’t Free
Employers who do decide to expand their remote work offerings should prepare themselves for the hurdles that come with it.
“One of the biggest adjustments is how the Great Resignation is turning into the great geographical migration,” said John Lee, co-founder of The Work From Anywhere Team. “Companies can now hire from anywhere and plenty of employees are now requesting to work from anywhere. But there are serious challenges to deal with here, which companies are struggling to adjust to.”
Lee spoke specifically about the compliance side of business operations — an obstacle that has proven too great for some small businesses.
“Work is not a place, but taxes most certainly are, and it is the elephant in the room in many respects,” said Lee. “It’s the reason many companies are saying ‘no’ to work from anywhere.”
To Lee, remote or hybrid offerings should be put through the same cost-benefit analysis as any other employee perk.
“The leaders in this space are the companies that are balancing the ROI by measuring the impact of work from anywhere as an employee benefit and weighing it against the compliance costs of a targeted, focused work-from-anywhere policy that enables work from anywhere for a limited number of countries,” Lee said.
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Last updated: Sept. 27, 2021