One of the biggest changes to emerge from the pandemic is that we’ve all become rather tech-savvy remote workers. In fact, many businesses have found that these long-distance workers are so adept at working from their couches that they’re rethinking whether they need to bring folks back to their cubicles at all.
According to a Pew report, prior to the pandemic, only 7 percent of workers had a flexible work-from-home benefit, and this perk was largely reserved for “knowledge workers” who do the bulk of their work from a computer and are generally highly paid. However, as the pandemic took its toll, all but the essential workers were forced to work from home and estimates from Willis Tower Watson suggest that 57 percent were still remote as of March of this year. Further, a whopping 2 in 5 workers are still expected to be remote by the end of 2021. For their part, a survey by LaSalle Network of 350 executives revealed that 77 percent expected that they would be operating under a hybrid approach having some employees in the office and a portion working from home, for at least the next 12 months.
With workplaces looking a whole lot different through at least the end of the year, and more than likely into 2022, HR folks would be wise to consider how they can adjust benefits accordingly to continue to meet the needs of their new remote workforce. Below, we outline a few key considerations.
Health plan networks
When we selected plans back in the “before times,” we only needed to worry about the ability of our workforce to access providers largely within a certain geographical area and thus might have selected plans that provide incentives for employees to choose a certain group or practice. However, with workers no longer required to be in the office, many have scurried off to far-flung locales, so you may want to consider a plan that includes a broader geographical range so that employees can continue to receive care “in-network,” even if they are not within driving distance of the office.
Get the facts right
With folks working alone at home, it’s easy to see how they could feel like a lone wolf! However, you must remind your employees to keep your company in the loop about any major lifestyle changes. In some cases, companies can run afoul of state-mandated benefits changes if they are not aware that they have staff in the area. In short, experts note that companies should always be the first to know about a big move or lifestyle change, such as the birth of a little one, to ensure continuity of benefits coverage.
Take it to telemedicine
Depending on where your remote employee lives, they may have trouble finding a physician simply because there is a shortage in their area. With that in mind, consider upping your insurance plans to include access to telehealth options for routine and primary health care services where available. As an added bonus, access to telehealth visits for mental health issues has proven particularly popular in stressful pandemic times, so opening up your offerings can benefit all.
You may think you offer a comprehensive Paid Time Off program, but some states and localities may require you to do even more. For example, some areas allow employees to use sick leave to not only care for themselves and those in the family but also expand the benefit to include individuals who are “like family” or even to care for a service animal! With that said, keeping your one-size-fits-all approach to PTO may not be an option and you may have to develop policies that cater to employees based on where they live. That said, you’ll want to make sure that you are being fair in how your PTO is offered so as to avoid a discrimination lawsuit.
In the past, you may have offered on-site perks such as free or discounted parking or even a bagel breakfast every Friday. With employees now working from home, these perks are no longer of value and you’ll need to consider how you can adjust accordingly. Some companies who anticipate keeping their employees remote are helping to offset the cost of setting up a home office, all with an eye to wellness. Specifically, they are purchasing standing desks and ergonomic chairs to support healthy work from home habits. Others, meanwhile, are offering perks, such as babysitting coverage, grocery delivery, and even dog walking. In this way, businesses are not only recognizing but also supporting their employees and their increased family workload, which will pay off in employees with lower stress and higher engagement.