As more companies adopt remote and distributed work policies, it’s important to rethink employee benefits and wellbeing. We recently held a Lunch Session on Employee Benefits and Employee Wellbeing with Sophie Theen, Chief People Officer at Boom, where we broke down how the approach to employee benefits and wellbeing is changing.
In the same way that the way we work and socialise with co-workers has changed, so have employee expectations around benefits and wellbeing. No longer does a one-size-fits all approach work. Instead, HR departments need to ensure they have a deep understanding of employee needs and desires before creating benefit packages. This involves thinking beyond the standard medical coverage and parental leave level of benefits and thinking more deeply about how your employees live and work.
Theen noted that in her conversations with potential employees, the top questions are no longer around parental leave or details of medical coverage, they now revolve around home office allowance. When workers are in the office, this rarely comes up because companies automatically provide the essentials employees need in order to do their job - computers, desks, chairs, internet access, etc. However, with remote employees, there is often an assumption that the employee either already has these things or will pay for them themselves. For HR departments looking to create meaningful benefits, the work setup needs to be considered, no matter where employees are located.
To that extent, employees' view of the office has changed as well. Instead of being a place where you must go to do your work, many employees now view the office as a place to go for collaboration. While remote and distributed workers do not want to be tied to an office everyday, they tend to appreciate access to an office space. Theen says she has seen many candidates asking for local hubs that they can float between as needed. On this note, it is important to recognize that when you have a distributed workforce, benefits shouldn’t always be tied to location as employees may move around, depending on your policies.
In order to determine what benefits your employees will most appreciate, it is important to ask the right questions from the start. Rather than asking “Are the benefits on offer being used?” shift your thinking to “Do employees have what they need to be successful both at work and in life?” This includes being conscious of burn-out and finding ways to help employees avoid it.
Theen pointed out that in remote work settings, the way employees interact has changed. Rather than quick conversations between co-workers as they pass in the hall, social interaction has become limited to pre-scheduled meetings where there is an expectation of productivity at all times. Those 5-10 minute random chats that happen in the office provide valuable social interaction that helps employees feel more connected. So, the question becomes “How can you replicate this in a distributed environment?” One way is to offer social time where employees can come together just to talk or do an activity, such as yoga.
In addition to encouraging employees to engage in spontaneous conversations outside of their departments, a crucial aspect of curating a thriving working environment is ensuring managers have proper training to deal with remote and distributed teams.
When everyone is in the same location, it is much easier for managers to sense the vibes of the room or read body language to determine when there is a problem. However, in remote settings, it becomes crucial that managers are skilled in the soft skills of communication and empathy. They must be able to provide very clear directions and solve problems that arise within the team in a quick manner - things that may not come naturally to a lot of people. If you are looking to avoid burnout and improve employee wellbeing, it becomes imperative to offer proper training to all managers.
Finding the Right Benefit Mix
When building out a benefit and wellness plan for distributed teams, it is important to balance local best practices for each area with employee demand. To do this, first, define your budget and non-negotiables. From there, ensure you are benchmarking against relevant competition - similar company size and industry - and see if what you offer is relevant. Then, check on usage and adoption rates of what you currently offer. If you find benefits that aren’t being used but are on your non-negotiable list, do some internal research to see if you can find the disconnect. Finally, ask employees what types of benefits would work best for them. Theen recommends avoiding open ended questions here though as it can become difficult to parse the data. Instead, provide multiple choice responses with as many answers as you can think of. Once you have collected all of this information, prioritise what works for your company and fits within your budget.
One trend that has taken off lately to help personalise benefits for every employee is to look into a marketplace where you can set budgets for each employee and they can choose from a list of options to create a package that suits their needs.
Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating your employee benefits and wellbeing programs is ensuring that they actually provide value for your employees, even if that means taking a little more time to create more personalised options.