How COVID-19 and work-from-home is transforming rewards packages
Flexible work arrangements may have been around for decades, and COVID-19 has flipped the script by hyper-accelerating WFH through a need for tens of millions of workers to shelter in place. Despite the lack of HR policies and protocols for an almost instant shift to 100% remote working, American creativity configured a solution and reimagined our approach to total rewards.
Both financial and non-financial benefits draw employees towards WFH options as people strive for better work/life balance from shorter commutes, lower transportation costs, and a more focused work environment. However, most employers prefer employees to be at their place of business, believing employees are more productive and engaged seeing colleagues in-person. Also, absence can potentially result in less career growth opportunities.
This version of WFH, though, is different. Entire families are now confined at home, trying to work, plus care for and school their children. This is compounded by stress factors — financial from looming potential furloughs, reduced compensation, food or essential supplies shortages, and fear of the virus. This stress becomes more severe when a loved one has COVID-19.
Strategies and benefits need to support employees during a crisis that address the whole person — financial, connectedness, and physical and behavioral health.
New financial/healthcare benefits
For employees who are no longer working enough hours to pay their insurance premiums, employers are getting creative so that employees who are ill do not feel forced to come back to work. Therefore, benefits coverage is continued at no cost to the employee and their absence does not draw down their PTO balance.
Employers are also supporting those challenged by educating children at home or caring for elderly parents while WFH, and reimbursing office expenses. This is in addition to numerous healthcare benefit changes designed to ensure healthcare access, such as first dollar coverage of telehealth visits, removing the need to satisfy HDHP deductibles and waiving COVID-19 testing co-pays. Thirty seven percent of employers’ report offering first dollar COVID-19 treatment.
Keeping productivity high with 100% remote workforce
Employers must learn fast that remote employees in this environment can quickly disengage and show stress behaviors in their interaction with coworkers. This can quickly affect productivity, warranting a shift in WFH benefits and new management strategies and tactics.
Employers quickly realized the need to regularly express empathy and concern for workers’ situations, including if they:
- Live alone
- Have significant others also working at home
- Are stressed from reduced hours or reduced pay
- Were required to switch shifts to accommodate family obligations, including when one member is an essential worker leaving one parent working at home with childcare, home schooling, cooking, and/or caring for an ill family member.
Employers are offering many new ways to engage through enhanced policies and practices such as holding weekly team video calls to maintain camaraderie. This includes weekly video check-ins with each team member to touch base, build trust and provide support. Employers also ask teams to check on each other, and incorporate weekly activities to establish connections, including:
- Live cooking demonstrations
- Working from work tips. Get up. Clean up. Set a schedule. Take breaks
- Increase in learning environment via LinkedIn learning
- Emergency preparedness (e.g. hurricane / tornado)
- Book club
- Activities – virtual happy hour, online Bingo, etc.
- How to engage employees working from home alone
Also, employers are ensuring employees regularly hear business outlooks and status updates from leadership, such as fireside chats with the CEO and transparency around key challenges the company is facing.
Planning for return to normal
Employers are already busy planning their return to work strategies for phasing employees back to work safely. Priority is arranging COVID-19 testing to minimize risk of infection. Also, employers are looking to schedule or rescheduling onsite preventive checkups to address chronic conditions or behavioral issues compounded due to the stress of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders to ensure that all deferrals of medical care are quickly identified and referred for treatment.
Lastly, employers will determine how much WFH will be retained as they prepare for return to normal and the potential pushback from employees to continue working remotely when daycare and schools are in session. Most likely? We will see WFH continue for many of the one-third of the U.S. workforce whose jobs already lend themselves to this flexibility. This will occur as employers yield to a collective resistance from workers feeling the residual and ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic.