Remote work may still feel like a relatively new trend, but it appears to be here to stay. Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work study showed that 96 percent of employees who started working remotely during the pandemic wanted to continue. Moreover, 46 percent of employees in the same study felt confident their employers would allow remote work after the pandemic.
Employers have many reasons to embrace remote work. It may keep employees happy, as Buffer’s research suggests. Moreover, companies may be able to save money with a move to a more remote workforce. Global Workplace Analytics estimates a typical employer could save approximately $11,000 annually for every half-time remote worker. These potential savings come from a variety of factors, including increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness.
If employers want to retain top talent and maintain productivity, they may do well to divert some of their cost savings to perks and benefits for remote workers. Simple perks can help address some of the challenges remote workers face and encourage them to stick around and stay productive—a win-win scenario for both employers and employees.
Remote work challenges
Research indicates that the shift to remote work during the pandemic was an overall success. In a 2021 PwC study, 83 percent of employers agreed that moving to remote work was efficacious. A Mercer study completed in August 2020 backed up that research, with 94 percent of employers saying productivity stayed the same or increased when they shifted to a remote workforce.
However, remote work comes with challenges. A Gartner survey of more than 5,000 employees conducted in the fourth quarter of 2020 indicated that 29 percent of workers described themselves as depressed. Granted, the pandemic itself may have led to this response, not specifically working from home. Plus, correlation does not equal causation. However, since the pandemic led to many people working remotely for the first time, companies may not want to ignore this finding. Employers may do well to take action to make sure remote employees feel connected and supported.
The first step is to understand the challenges faced by remote workers, including these common ones.
Not being able to unplug
The Buffer study reported that the inability to unplug was the top challenge listed by 27 percent of workers in this year’s survey. This finding is notable because in past years, this challenge ranked lower in the survey results. Because many remote workers couldn’t leave the house for other activities during the pandemic, for instance to go to social gatherings or the gym, they may have found it more difficult than usual to unplug.
Difficulty collaborating or communicating
For workers who used to swing by a colleague’s desk, brainstorm around a conference table, or pick a coworker’s brain during a coffee break, the switch to remote work required a major change to their communication styles. And while some may have adjusted easily to the new, remote-work-friendly communication tools, 16 percent of workers listed communication and collaboration as their top challenge.
Many workers went from spending all day, every day in an office with a group of colleagues to suddenly being alone, which could feel isolating even without a pandemic. It’s no wonder 16 percent of respondents mentioned loneliness as a major challenge.
Between pets, dishes, and kids who may be doing virtual learning, workers have a lot of potential distractions to deal with at home, especially employees who must create a makeshift workspace in their kitchens or dining rooms. For 15 percent of workers, distractions were the biggest difficulty they faced with remote work.
Motivation can be hard won and easily lost at the best of times, particularly for employees working on arduous, ongoing projects. Without workplace motivators, such as celebratory happy hours or catered lunches, it’s not a surprise that 12 percent of workers reported motivation as a challenge.
Benefits and perks for remote workers
Working remotely has its challenges. We can all agree on that. But many workers also recognize some inherent perks: the possibility of a more flexible schedule, the ability to work from everywhere, the absence of a commute, more time with family, and, of course, working from the comfort of home.
Still, savvy employers know that sweetening the remote-work deal is worthwhile. Offering perks and benefits may make a company’s best employees want to stick around while helping to improve employee productivity. Not sure what your workers want? Consider what they need—and what they miss out on when they no longer come into the office. The following popular perks should be a good start.
Office furniture stipend
Even employees who had a home office before the pandemic may not have a setup that works every day for hours on end. An office furniture stipend, at the very least, will help them create a space they enjoy being in. Plus, if they can upgrade their office chairs or buy standing desk converters, it could help them avoid injuries and stay productive.
Office supplies stipend
Pens, paper, and printer ink aren’t free. The costs of those supplies shouldn’t come out of your employees’ pockets now that they work from home. Whether you offer a monthly stipend or reimburse for office supplies as needed, make it clear that the company foots the bill for necessary items.
Food and coffee stipend
That morning cup of joe and granola bar may not seem like much, but it can add up. Set up a coffee or snack subscription service or offer a stipend to offset the costs of what your employees used to find for free in the breakroom. Remote snack perks are a relatively small investment for the business, and they make losing in-office benefits a little easier to swallow.
A gym membership is great, but if you have employees in various locations—or you’re based in an area where people are avoiding enclosed spaces for health reasons—a stipend can give your workers the option to invest in home equipment, buy monthly subscriptions to fitness apps, or take part in outdoor events such as 5k runs.
Mental health benefits
Remember how 29 percent of the workforce reported feeling depressed in the fourth quarter of 2020? Consider offering benefits specifically related to mental health to help your employees feel better, happier, and be more productive. For instance, you could offer access to telehealth therapy appointments, subscriptions to yoga and meditation apps, or paid mental health days when employees feel burnt out.
For parents of young children who aren’t yet in school, working from home can be especially distracting. Even parents of school-age children must find childcare on sick or quarantine days, teacher workdays, and school holidays. Consider providing a stipend that parents can use to hire a caregiver, especially on important workdays they can’t miss. Offering home-care days along with sick days also gives parents more flexibility.
Go beyond a corporate health insurance plan with a wellness program that incentivizes healthier living. It may be a human resources program focused on work-life balance, a fitness challenge, or a wellness buddy check-in program. Alternatively, you could contract an outside platform that encourages employees to live a healthy lifestyle through engagement with games, leaderboards, and prizes.
Whether you gather in person or set up a virtual team-building event, you may help build or maintain your company culture, encourage communication and collaboration, and bring some of your quieter team members out of their shells. Choose from a plethora of virtual games, set up a virtual cooking class or themed social hour, hold a fitness event, or do something else. The sky’s the limit!
Who doesn’t love a nice, clean space? Not only will regular house cleaning make your employees feel appreciated, but helping them keep their offices clean and germ-free may also help employees stay healthier and more productive—and that’s good for the bottom line, too.
Monthly high-speed internet stipend
From coworker communications to company-wide video conferences, high-speed internet is a must for remote employees. Why not offer a monthly stipend to make it as easy as possible for employees to get a plan that suits their professional needs?
When it comes down to it, remote-worker perks and benefits are about showing your appreciation for your employees’ hard work and for their willingness to adapt to a new, remote working world. When you consider how much your company can save by having an employee switch to remote work, even part-time, it makes sense to invest in perks to keep remote workers happy and productive. Think about what your on-site workers enjoy within the office, and don’t be afraid to get creative. The same perks that keep top performers at your company may attract your next ace employee.