The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 introduced millions of employees to remote work, transforming bedrooms into home offices and in-person meetings into video calls. In fact, a Gallup survey found that 70% of Americans were working from home by April of 2020.
But with vaccines readily available and the world transitioning to a post-COVID era, why are companies still offering permanent remote work options? What steps do companies that are making remote work permanent need to take?
In this article, we’ll share some steps you need to take to confirm your organization is remote-ready, including:
- Why businesses are sticking with remote work
- Alter your communication style to fit a remote environment
- Equip your team with the virtual tools they need
- Prioritize team building and socialization
- Implement employee benefits that work for everyone
Why businesses are sticking with remote work
While the widespread shift to remote work was born out of a pandemic, many Americans have found that working from home even after the virus subsides will suit them and their employees just fine.
In a September 2021 Gallup poll, 45% of full-time employees continued to work remotely, at least part-time. Many Gallup respondents reported that they hoped remote work options would continue because they enjoy the flexibility of remote work.
Employees aren’t the only ones enjoying this new way of working. Many employers and corporate decision-makers have fully committed to a long-term, if not permanent, work-from-home policy, saving big on costs like office leases, maintenance, and utility bills.
A few big names that have switched to long-term remote work include Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Reddit, Starbucks, and many more.
Why are companies like these letting employees work remotely? A permanent work from home policy not only saves businesses and employees time and money but can actually increase productivity. Many workers are seeking remote jobs, too.
Before you fully commit, there are a few things to consider to make sure your organization is ready for the permanent work from home switch.
Alter your communication style to fit a remote environment
The most important tool in a remote business owner’s toolkit is strong communication. After all, a survey of remote employees conducted by Slack found that new remote workers are more likely to struggle with communicating effectively and finding the resources they need to do their work.
It’s your responsibility to establish what you want your organization's best practices for communication and collaboration to look like in a virtual world. Employees should feel free to send a quick message asking for help or setting up an ad-hoc video call to collaborate on a project.
In addition, your expectations for the real-time responses you’d get in a physical office may need to be adjusted to fit your new remote business. For example, you may consider allowing your team to mute their notifications when they need some uninterrupted time to get work done. You may also opt for more flexible hours for when your team should be online over strict office hours to allow for more freedom.
Equip your team with the virtual tools they need
No remote organization is complete without a robust lineup of virtual tools and software to keep their employees productive and organized from home. What you need will vary depending on how your team operates, so consider what tools would make your employees’ jobs easier.
For example, managers may need a project management system to help prioritize their team’s tasks. Designers may need their own Adobe license to edit their files. Customer support will likely require a CRM to keep their contacts organized.
Whatever your team looks like, your employees are bound to have their own unique software needs in order to do their best work. It’s a good idea to check in to ensure everyone has what they need to be successful.
Here are just a few tools we recommend:
- Slack for communication
- GSuite for storing files
- Trello for organizing tasks and ensuring employee productivity
- LastPass for password management
Prioritize team building and socialization
In a physical office, hosting office lunches, birthday parties, and even the occasional ping pong tournament was easy. In a remote world, you’ll have to make a more dedicated effort to ensure your employees have similar opportunities to connect as a team on a personal level and to develop company culture.
Whether it’s a virtual office book club, online happy hours, or monthly in-person meet-ups, there are countless ways to ensure your employees have a sense of belonging and personal connection with the people they see on their screen every day.
While it may seem trivial, your efforts to improve your employees’ social connections and relationships in your remote workplace can go a long way. In a survey conducted by the Science of Care, 60% of workers who reported feeling cared for by their employer also said they planned to stay with their organizations for three or more years, as opposed to only 7% of those who reported they didn't feel cared for by their employers.
Implement employee benefits that work for everyone
Finally, remote workers want benefits as much as employees working in a physical office. With the Great Resignation encouraging employees to quit unfulfilling jobs, employee benefits are more important than ever for keeping top talent and attracting new remote candidates.
However, a remote business often leads to a workforce that’s scattered across the country. If you have employees working remotely in multiple states, it can be tricky to find employee benefits that work for everyone.
Luckily, there are many ways to offer benefits to remote workers and keep your workforce happy, such as flexible health benefits and wellness stipends.
How to offer a health benefit for remote workers
Remote workforces require health benefits that work in their location and with their local healthcare providers. You’ll want to ensure your health benefits can work for a variety of needs.
An individual coverage health reimbursement arrangement (ICHRA) is a great option for remote business owners. With an ICHRA, employers simply provide a monthly allowance of tax-free money for their employees to spend on individual health insurance premiums and qualifying medical expenses.
Employers can divide their employees into different classes, including by which state they live in, and offer a unique allowance amount for each class so remote-working employees can afford a plan from their state’s local or government marketplace.
This makes an ICHRA the ideal health benefit for remote employers with a diverse workforce scattered across the country.
Offer taxable stipends and perks to employees
Another option for providing benefits to employees is through monthly fringe benefits or perks. Perks are fixed allowances provided to employees to help cover expenses.
Examples of fringe benefits include offering a reimbursement to workers for gym memberships, exercise equipment, health expenses like medications or personal care products, or personal cell phone or internet usage for work.
These taxable stipends are easy to administer to employees across the country. This is because fringe benefits and perks don’t have the same compliance requirements as tax-free benefits. However, most fringe benefits are considered taxable income and must be reported on an employee’s W-2.
Best of all, stipends are available to employees no matter where they live. By offering $100 each month for wellness, for example, employees have the flexibility to choose a gym near them, or they can put the stipend toward purchasing gym equipment or a wellness app.
If you’re considering making the switch to a fully remote workforce, you’re on trend with many other organizations across the country and world. As more and more employees have settled into their home offices, following the tips in this article will ensure that your small business has what it takes to be successful in an entirely remote setting on a permanent basis.
Ready to revamp your benefits package for remote work? PeopleKeep helps businesses manage stipends and three types of HRAs that work for businesses of all sizes.
With our WorkPerks benefit administration software, you can offer customizable health, wellness, and remote work employee stipends without the hassle. We’ll help you care for your remote workers so you can focus on growing your business.
This blog article was originally published on June 30, 2021. It was last updated on February 15, 2022.