The COVID-19 pandemic 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 survey1 found that 70% of Americans were working from home by April of 2020.
But why are companies still offering permanent remote work options with vaccines readily available and the world transitioning to a post-COVID era? And what steps do companies need to take when making remote work permanent?
In this article, we'll explain why remote work remains popular, share some steps you need to take to confirm your organization is remote-ready, and offer tips on offering benefits to remote employees.
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 virus2 subsided suits them and their employees just fine.
Employees value a work-life balance and flexibility more than ever. In a September 2021 Gallup poll3, 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 big4 on costs like office leases, maintenance, and utility bills.
Some of the organizations that are allowing permanent or long-term remote work include:
- Meta (Facebook)
Meanwhile, many more organizations have embraced a hybrid work model where employees have remote work days and office days. Employees may spend a few days per week working from home while they work the remainder of their time in traditional office spaces.
Companies with hybrid work models include:
Others, such as outdoor retailer REI5, have closed their corporate offices in favor of remote work and smaller satellite offices.
Why are companies like these letting employees work remotely? A permanent work from home policy or hybrid model saves businesses and employees time and money and can increase productivity.
Many workers are also seeking remote job openings, so offering flexibility can be a way to attract top talent.
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.
Develop remote work policies
If you're planning on offering your employees the ability to work from home, you'll need to draft a remote work policy. This allows you to outline where your employees can work, what tools and systems they'll be required to use, and how their workday might look.
Will your employees be allowed to work remotely full-time, or will they be required to occasionally have a physical presence at the office or a co-working space? Will these options be available to your entire workforce or only certain employees? You'll need to set clear expectations before launching into permanent remote or hybrid work.
Alter your communication style to fit a remote environment
Strong communication is the most important tool in a remote business owner's toolkit. After all, a survey of remote employees conducted by Slack6 found that new remote workers are more likely to struggle with communicating effectively and finding the resources they need to do their work.
With office centricity no longer being the norm, you need ways for your employees to communicate remotely.
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.
With a hybrid model, you might have some employees working from home and some working at various office locations. You need to ensure these employees can communicate effectively with each other despite their different schedules and locations.
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 its 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 unique software needs 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:
- Slack7 for communication
- GSuite8 for storing files
- Google Meet for video calls
- Trello9 or Asana10 for organizing tasks and ensuring employee productivity
- LastPass11 or 1Password12 for password management
Prioritize team building and socialization
Hosting office lunches, birthday parties, and even the occasional ping pong tournament was easy in a physical office. As a remote-first company, 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 workplace 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 screens 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 Care13, 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 your current employees 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 your individual employees and their diverse needs.
How to offer a health benefit for remote workers
Health insurance is one of the most important benefits you can offer to your employees. According to our 2022 Employee Benefits Survey Report, 89% of remote workers value health benefits compared to 86% of employees in an office environment.
However, 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 various needs.
There is a simple way to achieve this. A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an IRS-approved and employer-funded health benefit that allows you to reimburse your employees for their qualifying medical expenses.
Three of the most popular types of HRAs are:
- Qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA)
- Individual coverage HRA (ICHRA)
- Integrated HRA, also known as a group coverage HRA (GCHRA)
A QSEHRA is an excellent option for remote or hybrid teams that's designed specifically for organizations with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs).
If you have more than 50 FTEs, an ICHRA allows you to provide a personalized health benefit to your remote workforce. Employers can divide their employees into different classes 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.
A QSEHRA or an ICHRA is the ideal health benefit for remote employers with a diverse workforce scattered across the country because your employees can get reimbursed for their individual health insurance premiums, allowing them to choose the best plan for their needs and their location.
Offer stipends and perks to employees
Another option for employee benefits is through monthly fringe benefits or perk stipends. Perk stipends are fixed allowances provided to employees to help cover expenses.
Examples of fringe benefits include a wellness reimbursement to workers for gym memberships and exercise equipment, a health stipend for expenses like medications or personal care products, or a remote work stipend for personal cell phone or internet usage.
In states like California, where remote work expense reimbursements are required, a remote work stipend can help you reimburse employees for their remote work costs while staying compliant with state laws.
Additionally, our Benefits Survey Report found that 47% of remote employees value internet and cell phone reimbursement, making it a worthwhile investment even for organizations located in states that don't require expense reimbursement.
These taxable stipends are easy to administer to employees across the country. This is because fringe benefits and perks typically 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 switching 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 can help. With our benefits administration software, you can offer personalized benefits such as HRAs and 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 August 25, 2022.