The spread of COVID-19 caused many companies to make the transition to remote work. These flexible work arrangements have enabled businesses to continue operating as usual but under very different circumstances. Today’s business leaders must invest in the technology, benefit packages, and resources necessary to support their employees while telecommuting.
An increasing number of employers are seeking ways to provide relief to those who are feeling the financial, mental, and physical impacts of the pandemic. In addition to keeping their teams up to speed on new legislation that impacts their benefits, employers must develop strategies that balance both their economic necessities and the needs of their employees.
Understanding and catering to the evolving needs of your workforce can help you better run your business during these unprecedented times. To provide the best support for employees in the wake of a crisis, take these 10 benefits into consideration:
- Consistent Communication
While you may say that things are “business as usual”, the pandemic has changed the way teams communicate and collaborate. Without the convenience of in-person communication, many businesses have adopted new ways to keep employees engaged in their work and connected with their teams, even when they’re not physically sharing the same space.
There are still many unknowns regarding when offices will reopen. However, transparent and consistent communication can help employers build rapport and provide better support to their employees during uncertain times. It’s important to notify employees of any travel changes, office closures, and company updates. An effective way to receive feedback is by hosting a town hall meeting where employees can voice their concerns.
Given the current conditions, employees expect leaders to be organized, set clear expectations, and communicate with a sense of urgency and empathy. One way managers can keep a pulse on their teams is by leveraging collaboration tools for ongoing communication efforts. Introducing streamlined ways of communicating may help employees feel more connected and willing to voice their concerns.
- Relocation Assistance
With the transition to remote work, many employees realized that they can work from anywhere without jeopardizing their careers. A recent survey conducted by Fast revealed that 35% of American workers are considering relocating to less dense neighborhoods in an effort to lower their cost of living, move closer to family, or pursue new career opportunities.
Forward-thinking companies also understand that by offering the option for highly-skilled team members to live where they please, they can retain talent, boost employee satisfaction, and even improve productivity. While most companies likely aren’t able to subsidize an entire move, employees may look to their employers for financial assistance and advice when relocating.
Employers should be prepared to offer help with home searches and/or paying a portion of the moving costs. If you aren’t able to offer financial support, you can still help by providing resources, such as spousal job search assistance, local mentorship program recommendations, or information on low down payment home loans during uncertain financial times.
- Comprehensive Healthcare Plans
As most employees continue to work in quarantine, there has been a growing demand for comprehensive physical and mental health care benefits. For years, companies have prioritized the health and wellbeing of their employees. Now more than ever, workers need access to benefits that transcend beyond high-deductible plans.
Employers may need to reevaluate their benefit offerings to accommodate the needs of employees in the new work environment. Whether that’s introducing additional access to telehealth and mental health services or implementing an online wellness program, employees and their families who are struggling in the face of the crisis will likely seek this type of support.
If your company offers employee assistance programs (EAPs) or other types of support, take this opportunity to educate teams on their benefits and how they can leverage the resources available to them. Encourage employees to seek medical care from home through telehealth services and to continue prioritizing their physical and mental health.
- Paid Time Off
Should a worker or family member fall ill, employees want peace of mind in knowing they can take time off without repercussions. Employees who have not accrued enough sick or vacation time may feel pressured to work when they're sick or while facing stressful situations. Strict paid time off (PTO) policies may cause employees to neglect their own needs, which can inhibit their ability to work effectively.
The CDC advises employers to implement flexible sick leave policies that are consistent with public health guidance. To protect the health of employees and create peace of mind, many employers have adjusted their paid leave benefits to accommodate individuals who must take time off due to COVID-19. For instance, some have introduced policies that would provide up to two weeks of paid time off to employees who either show symptoms of or are diagnosed with coronavirus.
Employers should communicate any policy changes to their employees and encourage them to take additional time off when they need it. Taking frequent breaks can increase productivity and improve focus, which would make a flexible policy mutually beneficial for both employers and their teams.5. Flexible Work Arrangements
Telework has presented unique working conditions and challenges to employees, especially those who have children or other outstanding circumstances at home. The need for more flexible work accommodations has never been so apparent as employees learn to balance work and familial responsibilities.
Employees with children may need flexibility or support when it comes to childcare and homeschooling. Employers can better support these families by providing benefits like access to reliable babysitting services or online courses for children. On-site childcare options, subsidized care costs, or partnerships with local childcare providers may help ease the burden for employees with young children.
In addition, it may take longer for some employees to adapt to working from home. Some employees require an office setting to perform their job effectively. If possible and in compliance with social distancing regulations, employers should consider offering a mix of home and office-based work options to improve productivity and support staff with outstanding circumstances.
- Resource Hub for Part-Time and Furloughed Employees
Some companies rely on part-time or freelance workers to support business operations. Others have resorted to temporary furloughs to keep afloat in the face of the pandemic, stripping many of essential benefits such as healthcare, paid vacations, and sick leave. While these workers understand they may be excluded from full-time employment benefits, they may appreciate support and consistent communication from their employers.
Even if you are unable to provide all of these benefits, you can still connect part-time or furloughed employees with resources to help them navigate through troubling times. You can best support individuals in these roles by extending your EAP resources or by creating a resource hub that answers questions regarding their rights to benefits, offers links to state and federal unemployment benefits they may be eligible for, and provides the contact information for a member of your team who’s able to answer questions.
- Personal Finance Guidance
Financial stress may impact your employees’ mental health and ability to work productively. The pandemic has increased the occurrence of financial stressors, such as concerns over saving for retirement, paying for unexpected expenses, and changes in income due to reduced hours, layoffs, and furloughs.
In an uncertain financial climate, employees are increasingly looking to their employers for guidance on personal finance management. Business leaders looking to assist employees with their financial health may want to consider offering more attractive financial wellness benefits.
Amid the pandemic, you can support your employees by helping them prepare for potential financial hurdles. Consider educating employees on how to build and stretch an emergency fund, provide online personal finance resources, and consider offering a more attractive 401(k) matching program to those who are still contributing to their retirement funds. If you’re able, you can also contribute up to $5,250, tax-free, toward employees’ student loans to help relieve financial stress.
- Safety Protocols for Essential and On-Site Workers
While many companies have moved operations to remote settings, certain occupations require employees to work at least part of the time onsite. Employees who are now able to or required to work in the office or onsite want their employers to abide by guidance from the CDC and OSHA to ensure a safe working environment.
Employees should have peace of mind knowing that their company is working with local and state officials to ensure their business is operating safely. Before reopening, businesses must develop robust plans that include safe work practices, rotating schedules, cleaning procedures, and necessary personal protective equipment. They should then share these plans with their employees and seek input prior to reopening.
Employees appreciate when companies show their concern for the health and wellbeing of their workforce. As companies begin to plan for reopening, some may also require that their employees conduct self-screenings for COVID-19 before clocking in each day. Implementing an automated COVID-19 safety screening process shows that a business is dedicated to keeping its employees and customers healthy.
- Subsidized Home Office Space
To be most productive in a remote work environment, employees must have a dedicated workspace in their home. When teams have access to the necessary amenities, they are able to collaborate seamlessly online and perform their jobs as effectively as they would in an office setting.
Employers can support their employees by offering a stipend to cover costs associated with setting up a workspace. Costs may include necessary hardware and software, furniture, and office supplies. If your staff relies heavily on the internet, you should also consider providing a monthly allowance to cover the cost of high-speed internet services and equipment maintenance.
Employees are also able to earn some money back by building a home office. If the office is used regularly and exclusively for business purposes, employees can deduct expenses such as mortgage insurance, utilities, repairs, and depreciation for that space. This is an often overlooked yet valuable deduction that you can help your employees claim.
- Professional Development Opportunities
Even before the pandemic, many employees sought ways to advance their careers through professional development and ongoing learning opportunities at work. Business development courses are far from new, but an increasing number of companies are relying on virtual training and classes to continually enhance their team’s skills.
Business leaders should provide employees with the necessary tools to learn in a virtual setting. They should promote digital learning in efforts to improve collaboration among remote teams and offer courses that can be completed over virtual formats, such as video conferencing. Providing these resources can help sharpen the skills of your staff, keep employees engaged in their work, and enhance overall business capabilities.
While you may already provide many of these benefits, offering your support and empowering employees with the necessary assistance and tools to navigate these times can boost morale across the company and serve as a key driver of your business’ success.