In a December 2021 study, the analytics service Gallup found that half of businesses can operate remotely. Of those that do, 30% of employees said they would prefer to work from home full time.
Granted, not all CEOs are on board with the concept, as a Microsoft survey in March 2022 found that 50% of business leaders are standing against work-from-home policies. Overall, though, Gallup predicts a 37% reduction for in-office work — even once our ongoing pandemic has waned.
With a third of office desks going empty, businesses everywhere are faced with a meaningful new challenge: to establish perks that are attractive to employees who rarely or never set foot in the building.
In a matter of months, classic benefits such as snack bars and foosball tables have been rendered useless. What little-known or unexpected perks could replace them?
The Usual Perks
Before we get to the unexpected ways to strengthen a remote workplace, let's run through the typical options.
First, offering hardware and resources. Employees at home will need a quality computer, monitor, desk, and chair, so your business can either give those directly or offer an allowance to pay for them. After all, the in-office employees are getting an entire office building, so the least you can do for the remote workers is ensure their neck won't cramp looking at a tiny laptop.
Some remote workers may function best in a co-working space, so businesses could offer a monthly reimbursement. Plus, any business-relevant software subscriptions could be covered — remote IT support can be offered through the right remote desktop software.
But these typical benefits are just common courtesy. Lesser known remote perks will actually intrigue and retain talent. Here are the best options available to remote employees, according to a host of experts we interviewed.
Top remote perks:
- Child Care
- Mental Health
- Bicycle Benefits
- Book Clubs
- Food Delivery
- Specialized Virtual Events
- More Time
Employees who are working remotely need just as much peace and quiet as they would get at their office. Caring for children might fall on someone who's at home, but it can be a massive burden for someone who's working full time as well, no matter how much they love their child. Offering to pay for the care of a child or dependent is a big benefit that many remote workers could use.
If you have children yourself, you can likely realize the mental and physical benefits of having some childcare duties alleviated, and employees with more brainpower are never a bad thing.
“Astute employers recognize that subsidizing part or all of these expenditures can have a direct and quantifiable effect on employees' productivity,” says Steve Scott, CTO at Spreadsheet Planet. “As any parent of small children is well aware, having a little child underfoot while attempting to complete work at home can be rather distracting.”
A related perk is offering additional paid family leave for a range of reasons, that might include pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, or any unspecified family emergency.
Benefits aren't necessarily constrained to children, either: The same stipends can be offered for employees who double as caregivers, whether for aged family members or individuals with disabilities.
Between a pandemic, growing fascism, threats of nuclear war, and climate catastrophe, it's honestly a little weird if life in 2022 doesn't give you mental burnout. And as Romantific editor Samantha Moss notes, remote work can trigger burnout faster among some workers:
“In my opinion, as an employee, working remotely can cause loneliness and burnout because you don’t have anyone to rely upon when issues occur. One of the best remote work perks is having mental health support and subscriptions to sessions virtually. Employees that can have an open conversation about mental health are beneficial when it comes to being engaged and productive at work.”
Some businesses might simply offer a subscription to a wellbeing app like Headspace or Calm — which can work for some — but Moss is recommending a more substantial benefit. One employee benefit company, LYLA, offers an Employee Assistance Program that fields requests submitted by employees for everything from scheduling a plumber, planning a child's birthday party, or finding a mental health provider. Then, live Solutions Center Specialists find the solution.
“The companies we work with are already seeing decreases in attrition as LYLA usage rates grow,” LYLA CEO Marsha McVicker tells me. “Over a 12-month period, a major national insurance company saw a 3% increase in productivity, and we reduced nursing turnover at one of the largest healthcare systems in the country in just 90 days — saving them over $1.8M annually.”
Employees could talk to a professional for some hands-on guidance, or they could pair up with another co-worker for a buddy-system-style weekly chat that allows them to bond in a concrete way.
Working out is a stress-relieving activity that leaves you physically refreshed, and there's no one who needs that more than a remote-working desk jockey. Stipends for exercise equipment, local gym memberships, or any personal development activity could all go a long way.
Adam Wood, cofounder of RevenueGeeks, is a big proponent:
“Do you want to secure your employees' general health and productivity? Provide them with free fitness classes. Your employees will be able to incorporate an exercise break into their hectic schedules with fitness courses guided by a trained instructor. You can also give your remote workers access to a fitness center.”
Workout sessions are a particularly great perk for a hybrid workplace — Those working at the same location can all attend one fitness class, while anyone working remotely can be given a monthly stipend to attend a gym that works for them, or to supplement an adjustable dumbbell set if they'd prefer to isolate.
Next Day Animations is an explainer animation studio that has gone entirely virtual — “probably for good,” Chief Storytelling Officer Caitlin Rogers tells me. One unique perk they offer is their bicycle benefit, which allocates $200 towards a bicycle for all new employees who don't own one yet, as well as a $75-per-year reimbursement to go towards a bicycle tune-up.
Much like workouts, this perk doesn't have to be only for remote workers, but it's just as useful for them as it is for in-office employees. It's arguably more useful, too, as workers who have recently made the shift to working fully remotely are given an opportunity to revamp their daily life.
Biking more places saves gas, helps the environment, and keeps your quads in great shape — switching from a car to a bike has been found to cut commuting emissions by 67% in one study, and could have ten times more of an environmental impact than electric cars.
Book clubs are an overlooked benefit to a hybrid or remote workplace — remote employees who regularly get together for a spirited discussion that isn't about work can replicate the water cooler conversation that's missing from their work life.
One app, Bookclubs, gives users the tools for managing the infrastructure of a book club, allowing members to be easily polled on the best book selections and meeting dates. The Covid-19 pandemic spurred a surge in followers for the service, with more than 2,000 new book clubs joined in the weeks following March 1. More recently, they have launched a service aimed entirely at employee book clubs for businesses.
“We see many companies creating more intimate and focused book clubs for specific, smaller teams. For example, a company may have one club for the innovation team, the people team, the sales team or the strategy team. This allows for stronger team building and more targeted professional development,” says Bookclubs co-founder and CRO Nancy Brown.
Book clubs tend to translate well to video conferencing calls, since they're group discussions that feature one speaker at a time, rather than the overlapping conversations you'd get at an in-person group work party and which can't really happen on video.
Plus, since remote workers are taking time to sit down and read a title they find interesting, they're getting more out of the book club than just additional screen time — another reason why they can easily be more fun than the typical Zoom office party.
We all want to eat good and nutritious food. Physical and mental well-being are boosted by these, as well as enthusiasm and productivity at work. Employees who work from home will feel more at home if you supply them with nutritious meals and snacks.
“In order to avoid your staff feeling deprived of the office cafe, consider bringing everything they need to their offices,” says Andrei Kurtuy, Co-Founder & CCO at Novorésumé. “It's now possible to purchase meals and snacks online, which may be tailored to each employee's individual dietary needs and personal preferences. It will be nice to be able to eat lunch alone, rather than having to share it with others.”
In some cases, employers with limited budgets might use food baskets just on days when company-wide board meetings are held, might opt for a ‘tea club of the month,' or might pick one employee to surprise with a food delivery on a weekly rotating basis.
Food vouchers for a monthly happy hour can also pep up an otherwise lifeless Zoom meeting.
Specialized Virtual Events
And just why are Zoom meetings so likely to try your patience, anyway? Maybe it's the eye strain, maybe it's the distractions, or maybe it's a lack of in-person social cues. Whatever the case, those factors can all add up, making it tricky to pull off any event that works over a video conferencing service.
As a result, planning is everything.
Large corporate events might opt for a dedicated events company for their team-building get-togethers, and some specialize in fully remote events. Avva Experience is one such company, or at least it is since the pandemic forced it to pivot — now it offers over 200 curated remote events, from virtual wine tasting to comedy nights to virtual roaring 20's parties.
As Avva Experience demonstrates, the key is to shake things up ever so often, rather than sitting on your laurels. Tournament-style virtual games or online escape rooms are two fun options. One business, Resolute, held a contest to design their company mascot.
“We like a few remote team-building activities, such as online paint and sip classes and virtual bingo. We also have a ‘peak of the week’ session where all our employees gather online to celebrate each team member's success,” says Courtney Stables of Custom Neon. “Incorporating an element of joy and excitement into remote team-building activities is preferable among employees.”
Micromanagement has never been a great way to track employee progress, and that's even more apparent in a remote environment. Smart companies are responding with a range of solutions aimed at reducing meetings and freeing up employees' time, but many fail to find that balance.
“One of the biggest perks employers are failing to leverage with remote workers is, to put it bluntly, being left alone,” says Tina Hawk, SVP Human Resources at GoodHire. “Managers and organizations are often so desperate to ‘bridge the gap' and scramble to implement processes and protocols to keep remote workers constantly connected, that they often simply overwhelm staff.”
How can companies give their employees breathing room? Crunchbase offers “core working hours” from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm PT, allowing workers to set their own time outside those parameters.
The company also includes generous stipends for internet use, general learning, and more. Communications Manager Matt Schulman was drawn to work there in large part because of these benefits.
“Perks that encourage work/life balance also go a long way,” Schulman tells me. “Crunchbase offers unlimited PTO and actually encourages people to use it. It also schedules company-wide ‘Mental Health Mondays' for each month without built-in holidays, which ensures that employees get at least one three day weekend every month. Plus, Thursdays are encouraged to be ‘no meeting day' which massively helps mitigate Zoom fatigue.”
Granted, giving employees more space to work freely isn't a new idea. But it's a tough one to execute well, and requires a company that trusts its employees to stay on target even when they're not being watched.
In the end, remote workers need something that fosters connection. It's easier said than done, but a little thoughtfulness goes a long way, whether it's a transportation voucher, bingo night, or just a little employee recognition.
As David Reid, sales director at VEM Tooling, explains: “Remote positions may make employees feel lonely and isolated — even small gestures like a thank-you note can help them remember they're part of a team.”