In episode 6 of the Bright Side of Benefits, host Becky Seefeldt sits down with BRI co-host Kristen Hughes to discuss various changes in the way we work. Specifically, this episode focuses on work from home vs. hybrid vs. in-office considerations and the impact your choice can have on retention, compliance, security, and employee benefits.
Listen to Episode 6 below:
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TRANSCRIPT – EPISODE 06: Changes in the Way We Work
Hi, I’m Becky Seefeldt, VP of Strategy for Benefit Resource, here with another episode of the Bright Side of Benefits. This is a series where we talk about the latest news and happenings in employee benefits – all in easy-to-digest, bite-sized snippets.
Today, I am joined by Kristen Hughes. Kristen’s here to help us as we break down how changes in the way we work are impacting benefits. She will play the role of the employee and ask many of the “but why” questions that executive and HR teams are inevitably hearing these days.
Hey Becky – glad to be here! I’m excited to be talking about the new ways we’re working. Personally, I love changes like this. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I’m always intrigued by the new approaches and innovations and strategies that are coming out of this otherwise challenging time.
So I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the big headline recently was “Elon Musk tells employees to return to the office 40 hours a week – or quit.” For many, the action is considered bold and shocking in the current tight job market. If you read a little bit closer though, his communication goes on to say:
“Tesla has and will create and actually manufacture the most exciting and meaningful products of any company on Earth. This will not happen by phoning it in.”
While time will still tell regarding any fallout from Elon Musk’s business decision, it is really a cultural and business decision to ensure that employees he has are truly dedicated to that purpose of “creating the most exciting and meaningful products.”
There’s lots of different visions of what in-person, remote, and hybrid work environments should be. We are not here to debate the merits of any one approach but hope to shed some light on how the way we work is changing, how some intentional decisions employers need to consider, and how employers should evaluate their benefits through some new lenses.
Overlooked Changes to the Way We Work
Great, so to kick things off – obviously, the working world looks very different today. It has become much more acceptable to work in pajamas after a thirty-second commute to wherever your home office is set up. We’re in Zoom calls so much more now and the most popular catchphrase to start a meeting is still “You’re on mute”. Which, if you’re anything like me, is often followed by a, “Sorry my dog was barking at a bird.”
These are all the obvious things that have shifted, but what are some overlooked changes to the way we work?
While I often hear people complaining about the last two plus years, I think we can all admit that we are all a little more resilient and in many ways stronger than we once would have thought possible. However, I think that resilience has prompted many more people to question decisions that were made. And they’re asking “why?” Why are you doing this? Why is this process needed? And there’s so many more “why’s” that come to mind.
Employers really need to be prepared to answer a few of those why’s as they do come up. For example:
- Location: why does it matter where I work? In a Gartner Survey, they found 59% of workers indicated they would consider a new position or job if it allowed them to choose their location of work.
- Also related is the demand for flexibility. This comes in many different forms and potential asks (or even demands) from employees. The response “because I said so” is really not going to be an acceptable answer as employees inquire about the standards of work that may have been set in an organization.
- Lastly, is an increase in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This is more of a “what” than a “why”, but what are employers doing to ensure Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are incorporated into the company culture? And, it’s more than just a checkbox to indicate you’re an Equal Opportunity Employer. 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and their offers. There is a lot happening in regards to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and it warrants its own topic. So, watch for our future podcast where we will dive a little deeper into this topic.
Great. So going back just a second, I’d love to unpack location a bit more.
I’m a globetrotter by nature. So sometimes, I wish I could up and sell my house and embrace the digital nomad life, and just work from wherever – hop on a call from the Caribbean, check-in with the team from Greece, work from a villa in Tuscany for a month. That sounds so nice. But realistically, what are some considerations for employers when thinking about the location for their employees?
At a basic level, location seems like an easy item. As an employee, I think, “I have the technology to work from home, why can’t I work from anywhere?” But it gets a bit more complicated.
First, there are employment laws. There are employment laws which often vary by state (and even by occupation or classification of employees). As you enter new states, the employer will need to file in those states. There may be disclosure requirements, benefits offerings, and eligibility terms. There may be state or regional ordinances; this is very common when it comes to Commuter Benefits, for example. All of those things are going to be based on where the employee resides. While the employee may be able to technically “work from anywhere”, there are implications when an employer enters a new state. Additionally, work from anywhere, even on a temporary basis, can pose security challenges that need to be considered. This is especially true when you start to look at the “anywhere” locations which involve international travel.
Additionally, there’s some benefits implications that can be impacted. Insurance is one area that is also state-regulated. So when an insurance plan is put together, it’s going to have certain conditions based on the state that it is being offered. But there’s also networks. So as an employer, I may want to offer a narrow network of providers that offer a limited set of providers to use it. This creates some savings initially, but if that pool of employees which are “local” to the corporate diminishes, the plan no longer becomes viable. Additionally, as a participant, you want health coverage that you have to represent where you live, not necessarily where the corporate headquarters are.
Finally, you may want to look at location and its influence on the effectiveness of collaboration. Depending on the type of work and interaction needed, it can be a challenge managing teams and communication across multiple time zones. If one employee is in NYC and another is in Hawaii, that’s a 6-hour time difference. If you are looking to collaborate with those employees, you might be limited to 2 or 3 hours per day in which their core business hours are going to overlap.
The Key in Adapting to Changes in the Way We Work
So, I guess it seems like considerations for choosing which direction to go in whether it’s all remote or all in office or that hybrid solution – it comes down to flexibility. From an employer’s perspective, what does that mean for in-office? Does it mean the in-office culture is dead and everyone is home for good?
I think flexibility is more about choice and having a job that aligns with your personal goals and needs. It doesn’t meanthat the in-office work is dead. But, it is important to know that it is unlikely to look the same.
For some, flexibility means having more predictability in their schedule. According to Future of Workplace, 23% of employees indicate their well-being would be improved just by having a more stable work schedule.
It can also mean work from home on an as-needed basis. Prior to the pandemic, work from home was really limited to the rare occasion when a child might be sick. There were often corporate negative stigmas behind work-from-home. Some employees are looking for the option to work from home (rather than have to call in sick) when their personal life intersects their work-life, without the guilt or pressure that they would feel they are not performing their job responsibilities.
Hybrid Work Considerations
Yeah that shift in mentality is definitely a silver lining in all of this. It seems like there will always be certain positions where moving to a fully remote schedule just isn’t possible, so it’s nice to see there are still ways to have flexibility in those situations. As we look at hybrid schedules, those are the next step in increased flexibility. What considerations should employers be aware of for hybrid workers?
According to McKinsey and their Future of Work study, 20-25% of workforce could work remotely 3-5 days a week without losing effectiveness. Additionally, there’s another 17% that could work remotely 1-2 days per week.
When looking at hybrid arrangements, if the business is driving an in-person requirement (rather than the employee asking for it), it is important that there is a clear understanding of the purpose…is it to promote collaboration, training, for cultural support, or team connectedness? These are all valid reasons for wanting to have an in-office presence. It can also mean that the workplace is going to look a little bit different. Many companies are reducing their office space. Rather than dedicated workspaces, they may switch to hoteling or invest in more meeting and collaboration spaces.
If you are not managing your hybrid strategy, there is a good chance that you will end up with a mostly remote workforce and those that do follow the recommendations may come to resent the fact that they are in the office and others are not. It really is a delicate balance and making it successful will likely require deliberate action.
Remote Work Considerations
So then obviously remote working just screams “flexibility” – you know, you look up flexibility in the dictionary and there it is: “remote working”. But aside from the obvious day-to-day stuff, what else do employers need to be aware of or consider when it comes to that remote workforce that we as employees just don’t think about?
So remote work could just be remote work from your home location. But it can also be an unfixed location. If you’re going to offer a fully remote situation (and potential disparate workforce), you are going to have to have some considerations in regards to technology or security. But also understand if there are periodic needs where you do want people to get together; what does that look like?
For many organizations, the choice to offer remote options was forced and unintentional initially. As we look ahead, these decisions need to have a purpose and likely a plan to make sure they make sense long-term.
Flexible Working and Employee Benefits
It looks like we’re seeing that many organizations are not taking a “one size fits all” approach of either having everybody remote or everybody in-office. But that those work schedules can vary from department to department. What does this all mean when it comes to the benefits for the organization?
We talked a bit about some of the logistical considerations that come with location and flexibility, but there are also some clear challenges when it can come to benefits.
Personally, I was an early adopter in the remote work environment and have been working mostly for 12 years. But I was the minority and often out of focus from the company’s perspective. Things like monthly lunches didn’t really apply to me. The ice cream truck did not arrive at my house on a Friday afternoon in the summer. Consequently, I did not see these much as benefits largely because I wasn’t able to take advantage of them.
As more employees shift to a remote work arrangement, it is important to think about how those office perks might translate to remote employees. Maybe the ice cream truck can’t show up, but maybe a gift card to UberEats or DoorDash can. Sending a care-package of corporate swag and maybe a treat or two can also be effective alternatives to create connectedness with remote employees.
And now I’m craving ice cream. So, thanks Becky.
No problem. Sounds like you can use that DoorDash gift card right about now.
This does lead us into some trends towards personalization. Regardless of work location, we are seeing that different employees value different things. The knee-jerk response may be “I am not going to offer separate benefits for remote employees”. There are some potential legal/discriminatory reasons you may not want to offer separate benefits; however, offering benefits that appeal to different segments of your employees is not a new trend. Employees are looking for more out of their benefits than just health insurance and retirements plans. They are looking for benefits they can use that really align with their personal needs and goals.
The prospect of managing these benefits can seem very daunting for employers, but it doesn’t need to be.
Specialty Accounts, for example, provide the best for everyone and provide a manageable framework for employers. Specialty Accounts, if you’re not familiar with them, are a newer trend in benefits where an employer funds an account for a designated purpose or purposes. It is customizable by the employer and can be designed to pay for things like personal office furnishings, gas, bike sharing, personal services, entertainment, and pet benefits; these are just a few. Since employers are in control, they can set a budget (whether fixed or variable) and relatively easily manage a wide array of benefits for their employees without the lift of offering millions of different programs to the employees.
Yeah, I’ve been looking at a sit-stand desk for a lot longer than I care to admit. So I could definitely go for that Personal Office Specialty Account to help with that for sure.
And I think that’s it. We all have our own personal needs and being able to have a benefit that you truly value is something that I think we’re going to see for a while.
With that, we are ready to wrap up today. I do want to thank you for joining us today. Just a reminder, if you’d like to stay up-to-date with the latest benefits, trends, and industry news, be sure to visit BenefitResource.com and sign up for blog and newsletter notifications. You can also follow Benefit Resource on LinkedIn.
And to end on a Bright Side, we have a quote from musician Frank Zappa on the idea of change:
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”– Frank Zappa
Thank you and have a great day.