Workforce as we know it is taking on a new shape with the rise of remote work. As of this year, the number of companies with a remote workforce is increasing, with 66% of companies allowing remote work and 16% being fully remote.
Even with its rapid growth, the concept is still at its infancy- there are many things the current system is not supporting, one of them being worker benefits. Current benefits may include 401k plans, health benefits, a gym membership here and there, but those seem to be exclusive for full-time employees. It’s time we think about remote workers (contractors, freelancers, etc.) as well. After all, there are 56.7 million Americans who are in the gig economy. Their needs are different from traditional employees, which brings us to the various challenges they face.
Challenge #1: Loneliness and isolation
One of the biggest challenges with people working remotely is loneliness and isolation. Many of them work from home, which means they don’t get to socialize with co-workers in the traditional sense. Remote tools are being developed every day to battle this issue, but they may not be enough. According to Distributed Operations Consultant, Laurel Farrer, the managerial mindset needs to change so that remote workers can feel connected in a distributed setting. Benefits that can be easily implemented are coworking memberships that allow people to interact with fellow remote workers and get their dose of socializing. On top of that, companies can organize annual team retreats that help teams get to know each other better and ultimately work better with each other.
On a more advanced note, it’s important to consider both mental and physical wellbeing. Unfortunately, mental wellness is often neglected, leading people to be more prone to stress and burnout. Destigmatizing this and allowing remote workers to take off when they are not sick will help them take care of themselves and come back refreshed and perform well. If necessary, implementing personal, non-work related check-ins with HR professionals could also be an excellent benefit.
Challenge #2: Motivation and retention
Over the past years, the number of remote opportunities is getting significantly bigger. Job seekers now don’t struggle to find jobs which makes the market quite competitive. In the past, worker loyalty was tied to most basic needs, such as job security, decent pay, etc. With the new workforce in place, people are now looking past these and choosing companies based on their values, mission, even team culture. So how does that play when it comes to benefits. Now more than ever, benefits can be the deciding factor when choosing a company to work for.
Managers are shifting their recruiting process to hire less for technical skills and more for culture fit and soft skills. A right candidate becomes the one who belongs to the company and sees themselves thriving there. Applying practices that foster appreciation and a sense of belonging can be a good way to retain workers.
Diving deeper into the subject, benefits must be created with an understanding of the reasons why people choose to go remote. Some do it to travel and flexibility, while others are forced to do it because they need to take care of a family member or have health constraints. Offering childcare or more advanced health benefits such as fertility treatments could be good practices to support remote workers. Moreover, for those who want to grow, providing continued education can be a good benefit with a clear ROI.
Challenge #3: Classification risks
Even though the concept of remote work is not new per se, the current administrative system is far behind. There is a thin line between being a contractor and an employee, leaving employers at risk of significant fines for misclassification. Distributed companies comprised of contractors have issues coming up with ways to introduce benefits without stepping across the line and wrongfully classifying them.
The root cause of this challenge is in the labor laws. They are outdated and leave little space for the new workplace models. Even though some basic benefits like giving contractor bonuses are allowed, that’s pretty much it. We need a new system that keeps up with the trends that are developing and shaping the future of work.