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3 Must-Have Job Benefits For The Work-From-Home Era

Climbing walls. Arcades. Weight Rooms. Beer Fridays. Not long ago, on-the-job perks like these were commonplace among the Googles and Facebooks of the world, not to mention countless startups aspiring to join their ranks.

Now, more than six months into the work-from-home era, they seem, well … kinda dumb.

And it’s not just because the gyms are sitting empty and the beer kegs are going flat. The reality is that, pre-pandemic, the standard buffet of startup perks was neither especially inclusive nor even well used. Critics have pointed out that lots of perks — from catered meals to foosball tables — skewed to the needs of one demographic: young, unattached men. Meanwhile, many of these bells and whistles, from nap lounges to yoga rooms, were used infrequently and sat idle much of the time.

Nice to have? Maybe. Mission critical? Not by a longshot. With the benefit of a little distance during the crisis, this has all become painfully clear. But the real question is: what comes next? In the era of remote working (and whatever comes after we turn this corner), what perks truly matter?

To find out, I recently surveyed my nearly 2 million social media followers, a broad cross-section of people in different industries and phases of their career, to find out what work-from-home perks they desired most. The resounding answer: there is no one answer.

Instead, the overwhelming impression is that what’s needed now — and is long overdue — is choice. A blanket approach to perks and benefits no longer makes sense, and probably never did. Shocker: what people want and need depends entirely on factors like age and life situation, not to mention the ultimate trump card, personal disposition.

Going forward, employers who ultimately win the battle for talent — who become known for having amazing remote work culture and benefits — will be those that embrace and prioritize optionality. The universe of choices in this regard is limitless, but to me this comes down to extending flexibility to employees in three key areas:

Time

The crisis is hastening the end of the standard 9–5 workday. Remote work, family obligations and shifting schedules mean employees are increasingly working on their time and their terms, prioritizing getting the job done over clocking in and clocking out. And this approach is working: surveys show many professionals are both happier and more productive at work since the pandemic started.

Accordingly, extending choice over how employees spend time is one of the most powerful incentives right now. This might mean ditching fixed schedules in favor of core hours. It might mean the option of four-day workweeks, like Shopify offered its employees this summer. It could be doing away with “hours” altogether and opting for a deliverable-based approach.

There’s another key dimension here: offering benefits that save employees’ time, something especially important as we grapple with the new dynamics of working from home. Subsidized child care is a central piece, and it’s telling that Google and Facebook are now leading the pack in this regard. Meanwhile, other companies are supporting with “concierge-type services,” from housecleaning and home office set-up to food delivery.

Space

Flexibility around space is another key pillar of the next generation of job perks. The uniformity of cubicles and open-office plans has given way to an appreciation that workspace preferences are highly personal — and people will gravitate to the environment that best suits their needs.

Right now, a key perk that speaks to this is home office stipends, which give employees the freedom to outfit their space as they see fit. My own company extended a bonus to do just that. Some employers have gone so far as to provide home office advice and set up services, while others are footing the bill for mission-critical utilities, from internet to electricity.

But true flexibility is also acknowledging that not everyone works best at home. Some employees have neither the space nor inclination to use their house as an office. Not to mention, some form of in-person collaboration will continue to be important, even in the work-from-home world. Indeed, a recent Google internal survey showed 62% of employees felt that being in the office “some days” was important to getting their job done.

That’s why in-office working options, not to mention perks like WeWork memberships, are key benefits going forward. Interestingly, Google is already reconfiguring its physical offices as a space for occasional “on-sites,” i.e. days when WFH-employees will gather together IRL.

Spirit

At root, so many traditional job perks — whether we’re talking yoga classes or holiday parties — are about uplifting and feeding the spirit, in one form or another. The problem is that what motivates one person might actually demotivate another. Concepts like wellness, balance and fulfilment are highly subjective and vary from individual to individual. During Covid, employers are finally acknowledging that.

In-office gyms have given way to fitness and wellness stipends — giving employees the liberty to pursue the options they actually want, whether that’s online CrossFit classes or meditation retreats. The uncertainty and isolation of Covid has also shined a spotlight on how critical access to diverse mental healthcare services can be. From Starbucks to Target, companies are expanding access to counselors and coaches and providing subscriptions to a range of mental health, stress and sleep apps.

Another “spiritual” perk in increasingly high demand: the luxury of balance and focus. Remote working has blurred the lines between work and home, while real-time apps like Slack and Zoom have contributed to an “always-on” mentality. Progressive employers are already addressing that in both perks and policies. No-meeting days, clear “digital-access” guidelines and even permission to turn video off in meetings can be powerful antidotes to work-from-home burnout.

Ultimately, Covid didn’t just displace work from offices to homes. On a much deeper level, it’s shifted the power dynamic at work, inviting each of us to define our own work experience, rather than have it imposed from outside. Gone are one-size-fits-all approaches to offices, schedules, dress codes. Around the world, people are reimagining and personalizing their own work experience. So it’s no surprise they should want to design their own perks.

It’s also worth noting that the remote work era has, if anything, heated up the battle for top talent. Right now, employers are competing for great people not just with companies across the city, but around the world. The right incentives can absolutely tip the balance. In the end, companies that recognize choice as the most valuable perk of all will be well positioned to win tomorrow’s talent war.

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Business leadership advice, from real business leaders. The Helm is a carefully curated collection of insightful content from the business frontlines.

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Ryan Holmes

Ryan Holmes

Entrepreneur, investor, future enthusiast, inventor, hacker. Lover of dogs, owls and outdoor pursuits. Best-known as the founder and CEO of Hootsuite.

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