by Kimberly Valentine on December 26, 2021
Building a robust employee benefits package used to be relatively easy for most companies: Provide decent health coverage, offer a generous 401(k) match, allow for several weeks of paid time off, and sprinkle in some genuine perks – perhaps tuition reimbursement or even on-site daycare.
Your physical office space itself enabled many other benefits, such as a fully stocked kitchen and maybe an on-site fitness center.
But now? Some or all of your employees are working remotely full- or part-time, unable to partake in the free coffee and exercise equipment. They may live in multiple states across the country, unable to participate in the same health plans. And the ongoing battle to attract and retain top talent demands more valuable, meaningful, and surprising benefits and perks than ever before.
“The benefits we used to offer our in-office employees just didn’t make sense as we transitioned to supporting a remote-first workforce,” says Andrea Morales, senior director of total rewards for financial technology company Affirm.
Related article: Guide to Building a Better Employee Onboarding Checklist for Your Remote Workforce
If you haven’t yet reinvented your employee benefits package specifically for remote workers, now’s the time. Find inspiration in these rewarding employee perks – from stipends for eco-friendly home offices to virtual fitness classes – offered by remote-first companies and others that have shifted to remote work during the pandemic:
1. Technology, Furniture and Supplies for Home Offices
Setting up a home office can be an expensive requirement for remote workers, and many companies provide technology and financial assistance to enable their employees to do their best work. Company-issued laptops and stipends for office supplies are just the first steps to equip your remote workers.
The online job search platform FlexJobs takes the office set up a step further. In addition to a budget for office furniture and technology devices, the company’s Green Office Stipend allows employees to create an eco-friendly home office with energy-efficient heating and cooling appliances, air purifiers, and more.
Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at FlexJobs, explains, “When we look at some of the key benefits of remote working — having control over your space, better for the environment, more flexibility to take care of yourself in a more holistic way — these stipends are a way to support those things and communicate the values of the company in a tangible way.”
2. Monthly Internet Stipend
An easy factor to overlook: Your employees need high-speed internet service to work from home efficiently, but the expectation that everyone pays for sufficient speed on their own is inequitable. Offer employees a stipend to cover this monthly expense.
Cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean, for example, covers as much as $200 of each employee’s monthly internet and phone bills. This practical remote work benefit ensures employees are reliably connected and ready for all those Zoom meetings.
3. Ergonomic Guidance
It’s one thing to provide a stipend for your employees to upgrade their home office furniture – an excellent benefit. Step up a level with this perk by also providing the ergonomic expertise to buy and set up furniture properly to alleviate physical discomfort and the associated loss of productivity.
Take a cue from the globally dispersed company Automattic, the team behind WordPress.com, Simplenote, and Tumblr, among other tech platforms. Automattic offers each employee an ergonomic evaluation that can include a full analysis of the employee’s work setup, observation of work habits, and suggestions for personalized stretching exercises.
4. Reimbursement for Getting Out of the Home Office
Not every remote worker finds home to be the most suitable place to work. Remote-first companies have long been aware that some employees work best in more social environments — even if only occasionally. Consider funding the use of co-working spaces (once it’s safe to do so, of course) to offer alternate office environments for your remote employees.
For instance, Buffer, a social media management platform company with a remote-first workforce, covers employees’ membership fees to their local co-working space. For those who prefer to work in a coffee shop instead, they are reimbursed up to $200 per month to cover their lattes.
5. Fitness and Wellness Classes and Coaching
Mental and physical wellness perks for employees have become more common in recent years. Subscriptions to mental health apps such as Calm, Headspace and Ginger allow employees to tap into a meditation session or connect with a behavioral health coach on demand.
And while in-person fitness perks like on-site gyms became unavailable with the transition to remote work during the pandemic, forward-thinking companies shifted to offer their teams virtual fitness classes.
Rewards platform Fetch hired a full-time wellness coach in September 2020 who teaches daily virtual fitness classes, including yoga, barre, HIIT and strength training. Fetch also offers its employees mindfulness exercises, regularly scheduled breathing breaks and individual health and wellness coaching. Participation rates: 35% of employees are active in the company’s wellness program, and the average participating employee attends 4.5 classes each month.
You don’t need to hire an in-house wellness coach to offer your employees virtual fitness perks, however. Corporate memberships to Gympass and ClassPass, for example, include on-demand and virtual live classes. Give your employees the chance to experience new ways to stay fit, either as a group during the workday or on their own time.
6. Free Lunches
At the office, there really is such a thing as a free lunch, and savvy workers rarely miss out on such events. (Savvy leaders, likewise, know free food is a terrific way to lure staff into the same room for team-building or coaching activities.)
Remote-first companies are still scheduling lunches as a team – with pizza on the company’s dime. Popular food-delivery apps are now catering to the remote workforce with services such as DoorDash for Work and Uber for Business.
PizzaTime — with corporate clients such as Casper, IBM and Adobe — offers coordinated delivery services to make sure dispersed team members receive their pies in time for their virtual meetup. Host virtual team lunches to reward employees or celebrate a team accomplishment, or provide lunch during a mid-day team meeting or company-wide conference.
7. Book Allowances
The employee book club at Drift, a remote-first company that offers a revenue acceleration platform, doesn’t actually meet to discuss the same titles. Launched in 2016, it instead allows employees to choose books from an evolving list of about 250 titles, including The New York Times’ 2020 anti-racist reading list. Each employee can order one book every month; on average, about 75 employees order books from the list each month, reports chief people officer Dena Upton. “Learning is a way of life, and there are so many great books our team can dive into,” she says. “We want to support that growth.”
8. Streaming Music Subscriptions
Some employees work better when fueled by music. Consider funding remote workers’ subscriptions to Amazon Music, Spotify or Apple Music – a perk offered, for example, at SeatGeek, a live event ticketing platform.
Bonus idea: Pair this perk with a set of noise-cancelling headphones so that your team members can keep the music in their own ears and avoid distracting a significant other or roommate, or tune out the surrounding noise for more focused work.
9. Grocery Allowances
Just as many offices stock their kitchens with employees’ favorite drinks and snacks, remote-first companies are also making sure there’s no shortage of food in their remote workers’ home pantries.
In January 2021, fintech firm Affirm began offering employees a digital spending wallet – broken down into four categories (tech, food, lifestyle and family planning), each with a monthly allowance and a list of eligible items employees can use the funds toward. The $220-per-month food allowance can be used for groceries and food delivery. “We want all of our benefits and programs to embody our value that people come first, and giving Affirmers the flexibility to pay for things that make their day-to-day lives easier really supports that,” Morales says.
It’s not uncommon for remote-first companies to set core hours when all employees, no matter their time zone, are expected to be available online. This allows just enough flexibility for employees to work when they’re most productive and balance family responsibilities, while also enabling real-time conversations for as many hours as possible.
Some companies have embraced fully flexible hours with a “no core hours” policy.
DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused internet search engine, allows its globally dispersed team of more than 135 employees to choose their own hours of work. Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, explains, “We understand everyone has their own working styles, as well as certain times of the day when they’re most productive, so we offer freedom and flexibility to organize their individual work schedules.”
Coordinating primarily through the task management platform Asana, the company operates with limited scheduled meetings including no-meeting Wednesdays and Thursdays. “We’ve found that team members do their best work, have the greatest work-life balance and are happiest when they can choose where and when they do their work,” says Weinberg.
If your company isn’t ready to experiment with a fully flexible work policy, consider establishing limited daily core hours, such as 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in a key time zone, when everyone’s online and available. Allowing your employees the opportunity to choose remaining work hours that are best for their individual schedules can provide the work-life balance they need to make the remote work environment successful.