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As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, more people are working from home than ever before. While this unique situation made for a quick and sometimes uneven transition, remote work is far from a new concept. It had long been gaining steam before the pandemic, increasing by 159 percent between 2005 and 2017.

Now, however, employers are seeing the power and potential of remote work in a new way, and many are wondering if it’s time to make remote work permanent.

In April, industry analyst Josh Bersin found that more than 50 percent of companies did not have a work-from-home policy — even as many were working from home. That could soon change, as estimates suggest as many as 40 million Americans could end up working from home on a regular basis at least part of the time after the pandemic.

It’s clear that whatever their policies are now, all organizations need to start thinking about how remote work will fit into their operations in the short and long term.

The Right Benefits Can Reinforce Engagement — No Matter Where Employees Are

Any remote work plan must start with an in-depth look at your employees’ needs. It’s important to consider how you will foster engagement and loyalty when there is less personal interaction between employees and their colleagues and managers. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to adopt new strategies to create a consistently positive virtual employee experience.

Personalized benefits offer one way to achieve this, and wellness pots are a good place to start. An alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional benefits, wellness pots grant employees supplemental funds specifically for wellness benefits, and employees can then choose how to spend those funds. This approach to benefits provides greater variety and choice, allowing employees to tailor their benefits experiences to their own needs and tastes.

(During these uncertain times, choice is more important than ever. If you do choose to implement wellness pots, consider allowing them to cover additional equipment needed for working and/or staying well from home. It will go a long way in making employees feel cared for.)

In offering personalized benefits, organizations clearly express how much they value their employees while also giving those employees the autonomy to select benefits that are personally valuable to them. Not only does this foster loyalty, but it can also improve benefits utilization — thereby strengthening the connection between an employee and their organization even further.

Organizations should also consider the power of universal leave policies which allow employees to take time off for whatever reason — weddings, helping a sick relative, helping a friend move, or even a simple vacation. Universal leave policies allow employees to control their paid time off, and that element of choice is a powerful engagement tool. furthermore, our own research found that more than 60 percent of HR decision-makers feel it is unfair that some employees receive fewer benefits than others due to their marital or parental status. A policy like universal leave can help remedy that disparity but ensuring that all employees receive the same level of benefits.

Flexibility Is About More Than Just Where We Work

Employees will appreciate the flexibility to work from anywhere, but they’ll also appreciate flexibility in when they work. For example, parents might wish to start working a little later in order to get their kids ready in the morning. Some employees need to end the day earlier to care for a loved one, while others may need to structure their schedules around regular counseling sessions for their well-being.

There are plenty of reasons why employees are seeking flexibility of both time and place in their work, and employers should grant that flexibility whenever possible to whatever degree possible. Doing so only serves to strengthen the employee-employer relationship and increase morale and loyalty.

Remote Work Brings More Talent Through the Door

Supporting remote work is not only beneficial to your existing team members — it can also be a key differentiating factor for your company in the talent market. According to research from IWG, 80 percent of US workers would choose a job that offered flexibility over one that did not.

Remote work is the most popular of all flexible work options, according to a 2019 FlexJobs report. Furthermore, it is especially popular among rural workers, 32 percent of whom say they would take a 10-20 percent pay cut to work remotely. Companies that offer remote work have an advantage in tapping into this often underutilized segment of the workforce. Millennials are also particularly attracted to remote work options, and given that they make up the largest generational segment of the workforce, it would be wise to appeal to their preferences.

Employers will have to make a lot of choices as the world slowly settles into the new normal, but employees have made one thing clear: They want and value employers that provide flexible work options to support their individual lifestyles. By offering personalized benefits and flexible work arrangements that allow for a better work/life balance, an organization can further promote engagement and loyalty among existing workers while becoming an employer of choice in the wider talent market.

Chris Bruce is managing director and cofounder of Thomsons Online Benefits.

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