Hailed as the holy grail of employee benefits, ‘flexible working’ was the offering employees often fought for. The ability to control our schedules was far more appealing than the free fruit and gym memberships offered by organisations as a salve against long commutes and longer days.
Companies who offered this were still seen as ‘progressive’. But now we’ve been thrown into a giant use-case for remote working. The results show that employees are, with support and clear communication, more than able to work autonomously without having to physically ‘show up’. With this overwhelming demonstration of capability, working from home can no longer legitimately be offered as a benefit.
So, on the other side of the crisis, what will businesses look to offer instead? And, with a new outlook on work, what will we want?
“I think personalised benefits will be more valued.
People around the world will be crying out for flexibility and freedom,
given what we've all been through. I like the idea of build your own
benefits package – a mix of childcare, mental, physical or financial
support, more or less holiday, tailored to the employee’s
needs. It’s not the easiest to administer but if businesses can offer
that, they are on to a winner.”
“I think mental health services for stress and anxiety will be much more holistic and prevalent than an EAP or access to a meditation app. I think workplaces are really having to step up to care for their employees in a way that they haven't before. Perhaps we’ll see a move to 25 days annual leave, topped up with, say, 5 "I'm just not feeling it" days.”
“One perk might be 'a remote worker's charter' whereby all employees sign up to things like: every meeting having an agenda and someone designated to share notes afterwards, lunch-hours being sacred, scheduled drop-in times for senior leaders or opt-in social activities.”
With the remote working cat well and truly out of the bag, many employees many be reticent to return to the way things were. Employers have had to let go of old assumptions around lost productivity, placing greater levels of faith in their people combined with a huge ask of them. While the balance of power may seem to have shifted, a strained economy may well put paid to employee’s ability to push back and get the work life balance and benefits they truly want.
“There is a prediction of widespread unemployment in the medium term for the UK and US and many 'western' economies. This typically puts the power back to the employer. In times of near or full employment, talent attraction and retention are more important. When multiple candidates are chasing every vacancy, they have less bargaining power.”
But it can’t be ignored that the actions of employers during the crisis have had a deep, and sometimes detrimental, impact on their brand perception. Not just for customers, but for future talent. (Weatherspoon’s and Sports Directs, we’re looking at you.)
“Companies will have marked their cards in terms of the way they handled their coronavirus response, particularly regarding whether or not they looked after their people. Those that behaved poorly will be remembered and people will be choosier.”
Whatever the future looks like for businesses, and how they might change what they offer employees, it’s worth remembering this is by no means, a ‘controlled study’ with reliable results.
“It's about balance and what works for people. One man's meat is another man's poison. Personally, I can't wait to be back in the office and read those social cues, so I know what's going on with the people I'm speaking to. But the flexibility to make it work for me when I need it is great.
As ever, what will make it work long term is trust. Trust from employers that when people are working from home, their output matches what it is when in the office. And right now, that case study isn't viable, because we're not working from home in a normal situation, we're attempting to while many other factors are trebling how hard it is.”