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This article was written by Kay VanAntwerpen, a member of the Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble content team. Entrepreneur NEXT is our Expert solutions division leading the future of work and skills-based economy. If you’re struggling to find, vet, and hire the right Experts for your business, Entrepreneur NEXT is a platform to help you hire the experts you need, exactly when you need them. From business to marketing, sales, design, finance, and technology, we have the top 3 percent of Experts ready to work for you.

The corporate world is currently reassembling office life at home and unfortunately, the project didn’t come with instructions. Work still consumes approximately the same amount of the average employee’s life, but Zoom caused an unexpected metamorphosis in the way an employee relates to the employer. 

The construct of “corporate professionalism” we thought sacred has been dashed to bits. Work attire restrictions, which were never popular to begin with, are vanishing (fun fact: the term “business casual” was invented by Dockers in 1992). Additionally, we’re all sharing some of our most private locations with our associates—be it a bedroom, a kitchen table, or a dining room—all while losing the emotional intimacy inherent to daily coffee breaks, lunchroom conversations, birthday parties and other elements of company culture. 

Pandemic work-from-home programs have already extended through the summer and we can reasonably expect they’ll continue for some time. Once the pandemic clears, many companies are likely to continue their work-from-home programs or institute a hybrid policy. After investing so much time and money into the change, reversing the mobilized workforce would be a step backward

It’s important to encourage the evolution of workplace perks—both the tangible perks they were promised as part of the job and the small day-to-day perks we may have taken for granted pre-COVID-19.

The benefits of at-home perks. 

Active and passive employee perks do a lot more than draw new employees or make current employees comfortable. They’re integral to a healthy company culture, which  feeds directly into company productivity. 

The sudden vacuum of workplace formality, engagement and camaraderie threatens to cascade into plummeting morale and lost productivity. One Gallup poll even showed a direct correlation between workplace engagement and employee pain, depression, stress, blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. 

The lack of regular perks can change the employment experience in some unique ways. 

A sense of belonging: The need to belong is universally human. However, when employees are placed in the isolating at-home work environment, it’s easy to lose perspective and begin to view yourself outside the essential operating machinery of the organization. Studies have even shown some significant connections between belonging and performance:

  • Inclusion and belonging can heighten job performance 56 percent. 

  • Companies that actively make employees feel accepted see a 50 percent reduction in turnover rates. 

  • Belonging can cause a 75 percent reduction in sick days. 

  • Employees that feel they belong are 167 percent more likely to recommend their company to others. 

  • The Center for Talent Innovation found that employees who feel a sense of belonging are three times more likely to be productive, motivated and engaged. 

Battling loneliness: The inverse of belonging—loneliness—can quickly strangle corporate productivity. Especially if an employee lacks a strong social circle outside of the workplace, working from home can cause immense loneliness.

These feelings can quickly snowball, causing all kinds of issues: 

  • Go Remotely found 19 percent of telecommuters found loneliness to be the biggest struggle in working from home. 

  • A study by Harvard Business Review found that employees who feel excluded are much more likely to not only sabotage functional team dynamics, but to also self-sabotage

  • Loneliness causes employees to feel less committed to their workplace. 

  • Loneliness also makes employees feel less approachable to their colleagues.

Extending company culture: Any HR officer worth their salt will tell you corporate culture is the make-or-break element in a company’s lifetime. Cutthroat and aggressive corporate cultures tend to fizzle out quickly, but supportive and open cultures foster employee growth, health and happiness. It also helps you clearly delineate which behavior is encouraged and which isn’t. Employee interaction on a day-to-day basis is especially important to develop workplace culture, as are perks and culture initiatives. 

Benefits have been observed in many ways: 

The number one problem shared among entrepreneurs today is finding, vetting, hiring, and retaining expertise.

Baseline home workforce perks.

Across the board, there are a few work-from-home perks that have become standard—even expected. These perks include: 

  • Establishing a level of flexibility that allows employees to take personal time when needed. Many workplaces have found this agreement can benefit both employer and employee. Employees are able to quickly react to personal emergencies and employers are able to keep the best and brightest. 

  • Becoming comfortable with custom scheduling and longer deadlines. Giving an employee control over their schedule gives them freedom to manage any precarious crises presented by the pandemic, and empowers them to take responsibility for both their personal and professional life. Studies show that these employees tend to have a healthier work-life balance

  • Many companies including Google, Twitter and Shopify are now offering work-from-home stipends so their employees can pay for necessary workplace tools such as WiFi (or so they can afford to work from a coffee shop regularly). It also allows them to make repairs to computer equipment run down from excessive use.

  • Working from home itself, while formerly considered a perk or incentive for high-performing employees, is now considered an entitlement in many organizations. As we mentioned earlier, this expectation isn’t likely to change anytime soon. 

Creative new perks for the mobilized workforce. 

In addition to the basic perks listed above, some companies are going above and beyond to show their employees why they’re a company worth sticking to. 

Zappos: Zappos officially decided that its workforce would stay home at least until the end of the year. The company held over 20 virtual events between March and Aug. 20, immediately after it converted to a home workforce. These virtual events help mimic the camaraderie and culture employees would otherwise experience in the office on a daily basis. 

Among the digital events are daily trivia, virtual office pride parades (with supplies for the parade delivered to the employees), a virtual coffee hour where managers are not allowed, and even a 10-day summer camp for employee families. 

They also took an extra step to support employee mental health and provided free herb-gardening kits. 

Ally Financial: The publicly traded Ally Financial, which saw shares grow 1 percent a few weeks ago, has taken some lengthy strides to assure its employees are secure during this period. The company gave its at-home workforce free access to mental health professionals via digital platforms, phone and text. It also implemented emergency financial programs that included:

  • Any employee that makes less than $100,000 in annual base compensation was given $1,200 tax-free financial aid to help cover any unexpected costs, no questions asked. 

  • Ally Financial decided to cover all diagnostic testing and medical visits related to COVID-19. 

  • Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 were given immediate, paid medical leave. 

  • Employees with children who experienced difficulty finding reliable childcare were given 30 days of emergency leave, to use at will, in order to care for their children. 

Other examples: Many other companies have found creative ways to extend employee benefits and keep their workers engaged. Some further examples include: 

  • One company took virtual drink orders for a virtual happy hour, then did a toast with those drinks delivered to the employee’s house, packed in baskets with other goodies. 

  • In addition to a Wi-Fi stipend, some companies like Indeed and Shopify have done even more to outfit their employees with a home office. It has been long accepted that ergonomic furniture is a powerful tool to improve productivity and employee happiness — so it only makes sense to help employees create an ergonomic office space at home. Shopify gave its remote employees $1,000 to set up their home offices, while Indeed offered $500 reimbursements to employees who purchased standing desks, chairs or lighting. 

  • Companies that provided fitness courses, such as Pinterest, found they were among some of the most popular perks. After the virus descended on the United States, Pinterest chose not to end their fitness program — instead they relocated it to the virtual world.  

  • IBM set a great example by printing this 12-point workplace pledge that includes a number of rules about sensitivity to employee needs during this delicate time. 

Ultimately, whether you borrow from these examples or not, the most important thing you can do is listen to your team and employ creative problem solving specific to their unique needs. All it takes is a little empathy and recognition to show your team you have their backs and in return they’ll have yours too. 

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