How benefits need to shift to support work-from-home needs

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With COVID-19 forcing business shutdowns as well as school closures, employees' needs and wants have shifted to adapt.

Many traditional benefits including gym memberships, free food and snacks in the office and commuter stipends are no longer available, or are not currently useful to employees. Companies should be changing their benefits to respond to these changes, says Rachel Lyubovitzky, CEO of EverythingBenefits, an employee benefits administration software.

“The COVID-19 epidemic has fundamentally changed the benefits landscape,” Lyubovitzky says. “The economic downturn and increased unemployment had created a temporary ‘ceasefire’ in the war for talent, allowing employers to tighten their benefits portfolios with lower risk of losing employees.”

Employers need to consider options like virtual fitness memberships, work from home office policies and stipends, or mental health and telemedicine wellness checks. For working parents, remote work has created its own set of challenges, creating a need for different childcare options and more support from employers, Lyubovitzky says.

“Now, they are tasked with balancing managing their kids at home, ensuring that their time is equally spent and being on their devices all day long, while also trying to have a career,” she says.

As strides are made to address medical solutions and establish best practices for returning to work, Lyubovitzky shared how employers can play a key role in supporting their employees.

How have employees' needs and wants shifted due to this pandemic?
It has changed in major ways. In the past, you could have been looking at things like pet insurance, which has been very important to employees. Now, you can't really even take your pets to the vet, unless it's an emergency. For dental visits and annual checks, [employees] might want to delay those until it feels safer.

For working parents, they had a lot of their needs taken care of by the schools and extracurricular activities, so their needs were focused on things like identity theft protection, access to legal services or pet insurance. But instead, what has become a bigger need is making sure that your kids' time is well spent and access to childcare in general. So that's really shifted priorities for the short term, with these working parents wanting to keep their kids engaged [while they’re working from home].

I have two school-aged children and we tried something called outschool.com, which is an online education platform for children, at home, and it was absolutely amazing. So then a bunch of other employees on our team tried it, and we decided to [offer it as a benefit.] We have tuition reimbursement for team members that are still working on their education, and we have loan repayments for those who have just graduated. But we don't have anything for the working parents as far as benefits are concerned. So adding outschool.com to the list was a fair thing and very timely, And we thought that probably will be a fair thing to add to the list, and probably very timely too, because being where we are, this is actually helping working parents when they need it the most.

With employees not being able to make use of many traditional benefits, how should benefit offerings change?
With more employees working from home, many are unable or unwilling to take advantage of dental and vision benefits as they used to before. Employees working from home with their children have reduced access to child care resources, thus benefits that allow them to address this challenge are becoming more impactful now than dental and vision benefits. In contrast, medical benefits as a whole do end up being used more with employees tapping into telemedicine options or needing to leverage hospital services more heavily in some cases. We anticipate an increase in medical costs in the coming policy year as a result of this.

Snacks and food in the office, for example, are some of the things that makes the office a little bit more fun to work in. So at EverythingBenefits, we started to send snacks to people's homes. It's a tiny benefit a lot of people will be missing. Instead of gym memberships, you might start to offer online classes, whether they're for fitness or for continued education. With the unemployment being as high as it is, I think a lot of employers will start looking at ways to continue enriching and providing additional avenues for employees to be more knowledgeable so they will be able to do more and diversify what they're doing, rather than letting them go.

I think we're going to continue to see increased momentum into mental health telemedicine solutions, particularly given the mental health impact caused by the workplace being remote, and that people are stressed. So some of the employers that were not considering mental health telemedicine before might start putting that on their agenda.

How do you see the workplace changing in the long term?
When you start looking at the longer term picture of what's going to happen — as we patiently wait for a vaccine to become available — we might have to go through the cycle of back to work, back to the office and, unfortunately, potentially back to stay at home. With some of the social changes taking place due to the epidemic, I fully expect to have many of my employees not making it back to the office, even when it's safe, because many have found themselves a lot more productive, happy and comfortable working from home. That's the reality that a lot of U.S. employers will have to embrace, so you'll have to think about what different types of benefits would be more impactful to your employees if they switch to this mode of operation.

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