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Equal Global Employee Benefits...Do they exist?

It's a debate that's coming up repeatedly among leaders of global teams, whether they be fully distributed, remote, or hybrid, and that is, how to offer equal benefits to employees regardless of their 'remote status'. A recent conversation with Larry English, President of Centric Consulting raised valid points around the difficulties companies are currently facing trying to navigate managing global employee benefits. Centric Consulting has been remote since its inception, roughly 20 years ago. They have always been focused on a 'Design your Life' philosophy and allowing their employees to build a better work/life balance for themselves. It's this kind of philosophy that makes all the difference and there are many other companies following suit with this concept.

Automattic, Buffer, and GitLab are a few of the high-performing organizations that seem to have found the sweet spot within how to run global teams, and they've likely got a good handle on how to master managing global employee benefits too, or at least one would think. However, for companies who have recently transitioned to remote-first, many are struggling with knowing which benefits to offer, and the biggest question at hand, who should receive them?

Global Employee Benefits Trends

When it comes to offering benefits for global teams, employees have been placing more pressure on their employers to uphold equality and reduce bias as it relates to the benefits packages offered. The latest global employee benefits trends all point to the fact that employers with remote workers are placing more emphasis on providing employee benefits, especially when it comes to employee wellness and mental health programs. That's not to say there was no focus on these types of benefits previously, but there has definitely been a greater appreciation for their need.

According to a Deloitte report on mental health wellness in the workplace, companies that provide mental health benefits to employees see a high ROI in the longterm, if not shortly after employees access these benefits. Even so, although benefits such as those for mental health clearly provide a return, there are a number of complications around trying to figure out legally, what you need to provide for each type of worker, and how to implement them when your team is distributed.

Challenges Around Providing Global Employee Benefits

In many cases, there is no legal framework for benefits allowances for remote employees. When this is the case, how do you determine the benefits/stipends that each employee is entitled to then, whether they be working from home, fully remote, or hybrid? The answer isn't easy.

"It's all a grand experiment. How to ensure benefits are as equal as possible no matter the employee's location is something that companies are still trying to figure out. There is no formula yet and there are no set policies around it."

Larry English, Centric Consulting

So, then how do you provide benefits to remote or distributed teams so it's fair for everyone?

Newly hybrid companies are charting in unknown waters when it comes to benefits. The best way to ensure there is equality in the benefits given to those employees in the office and those working remotely is to listen to the needs of both groups and create policies specifically around them. Olark is a great example of a company that did just that. They offer a unique benefit to their employees, which they call the 'Unplugged Vacation Bonus' (available to both in-office & remote staff), which gives employees an extra cash bonus for taking 5 days of their vacation completely unplugged. Now, how's that for an incentive to disconnect.

Wellness Benefits vs. Remote Work Perks

When we speak about employee benefits, we often think about health care, gym memberships, physio appointments, etc. When it comes to these types of employee perks, there isn't much to question when deciding who should get them. Traditionally, full-time employees would receive all of the above benefits, while part-time, may only be entitled to half, and the rest (contractors/freelance, etc.) wouldn't be entitled to any company benefits. There's nothing too complicated about this traditional system, but in terms of remote work benefits, this is where it gets a little unclear.

When deciding which work benefits to offer remote staff, there are a few considerations you'll want to make and questions you should be asking.👇

  • Promotions: How will we manage promotions to ensure that there is equality and opportunity when it comes to employee eligibility for a promotion, whether the person applying is an in-office worker or remote?
  • Digital Nomad Flexibility: Should we build this into our benefits package? If so, what types of flexibility will we offer?
  • Salary: With remote staff, are we planning to pay based on role, or cost of living? If the later, would we be playing with pay inequality?
  • Work set-up: Should employees who choose to work from home permanently, be entitled to more paid benefits for equipment?
  • Co-located fees: Is it our obligation to invest in places where our staff can gather for connection and collaboration?

The answers to much of the above will be guided by your company values & beliefs, and largely, your company culture. As Chris Herd, Founder & CEO at Firstbase spoke about in a conversation with Gable, your company either leans towards an office-first culture or a remote-first one, and hybrid doesn't exist.

"I think there is this misconception about hybrid companies, and I don't actually think that there is such a thing as a hybrid company."

— Chris Herd, Founder & CEO @ Firstbase

Regardless of whether you see your company as having an office-first or remote-first culture, when it comes to offering equal global employee benefits, you need to design benefits packages that empower workers within both culture types. And, for those so-called 'hybrid' companies, designing for remote first even if you're an office first culture is going to be key.

Promoting Equal Benefits for Distributed Teams

With all the points raised about employee benefits, it should be clear that equality between in-office vs. remote workers, in terms of their benefits entitlement, should be equal, right? What happens though when it comes to gig employees and freelancers. How do we incorporate their benefits into the mix? Or, do we provide any at all? It seems like a never-ending black hole of endless questions and doubts around the benefits companies should offer, and as challenging as it may be to navigate, it's all essential to work through.

Your team is what keeps you going and without them, there's little chance of success, so you're going to want to take care of them regardless of their 'remote status'. Global employee benefits tend to be complicated, and if you're struggling with navigating how to legally implement them, it's best to seek out assistance, especially when you're creating policies around health, disability, and retirement benefits for your employees.

When it comes to offering workplace wellness programs, holistic benefits, and other 'nice to have' style perks, there are quite a few companies providing options. Here are a few of the ones that are making an impact.

  • Few, the holistic fitness booking app created to improve physical, spiritual, emotional & mental well-being brings workplace wellness to the forefront.
  • Cobee offers employee benefits and flexible remuneration through their perks and benefits platform allowing companies to put the way they manage benefits on auto-pilot.
  • IncentFit makes it easy to motivate and reward your employees’ healthy choices month after month, year after year. Which is part of why they see such strong employee participation: 69% on average per year!
  • Firstbase is helping companies go office-less by assisting them to set up, manage, maintain and retrieve all the physical equipment their remote workers need to work better, from home.
  • Wellable helps organizations establish successful employee wellness programs that align with company culture, values, and business goals.
  • Perkspot, through their discount platform, offers exclusive deals and discounts to employees while adding in some good ol real-time recognition, something that is often missed in the remote working world.
  • Safetywings is the only global health insurance offering companies a collection of insurance, pension savings, and income protection. Best of all, they're removing the role of geographical borders as a barrier to equal opportunities and freedom for everyone.
  • Fond allows companies to seamlessly consolidate employee rewards and recognition processes into one easy-to-use platform.

No matter which benefits you decide to offer your staff, remember to keep in mind that inequality and bias can easily creep in, and when it does, take it as an opportunity to reevaluate the way you've been doing things and ask yourself; are the current benefits we offer our employees, serving them for their specific needs and situation? Creating a level playing field around employee global benefits is key to improving the overall health and wellbeing of your organization.