The role of employer-sponsored benefits in a successful return-to-office plan
The last few years have ushered in dramatic changes impacting where and how businesses operate. Flexibility has become the new norm for work location, schedule, and employee preferences. While remote and hybrid work has been pivotal and essential, many organizations thrive on a culture of in-person collaboration and wish to get their workforce back in the office. Balancing these realities is a critical challenge for employers.
The inescapable truth is that most employees would rather not return to the office full-time. In fact, a whopping 97 percent of respondents in a 2022 survey by Buffer overwhelmingly recommend remote work and would like to continue working remotely. However, Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index found that 50 percent of companies are planning to require employees to return to the office full-time within the next year.
In order to remain relevant and competitive, companies must offer both flexibility and support to ease employees comfortably back to the office even in a hybrid model. Without those two key elements, any benefits program runs the risk of being tone-deaf and companies run the risk of losing current and potential employees. For example, weekly on-site catered lunches probably won’t have as much conversion power as subsidies that offset commuting costs.
The bottom line is that leaders must be intentional and think through the value proposition of in-office work requirements then provide the backing employees need to help them make the transition. Leaders must establish the why, when, and how of the office. These four guidelines help companies architect successful plans to cross the divide.
1. Collaborate with employees to identify meaningful return-to-office benefits.
The people who know best what benefits will be valuable to employees are – no surprise – employees themselves. Start by asking team members for feedback about how to best update benefits offerings to support them in a return-to-office plan. Both formal and informal methods can help identify what employees feel they need and whether there are benefits that they feel are missing.
Surveys are one key way to solicit feedback. They are relatively easy to create and deploy and also demonstrate to employees that companies care about their preferences. A point-system survey can present a list of benefit options in categories such as well-being, family support, mental health, professional development, commuter benefits, and financial wellness. Each employee is asked to assign a number of points from a scale (for example, 1-10) to indicate which categories best address their needs.
Based on the responses, companies can adjust their benefits program to strengthen what is valuable and add in what may be missing.
2. Create a flexible benefits program that supports both employee and employer needs.
It’s important to recognize that each employee might benefit from something different, and survey results may underscore a need for greater customization of benefits. Benefits spending accounts that cover many different expenses are one way to solve this puzzle. These accounts meet employees where they are and evolve with their needs as they change. As such, they allow benefits to retain their value regardless of changes in work location.
Benefits spending accounts that can support both a distributed workforce as well as employees who are returning to the office include:
Many employees are now accustomed to saving money and time as a result of working from home. Asking them to return to the office can be expensive and time-consuming. Companies can help ease the financial part of this equation by offering spending accounts that cover expenses such as public transit, rideshare, gas, and parking.
Another key way to mitigate the stress of returning to the office is by demonstrating your organization’s dedication to employee well-being. Employers that respect their employees' well-being can expect higher levels of engagement among their workforce. Through a benefits spending account dedicated to wellness, employees can choose almost any activity, service, or product that supports their well-being. These accounts could cover expenses such as therapy, yoga classes, and massage, for example. A wellness-focused employee spending account can ensure each employee has access to the programs and resources that will best support them during and after the transition back to the office.
Family support benefits
Parents who have been working from home have enjoyed more time with their kids and together as a family. Going back to the office presents an emotional challenge – ensuring their children are comfortable with their increased absence. Companies can set up family support spending accounts that provide resources to help parents through the journey and transition back into work. These accounts can cover expenses such as parental coaching, baby accessories, childcare services, afterschool programs, tutoring, and other services. It can also cover pet expenses such as pet food and dependent care for pets.
3. Define a clear communication plan for the return-to-office program.
The key to any successful transition in an organization is clear, consistent communication. It is important to define what management expects from fellow team members. Will employees return gradually, or will it be done in one sweeping change? Will some employees continue remote work while others have to come back to the office? Explain why each position requires a particular arrangement.
Defining and communicating the rationale for in-person collaboration is a critical first step. According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, 38 percent of hybrid workers say the greatest challenge that comes with being hybrid is knowing when and why to come to the office.
As you roll out communications around your back-to-office plan, consider and communicate how current employee benefits can support employees during the transition. These benefits are only valuable if employees know about them and use them. Crafting and disseminating communications that raise awareness of relevant benefits and help employees understand how to use them to their full potential are critical to creating positivity around a return-to-office plan.
4. Monitor the program performance and enhance where needed
Measuring your benefits program gives you tangible information to understand how well it is performing and where you need to focus improvement efforts. The following are a few key performance indicators that can help track and measure a benefits program:
- Budget usage: Closely monitor how much of the budget for various benefits spending accounts your employees actually use, and how. Higher budget usage means a more successful program.
- Employee satisfaction: Revisit the employee surveys you used to determine which benefits were and weren’t meeting the needs of your employees. These surveys have a full-circle potency. Solicit feedback on how well any changes in your benefits program responded to the needs your employees articulated at the outset.
- Categories: If you have deployed benefits spending accounts to give your employees access to flexibility and customization in their benefits, evaluate account expenditures to help determine which programs to continue or expand, and which to curtail or replace.
Use flexible benefits strategically to ease return-to-office stressors.
Organizations need to structure their return-to-work strategies with empathy at the core. Every team member has a different set of needs, and your employee support programs should address them all. Team leaders can give their workforce the support they deserve with a clear communication strategy and flexible, customizable employee benefits.
The one-size-fits-all approach to employee benefits doesn't work anymore, especially when the organization is composed of in-office, hybrid, and remote workers. Each group – and each individual – comes with unique and specific needs.
Forma helps you meet those needs with personalized benefits plans. When employees leverage programs that are personalized to them, you can expect to see higher engagement levels across all departments.
Get in touch with Forma to learn how flexible employee benefits play a pivotal role in your return-to-work plan.