September 2

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The Lasting Impact On The Future Of Work – And How It Will Radically Shape Benefit Plans

It has been a very challenging and unprecedented time over these last few months, and everyone is trying to do their best to manage this new reality we were thrown into overnight. While many individuals and organizations as a whole were already seasoned and primed for what the remote working lifestyle entails, the first half of 2020 made it very apparent that there are right and wrong ways to implement remote work – and some organizations are better than others when it comes to handling and helping their workforce ease through this transformation.

It’s been a huge adjustment period, and companies are workshopping new ways to address their employees’ needs, how to better collaborate as teams, how to keep them engaged while respecting their new boundaries, and taking on a new level of responsibility to promote a healthy and productive virtual workspace.

Some companies have taken to toying with new perks that might address some of the struggles remote workers are facing at home, which will undoubtedly trigger a forced shift in workplace culture.

Many people were suddenly thrust into a whole different work environment

The “work-from-home syndrome” is a very real thing. Many folks who once were able to strictly separate their work and home lives are now struggling to maintain focus and mindfulness in an environment that provides more interruptions than within their traditional office space. The abrupt change from having a eight-hour working day planned out to now having to design a brand new work life that is blended with home and family responsibilities is already riddled with problems.

The unfortunate reality is that the global pandemic caught far too many organizations off guard and weren’t well positioned to properly prioritize the well-being of employees as people and not just as a worker when they weren’t centralized in an office. This pushed employees to work in conditions that were high risk with little backing. We spoke about this in a previous article, but people are not machines, and without the proper support, tools or flexibility, they will not be able to perform to their full potential.

Waking up to the importance of fostering a sense of community

Businesses are increasingly seeing the importance of addressing the impact that chronic stress has on their workforce. Between the impact from lost productivity, rising costs in their healthcare spend and presenteeism, there has to be a priority now more than ever to create a culture where everyone is connected and feels supported.

Pre-COVID, there was this growing sense that nobody really valued or prioritized the ping pong tables or endless kegs in the office, because the modern workforce wanted to know their company actually valued their health on the individual level. Now that our lives have been significantly altered, it is very tough to distinguish between work and life, and employers need to place a greater emphasis on helping employees manage their work-life balance, including flex time to keep everyone positive and engaged.

Adopting a benefits plan that caters to these pandemic-altered trends, backed by a renewed emphasis on providing emotional help will empower the remote worker who is stuck trying to keep it all together in a sea of uncertainty.

How to protect the health and safety of workers

Productivity and safety are in the same vein when working from home. Just because the office environment has changed, doesn’t mean the responsibility is off the organization to not ensure that the home workspace is safe. Through this new prism of how we work, it has opened up and ushered in a variety of new perks, benefits and supportive ways that companies can empower and protect their workers.

Here’s a run through on where this new wave of thinking is shifting towards.

  1. Offering stronger (virtual) mental health support

Many practitioners are doing everything online and are shifting to a fully digital claims experience in addition to access to meditation and mindfulness services, psychotherapy sessions, even hourly guided mediations. Employees can schedule telehealth appointments, send messages to health-care providers and refill prescriptions, so every person will be able to call, text or go online for help.

Ontario recently unveiled its latest plan for mental health and addiction services called, “Roadmap to Wellness.” This mental health and addictions investment of $12 million is designed to support and address the diverse mental health needs of Ontarians during the pandemic.

  • Adding mobile-first Employee Assistance Program’s

Dialogue has recently taken aim at expanding its health-care services by introducing a mobile-first employee assistance program. This allows employees to receive quick virtual access to practitioners across mental health, financial services, legal support, career counselling and crisis management, making it as easy as possible for people to get the support they need, as soon as they need it. They aren’t the only company to be making these mobile moves.

Many telehealth platforms such as Inkblot have focused heavily on their on-demand video counselling for a wide range of mental health advisory services. Or CloudMD who uses artificial intelligence to deliver quality healthcare and help people beyond the reach of their local practice.

  • Companies need to think of ways to prevent injuries at home

Sitting in non-ergonomic friendly positions in makeshift offices around the home serves as a breeding ground for back, neck or shoulder pains. To ensure employees don’t end up hunching over resulting in any discomfort or pain, many companies are taking to shipping a person desk, chair and computer monitors to make it easier to settle in. We might not be going back to a workspace we once knew, so we might as well adapt.

  • Covering additional remote work expenses

What can employers do to help design a home office that feels comfortable? Many companies are covering remote work costs, including boosts to internet speed, data overages, laptops, monitors; anything that helps provide a soothing and energizing environment from which to work at. Even Google employees will be allowed to expense up to $1,000 for home office needs like standing desks and ergonomic chairs.

It also extends into the fitness realm as well. If someone has a wellness spending account, gym equipment or health and fitness enabling items like resistance bands, foam rollers, medicine balls or yoga mats for the home can be submittted as well.

  • Helping out around the home

No doubt has the quarantine greatly impacted those with young families at home and having to wear the professional and parenting hat simultaneously. Some companies have seen the adoption of more generous leave policies, or entertainment packages for children throughout the day. Others have offered coaching service online where staff can have half-hour personal development calls with a professional coach.

Being mindful of the effects on employee experience is important, because employee disengagement can be long-lasting. Being deliberate and taking an individual-centric approach means innovating the overall culture towards better communication and connection. We might be forced apart now – but we are all in this together and people at all levels of a company can work towards driving a positive cultural innovation that drives performance through this storm.

About the author 

Chris Gory

Chris Gory is the founder of Orchard Benefits (formerly Insurance Portfolio Financial Services Inc.), a brokerage launched in 1999 that helps companies build the best benefits programs for their employees. Chris is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and works with over 60 startup companies including Wattpad, 500px, and VarageSale. He is an advisor at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone and at the OneEleven startup hub, and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and he's been a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, since 2012.


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