Top 6 Allowances & Benefits for Work from Home Employees especially in times of COVID-19 Crisis
Our world, a couple of months back, was so different from what it is now. COVID-19 has turned everything upside down, stirred things up, and given us a new normal with no option but to come to terms with it. People, families, and societies the world over have shown a lot of resilience in adapting to this disruption and have evolved at every step.
There has been an overnight shift in ways of working for organizations operating in the contactless environment. Digital platforms, technology-driven ecosystems, and virtual mediums turned out to be a blessing in disguise for seamless business operations, overall employee wellness, and customer experiences.
“HR played a ‘marvel’-ous role during the current crisis by stepping up to manage organizational challenges, engaging the workforce, keeping teams connected, ensuring their wellbeing, formulating policies, structures, processes and literally creating a new lens to view the entire spectrum of operations.”
Apart from the direct and indirect, regular and contract, workmen and non-workmen, organizations will have another category to deal with – Work from Home and Work from Office. Barring some crucial roles that need a presence in the office, on the ground, and in the field, most of the operations have predominantly shifted to WFH mode and the scenario is likely to continue for long. And thus the need to relook at some of the allowances and benefits, to make the policies inclusive and relevant as per the changing times.
During WFH employees rely on technology infrastructures like desktop/laptop, high-speed internet, and printer (based on type work and requirement). It is a prerequisite for most of the job functions. Though extremely important, providing the IT support for each and every employee may become overbearing for organizations. One option is to permit employees to procure these on rent, which may be cost-effective.
Some organizations have declared an IT Allowance through which employees can procure the IT infrastructure required for the smooth functioning of work. Depending on nature and duration of work, additional monitors, bigger screens, and headsets; UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to avoid data loss as well as keyboard and mouse for ease of operating for longer duration may be required. Other than taking care of these additional requirements, companies may also provide for covering the extra electricity bill incurred while working from home.
One thing employees desperately miss during WFH is the comfort of their office chair and desk. Spending long hours compromising comfort will lead to increased physical discomfort as well as back and neck pain. Alternatively, sitting in a place too comfortable will lead to lethargy. Both scenarios affect productivity.
Furniture Allowance would be that one-time allowance which companies could offer so that employees are able to buy the necessary furniture and equipment for ease of working. This can include ergonomic chairs, comfortable work desks, cushions, etc. WFH envelopes a more diversified workforce, including young mothers, physically challenged, and senior employees. This allowance would cater to the diverse needs of such employees too.
During WFH, one is left with limited options to move around. There is also a restriction on venturing out due to the pandemic. Although virtual meetings have become a rage, employees tend to feel secluded and a sense of isolation sets in. Sometimes employees tend to put in more work hours than they did while working from office. All this culminates in neglecting physical and mental wellbeing, which could be disastrous in the long run.
Organizations have provided “Global Wellbeing Allowance” stressing that health and happiness go hand in hand. Good healthy and overall wellbeing foster a stable workforce. As part of this allowance, employees can subscribe to any fitness package, buy workout-related equipment like dumbbells, spinning bike or exercycle, etc., or involve in a specially designed program to increase immunity. Seven to ten days of Annual Well Being leave also is a part of this package.
Food/ Meal Allowance
Remote working is working ‘at’ home, which may not be such a good news for those employees who live alone, who depend on office cafeteria for their two meals a day as well as refreshments in between. Some companies have designed a Meal Allowance, a fixed amount every day so that employees can order food which is otherwise not possible to arrange in their living space. As part of this allowance, they also allow reimbursements upon submission of bills or coupons which can be used in nearby stores for buying food. This is beneficial for those employees (Interns, trainees, young workers), who live away from home and families.
Taking care of children or aged parents at home is a full-time job. Since offices provided for crèche and care centers, it helped employees to utilize these facilities so that they could concentrate on work during office hours. WFH blurred these boundaries overlapping office and workspace. With no crèche or care centers to depend on, they are forced to manage both, which is a herculean task. They may have to go with alternative arrangements. Childcare Allowance, especially for remote working employees who cannot avail the crèche facility, provides for such expenses that are incurred towards this.
An allowance for recreation or entertainment is much needed, especially in present times, when people are more anxious, restless and worried. The social connect has reduced as there are fewer instances where all may come under one roof. Employees feel the disconnect and miss the corporate environment. There are no spontaneous water-cooler or corridor talks.
To create a positive nudge, entertainment allowance may include a range of things from buying books, audiobooks or kindle account, subscribing to magazines, hobby clubs, taking up a sport or any such recreational activity that provides for a welcome respite from the routine work.
A win-win for employers and employees
Remote working will continue for long, probably even after the pandemic subsides. There has to be clarity on roles that are strictly WFH and those to be operated from office. The eligibility to avail benefit of allowances will predominantly depend on the clarity of this categorization.
During the Covid-19 scenario, organizations are going through tough times. Introducing various allowances is not to burden the companies financially, but to create those channels for employees to mitigate the drawbacks that come with moving out of offices and setting them up at homes. WFH will shrink the office space and reduce the overhead costs, but it would also mean accommodating office set up at home and bearing the associated costs. There is a great deal of work involved, not only in framing relevant policies, but also redefining the compensation philosophy altogether. The Policy Makers, at every level, ought to bring in flexibility for making these allowances part of the overall compensation structure as well as introduce provisions, tax point of view, allowing suitable deductions. Only then it would become a win-win, for the employers as well as employees.