Check out our video MMA Minute with Maddie on this topic!

 

What started as a rapid response to adapt to a work-from-home environment has led more companies to ask themselves a bigger question, “Where else can employees work besides their home?”

After more than six months, this new reality has taken on greater importance, as remote work is seemingly here to stay in some capacity for many employers.  
Workplace flexibility is changing how employees think about where they want to work. Among our clients and their employees, many have opted to move permanently back to their hometowns to be closer to family or loved ones, especially if caregiving is required. Others have an itch to spice up their routine with some adventure. We have seen instances where employees move temporarily out-of-state, or even rent an RV, drive across the country, and work remotely from their mobile abode.

A remote workforce presents new challenges to employers in addition to maintaining corporate culture and comradery since the pandemic hit. These include potential IT nightmares, difficulty implementing a communication cadence to keep employees informed and engaged, and proper planning to achieve business objectives. During the pandemic, employees have struggled to retain some sense of normalcy. Many have felt alone and trapped without a separation between their work and personal lives. In fact, 42% of respondents in a recent study noted that their mental health has declined since the pandemic began.

According to a recent Global Mercer Survey, 44.9% of employers are making updates or are in the process of making updates to an existing flexible working policy because of COVID-19.

Some employers are choosing to get in front of this new reality and are proactively creating policies that allow for workplace flexibility. Other organizations are waiting for employees to ask for permission — or relocate permanently — before communicating a company-wide policy.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, here are some key items to consider as it pertains to your employees and your benefits program:
  • Get a handle on eligibility. Do your eligibility rules allow for out-of-state employees to access your benefits program?
  • Think about the potential cost to your benefits plans. Depending on if you are fully-insured or self-funded, there may be varying cost implications.
  • Know where your employees are covered (and where they are not). If you only offer a regional health plan and an employee decides to relocate to a rural area, will coverage be available for them if they need it?
  • Ramp up your telehealth offerings. More than likely, you already offer telehealth through your core medical plan. However, if you don’t, or if it hasn’t been widely promoted, it may be time to rethink this strategy. A quick video to your employees is an effective way to educate them about  this great benefit. 
  • Ensure your administration is in order. If you have a benefits administration, HRIS, or payroll platform, make sure those systems can accommodate a mid-year change, such as a relocation. Otherwise, you may need to implement a manual process.  Be mindful if you are making exceptions, or if a more permanent update needs to be made to your systems and administrative process.
  • Consider the statutory requirements. While it may not be likely employees are moving to San Francisco or New York City during this time, these cities have unique rules that employers must follow.
  • Amend your time off policies. Your PTO program is an important component of your total rewards strategy. Modifying your policies could go a long way to demonstrate to employees that you support them. For example, if an employee is temporarily relocating to care for a family member and would normally need time off, a new policy may be best to allow for flexibility.
  • Recognize the need for consistency. To ensure continuity across your organization, formalize the policies you choose to establish and consistently follow them to avoid favoritism.
  • Develop your communication plan. Once you have written out your policies, determine if you want to be proactive or reactive in your communication. There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you were early to distribute your new policy, you might be creating more work for yourself, yet employees typically appreciate the gesture. However, if you wait for employees to bring you a specific move request, and word gets out that you allowed for it, others may wonder why a broader communication did not occur. 
Additional Considerations
Finance and HR leaders should consider the implications these decisions can have on additional lines of insurance, taxes, or overall operations. How does a more dispersed workforce impact your company culture?

According to a recent Mercer survey, 58.3% of employers are considering implementing flexible working at a greater scale than prior to the pandemic in order to source, attract, and retain a more diverse workforce. 

More employees will seek out organizations who offer workplace flexibility and a benefits program that can facilitate it. To compete for talent, you may need to establish these policies sooner rather than later. Be sure you’re working with an employee benefits broker who understands your organization’s short and long-term goals, as well as the needs of your employees. A broker with deep resources and expertise can work in tandem with you to implement an effective strategy.

Check out our video MMA Minute with Maddie on this topic!

Katie Jones is a Client Service Executive in MMA’s Employee Health & Benefits Division, providing world-class customer service and support to clients with enrollment, claims, and any other needs that arise. Katie has over 12 years of experience in the insurance industry and recently completed an Executive MBA with an emphasis on leadership, innovation and global business strategies at Loyola Marymount University.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.