Five new allowances for work-from-home employees

With remote working becoming the new normal, companies worldwide may have to redo their list of employee benefits and special allowances, to factor in the new challenges.

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Organisations have always competed against each other in trying to become the company with the better benefits. We have entered an era where working from home (WFH) is the new normal. Naturally then, the benefits and allowances offered by companies will see a change and employees may even end up demanding a set of altogether new allowances from their employers.

Instances have already emerged in the past few weeks. The apex court in Switzerland, in late March this year, ruled that companies must contribute to their employees’ rent if they are to work from home. The ruling applies to only those workers who have been mandated to WFH by their respective organisations. Around the same time, in India, the Union of IT and ITES Employees (UNITE), on March 30, wrote to the Centre, demanding that the electricity charges while working from home, must be borne by the companies as well.

The following are few examples of the kind of allowances that may become part of the new normal for remote workers:

  1. Furniture and hardware fixtures

This is an important requirement for employees to work from home, and companies will have to see that the needs of their employees are met. Furniture and hardware allowance may be a one-time offer made by companies to allow their employees to buy necessary equipment, depending on their needs. This can include, ergonomic chairs, cushions and desks. Companies that fail to provide such an allowance may end up risking their employees’ health as sitting for long hours leads to increasing physical discomforts, such as back and neck pain, which can affect productivity.

Considering that remote working may enable a more diversified workforce, including physically challenged employees, organisations will have to make adjustments according to the diverse needs of their employees.

  1. Technology

This is a basic requirement for employees to work from home. When the whole shift to remote working started in the country, many workers faced issues in remote working as not everybody owns a laptop or a high-speed internet connection in the country. Moreover, in tier-II and tier-III Indian cities, even a steady internet connection or a steady electricity connection is an issue. While organisations cannot solve the electricity issue, they will have to provide for necessary technological infrastructure. This includes laptops, monitors, printers and reimbursement for mobile bills incurred by the employees as a part of work.

If the cost of providing technological infrastructure becomes overbearing, companies may have to look at cheaper alternatives, such as renting of laptops or furniture for employees.

  1. Food allowance

Remote working means not just work from home, but also work at home. As the current situation has shown, being at home means additional responsibilities for the employee, especially those living alone, who have to arrange food for themselves, which was otherwise available at the office cafeteria. Companies may even have to provide a meal allowance, of a fixed amount every day, so that employees can order food in without having to waste time on cooking if they find it difficult to do so. This will be particularly beneficial for all those young or single workers living alone and have to manage by themselves without any help.

  1. Household and care allowance

It is not just meals, but a whole lot of other everyday responsibilities, such as cleaning and laundry that remote employees have had to take care of by themselves during the lockdown. For those living with families, caring for children at home or aged parents takes up a lot of time, which could have otherwise been spent on completing office work. Not for nothing is it being said that working from home means double the work, as employees have to take care of household chores as well.

To compensate for this, a part of the cost of the household help can be taken care of by companies. Since office creches are out of the question in a remote-working scenario, companies will have to compensate for childcare as well.

Under this segment, organisations can also include self-care allowance for employees. Working from home is no cakewalk, as workers are isolated from their colleagues. Moreover, as the WFH experiment in the past few months has shown, individuals often end up logging in more working hours than they would have had been working from an office. In such a situation, physical and mental wellbeing reign paramount, neglecting which may severely impact productivity.

While health benefits are already part of the offerings in many organisations, the change will be that they will become a necessary part of the contract. For instance, to take care of mental health, monthly counselling sessions with professionals will need to become a part of the employee contract. Similarly, yoga sessions, memberships for online fitness applications or even a home massage session ordered online will be part of the allowance.

  1. Entertainment allowance

Last but not the least, a recreational allowance may also become part of the books. Whether a Netflix allowance, an Amazon prime membership or even an Audible or Kindle membership, companies may offer a reimbursement to employees seeking some recreational escape from office work.

As the shift to remote working began early this year, few organisations across the globe began rolling out a slew of allowances to facilitate their employees’ smooth transition to the WFH mode.

Freshworks introduced an allowance for its employees, amounting to Rs 18,000, to buy necessary equipment, such as monitors, desks and chairs. At Google, employees were given $1000 to cover equipment costs. For those without a WFH allowance, such as Lennox India Technology Centre, employees were allowed to use their health and fitness allowance to purchase home-office supplies.

In India, Larsen and Toubro NxT, Mphasis, Infosys, HDFC Ergo, DCB Bank and similar organisations have provided all the necessary equipment, including laptops, internet connectivity and chairs to their employees to make WFH comfortable.

Benefits, such as access to courses or programmes for learning and development, will remain a necessary part of the work culture, if not more emphasised on, for remote workers. Working from home has been a blessing in disguise for digital learning, and the trend will continue as companies embrace remote working as a permanent part of their culture.

However, we are not talking about regular benefits here, but those that may emerge as part of the new culture. Employees may begin to present their own arguments about the kind of allowances they need to work from home. Therefore, companies will have to do their homework to find out what their staff truly require and expect from them.

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