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As organizations plan for the future of work, they’re deciding that some pandemic-era benefits will be keepers.

“Recharge days” for employees, “no-meeting zones,” the occasional home-delivered meal and wellness allowances that can be used to buy things such as running shoes and fitness trackers are among the perks some employers expect to retain when public health restrictions lift and offices reopen.

Expanded mental health care coverage will also stay in place at some organizations as employees emerge from more than a year of work-from-home isolation.

California-based Intuit Inc. instituted what they call recharge days because employees – with no one to socialize with and no place to go – were working flat out and forgoing vacations. “Some people really didn’t want to take the [vacation] time off, even though we know it’s really beneficial,” says Otto Krusius, vice-president of workforce and workplace strategy.

The recharge days provide respite without cutting into vacation entitlements. “It’s not a trade-off,” Mr. Krusius said in an interview from Mountainview, Calif. He expects the concept will also apply in future situations when the job requires extra, intensive effort. Intuit, best known for its TurboTax and QuickBooks products, has 440 employees in Canada.

Toronto-based Points International Ltd. introduced no-meeting zones – over the lunch hour and on Friday afternoons - so people can count on some uninterrupted time “with the phone not ringing and Zoom not popping up,” says founder and chief executive officer Rob MacLean. “Everybody participates in that, myself included,” Mr. MacLean said in an interview.

He sees the value of adapting no-meeting zones for the office setting where - in spite of all the advantages of face-to-face collaboration and spontaneous hallway conversations – walk-by interruptions can be distracting at times. “I am not sure it will be as structured as it has been [with everyone working from home], but I think people will just take it on themselves to say, ‘I’m blocking this time’.”

Another carryover at Points, a travel rewards business, is the increased mental health care coverage of $3,000 a year. “If people need that kind of support, we should be there to provide it.” The popular $300 annual wellness benefit that can be applied to running shoes and fitness trackers will also continue.

For most organizations, post-pandemic workplace models will be hybrid - incorporating a blend of offsite and onsite work as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout proceeds and offices reopen. This is uncharted territory for everyone, and it will take some experimentation to hit on a model that brings together the advantages of virtual work and in-person connections and collaboration, Mr. Krusius said. “We want to create the optimum conditions for employees to do their best work.”

One of the beauties of work-from-anywhere technology is that physical presence is not always required at meetings – even when employees are actually on site, says Jacques Guénette, founder and CEO of DLGL Technologies Corp. a Blainville, Que.-based company that develops human capital management software. He can see the benefit - from a productivity standpoint - of employees being able to pop in virtually from their desks for five or 10 minutes rather than having to politely extricate themselves from long-running meetings that have moved on to other business.

There are other compelling reasons to be on site, as well, including a fully-equipped gym that employees use to train for Iron Man triathlons, marathons and hockey seasons. The company is offering employees a vaccination bonus of $2,500 to give their colleagues the comfort of knowing they will be working alongside fully vaccinated co-workers, Mr. Guenette said in an interview.

Since March, 2020, Vancouver-based Thinkific Labs Inc. has hosted virtual social events and delivered meal kits to support employees working from home. Pre-pandemic, the workforce had access to a fully-stocked kitchen at company headquarters. Now, however, 20 per cent of the firm’s employees are dispersed across the country owing to a hiring spree triggered by pandemic-fueled demand for Thinkific’s software, which enables customers to create their own online courses. To ensure equal treatment, the company will likely continue the meal delivery perk for geographically remote employees, says co-founder and chief operating officer Miranda Lievers.

Thinkific is also looking at ways to ensure that remote employees can fully participate in the day-to-day business once the office reopens. “I anticipate meetings will live primarily in the virtual environment, even if some of the people are in the same city. I just don’t want anyone who is not physically there to have less of a voice,” Ms. Lievers said in an interview. Once or twice a year, Thinkific will fly everyone in for company-ide work/social events.

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