"What's the one  benefit you think has had the biggest impact on your company culture?"

I recently posed this question in The Watercooler, an online community with 300-plus leaders from all over the world. I was looking to learn what other CEOs do for company benefits, as I recently discovered that four in five employees want benefits, more than a pay raise.

About eight founders, CEOs or executives weighed in. And almost all of them said the same thing: remote work. 

The answer initially surprised me. Although my company is a remote business, I didn't stop to consider this might be the number one perk that our team most-likely valued. 

I'd have assumed that something like generous health plans, a 401K plan, or paid vacation would've been mentioned more frequently. Especially in light of a Glassdoor study in 2016 that reported the top-ranked company benefits by employees were health care insurance (e.g., medical, dental), vacation/paid time off (37 percent), performance bonus (35 percent), paid sick days (32 percent), and 401(k) plan, retirement plan and/or pension (31 percent). Remote work wasn't even included on the list. 

However, overlooking remote work as a company benefit is a huge mistake. Benefits like health insurance and performance bonuses are "givens" for more and more companies these days.

One executive who is a Watercooler member explained that having benefits like health insurance, bonuses and sick leave are more so "morale killers" if they're not there -- but necessarily "morale boosters." And so to differentiate your company from others and truly show your employees you care, remote work is an impactful offering.

With remote work being such a powerful company benefit, it was an important reminder for me on two key things that employees value:

Give employees freedom, not just money.

Many company benefits focus on making things cheaper for employees -- be it medical expenses or gym memberships -- all admirable actions. However, what we seem to forget that's not just money that people are motivated by.

Best-selling author Daniel Pink talks at length in his book Drive about the importance of autonomy for people to be happy. Giving folks the flexibility to work in an environment that is best suited to them -- to avoid the commute, to have their own standing desk with their favorite tea nearby in their own kitchen -- might just be worth more than a pure pay raise.  

Let employees live their life outside the office -- don't just try to keep them at the office.

Oftentimes, company benefits are centered around office perks. Think catered breakfasts and dinner, or onsite gyms and laundry facilities. We must recognize the reality of these kinds of benefits: They encourage an employee to arrive at the office later, stay at the office later, and as a result, work longer. Is that really in the best personal interest of an employee, and true a benefit to them?

Rather, with remote work, an employee can go pick up her kids and take her to soccer practice, or run to the pharmacy in the middle of the day when lines aren't long. You're enabling employees to live their life outside of work, not chaining them to their work -- and that's a far more effective way for a company benefit to positively impact employee engagement.

Company benefits, after all, are about helping the employee feel good -- because when folks feel good, they can do their best work and are more likely to stay at your company. Who doesn't want that?

Published on: Nov 16, 2017