Climbing walls. Arcades. Weight rooms. Beer Fridays. Not long ago, on-the-job perks like these were commonplace among the Googles and Facebooks of the world, not to mention countless startups aspiring to join their ranks.
Now, more than six months into the work-from-home era, they seem, well ... kinda dumb.
And it's not just because the gyms are sitting empty and the beer is going flat. The reality is, pre-pandemic, the standard buffet of startup perks and benefits was neither especially inclusive nor even well used. Critics have pointed out that lots of perks -- from catered meals to foosball tables -- skewed to the needs of one demographic: young, unattached men.
Going forward, employers who ultimately win the battle for talent -- who become known for having amazing remote work culture and benefits -- will be those that embrace and prioritize optionality. Gone are one-size-fits-all approaches to offices, schedules, and dress codes. People everywhere are now reimagining and personalizing their own work experience. It's no surprise they should want to design their own perks.
The universe of choices in this regard is limitless, but to me this comes down to extending flexibility to employees in three key areas:
Giving the gift of time
The crisis is hastening the end of the standard 9-to-5 workday. Remote work, family obligations, and shifting schedules mean employees are increasingly working on their time and their terms, prioritizing getting the job done over clocking in and clocking out. And this approach is working: Surveys show many professionals are both happier and more productive at work since the pandemic started.
Accordingly, extending choice over how employees spend time is one of the most powerful incentives right now. This might mean managers ditching fixed schedules in favor of core hours. It might mean the option of four-day workweeks, like Shopify offered its employees this summer. It could be doing away with "hours" altogether and opting for a deliverable-based approach.
There's another key dimension here: offering benefits that save employees' time, something especially important as we grapple with new dynamics of working from home. Subsidized child care is a central piece, and it's telling that Google and Facebook are now leading the pack in this regard. Meanwhile, other companies are supporting with "concierge-type services," from housecleaning and home-office setup to food delivery.
Providing flexibility around space
Flexibility around space is another key pillar of the next generation of job perks. The uniformity of cubicles and open-office plans has given way to an appreciation that workspace preferences are highly personal -- and people will gravitate to the environment that best suits their needs.
Right now, a key perk that speaks to this is home-office stipends, which give employees the freedom to outfit their space as they see fit. My own company extended a bonus to do just that. Some employers have gone so far as to provide home-office advice and setup services, while others are footing the bill for mission-critical utilities, from internet to electricity.
But true flexibility is also acknowledging that not everyone works best at home. Some employees have neither the space nor inclination to do so. Not to mention, some form of in-person collaboration will continue to be important, even in the work-from-home world. Indeed, a recent Google internal survey showed 62 percent of employees felt that being in the office "some days" was important to getting their job done.
That's why in-office working options, not to mention perks like WeWork memberships, are key benefits going forward. Interestingly, Google is already reconfiguring its physical offices as a space for occasional "onsites," i.e., days when WFH employees will gather together IRL.
Uplifting the spirit
At root, so many traditional job perks -- whether we're talking yoga classes or holiday parties -- are about uplifting and feeding the spirit, in some form. But concepts like wellness, balance, and fulfillment are highly subjective and vary from individual to individual. During Covid, employers are finally acknowledging that.
In-office gyms have given way to fitness and wellness stipends -- giving employees the liberty to pursue the options they actually want, whether that's online CrossFit classes or meditation retreats. The uncertainty and isolation of the crisis have highlighted how critical access to diverse mental health care services can be. From Starbucks to Target, companies are expanding access to counselors and coaches and providing subscriptions to a range of mental health, stress, and sleep apps.
Another "spiritual" perk in increasingly high demand: the luxury of balance and focus. Remote working has blurred the lines between work and home, while real-time apps like Slack and Zoom have contributed to an "always-on" mentality. Progressive employers are already addressing that in both perks and policies. No-meeting days, clear "digital-access" guidelines, and even permission to turn video off in meetings can be powerful antidotes to work-from-home burnout.