UK businesses have shown impressive adaptability during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic; driven by necessity and helped by technology, employers set up millions to work from home at short notice.
Coming out of the crisis, an increasing number of businesses will be looking to maximise flexibility in the range of benefits offered to employees. This is a welcome trend.
With the return to the physical workplace, in some cases still hazardous, reinventing benefits to make them more attractive online are likely to become popular. New systems, which track reward systems, or wellbeing apps that track how employees are feeling, may become a common trend for employers to introduce. Gym membership, previously a standard part of the range of benefits, may remain unused or will need to be available in the virtual world.
Multiple advantages of home and flexible working have been appreciated by employers and employees alike. At the same time, a period of reflection is now due to ensure that staff do not feel isolated with their current benefits offering.
To that end, employers up and down the country may be currently looking at their benefits strategy, looking to adjust this to their current remote and flexible-working policies.
Changes have a psychological impact and this needs to be taken on board as part of such review. Therefore, virtual counselling or psychological support schemes through new benefits inventions will become even more important as people cope with change. Additionally, the positive benefits of virtual coaching to maximise employee engagement and productivity are increasingly appreciated during employment when working remotely.
These are challenging and exciting times for employers and reward providers alike. Those which aim to attract and retain the best employees will do well by overhauling a benefits strategy to match the new digital world. However, great care will need to be taken not to exclude any groups from employee benefits without clear justification as a result of a move to home or flexible working.
For example, women are still likely to form a substantial majority of those on flexible-working arrangements. Provision predominantly of benefits that those working flexibly cannot, in practice, benefit from could lead to indirect sex discrimination claims. In another example, employers will need to ensure that benefits technology schemes are still flexible enough such that disabled employees do not suffer detriment.
All in all, the key is to maintain current benefits while reinventing a new benefits strategy that employees can successfully access in the virtual world.
Jonathan Mansfield is a founding partner at Thomas Mansfield Solicitors.