Workplace

Dog walkers and housekeepers: What perks should you pay for when offices reopen?

Tech companies can save big on real estate costs in a hybrid world. Once offices are up and running, will they keep shelling out for home office needs (and wants)?

WFH desk

As tech workers continue to avoid offices, companies are rethinking hybrid benefits.

Photo: Mikey Harris/Unsplash

Food delivery, dog-walkers, housekeepers: All of these are reimbursable up to $150 a month at the recruiting software maker Lever. Remote work allows for huge real estate cost savings. But as tech companies transition to hybrid work, employers will be carrying a few extra costs as they support both home offices and traditional office space.

Early in the pandemic, many tech companies offered home office stipends and helped with technology needs, like monitors and internet reimbursement (if they weren’t already doing so).

Others, like Lever, went further, handing out monthly stipends that could be used for home office perks as they repurposed budgets that might otherwise have gone to parking, commuter benefits or in-office amenities like food. With the job market as hot as it’s ever been, companies may be reluctant to roll back any of those benefits even as offices reopen.

“Every customer I speak with is increasing their focus on employee well-being,” said A.G. Lambert, chief product strategy officer at SAP Concur. “They’re working to make sure that they don’t have employees leaving.”

Between 2019 and 2020, SAP Concur customers received 58% more reimbursement requests marked “other,” which Lambert attributes to new categories of employee expenses emerging with the pandemic.

Lever’s $150 monthly stipend can go toward “anything that makes working from home feel more comfortable and a little bit easier,” said Caitlyn Metteer, Lever’s director of Recruiting.

That’s in addition to Lever’s $100 monthly wellness benefit, which can be used on anything from gym memberships and massages to at-home exercise enhancers, like running shoes or a Peloton subscription, Metteer said.

The company hasn’t yet decided whether to rework its perks and benefits as offices reopen. Sarah Britton, Lever’s senior manager of Employee Operations, said in an email that the company would “continue to conduct listening tours to survey employees on the perks and benefits that matter most to them.”

Finding out what employees really care about is key, said Jennifer Shappley, LinkedIn’s vice president of Global Talent Acquisition. “The more important thing for organizations to do is to focus on: What does support to their employees mean?” Shappley said. “What you don’t want to do is just take, ‘This is what we provided [when we worked in offices], and how do we do that exact same thing in a virtual way?’”

Benefits like the ones Lever has been offering can be tough to roll back, said Brian Kropp, Gartner’s chief of HR Research.

“Whenever you create a new benefit, in the moment, it’s effective at attracting and retaining talent,” Kropp said, “But once it’s there, it’s really hard to get rid of.”

Likely for that reason, some companies opted for one-time home office stipends in order to avoid introducing a monthly perk they might later want to revoke. Kropp cautioned that the harm to employee morale caused by revoking a perk can be greater than the benefit gained by offering it in the first place.

Twitter, Meta and Google all reimburse for internet bills, the companies told Protocol. Google and Meta both stuck to a one-time work-from-home benefit — Google offered $1,000 — rather than an ongoing work-from-home allowance. (Google has since handed out two all-staff bonuses totaling $2,100.)

Twitter pays its employees a $500 annual “productivity allowance” for items like office furniture and home printers. The social media giant also increased its wellness allowance by 40% for 2022, and plans to keep offering both of these benefits as offices reopen.

“In general, we want people set up to be productive, but then where they want to work is just a choice," said Temy Mancusi-Ungaro, the CEO of Reachdesk, a New York company that sells corporate gifting software.

Reachdesk’s remote workers receive a one-time $500 home office stipend and hybrid workers — employees who go into the office two or three times a week — get $250 for the same purpose. Reachdesk doesn’t cover recurring home internet costs outside of regions where the law requires it (as it does in Portugal, where Reachdesk has an office).

For most companies, remote work will mean big savings on real estate. Still, even covering basic technology expenses — like buying and upgrading technology hardware for both the home and the office — can add up when hundreds or thousands of employees are splitting their time between different work locations.

When deciding what to offer, tech companies will need to weigh potential future risks against the strength of the economy and tight labor market.

“We’re in such a tight war for talent that companies often make decisions to just get them through the current moment and prevent that next person from quitting,” Kropp said. “You have to play through the scenario of: What happens if we don’t have as much money tomorrow, and we have to take some of these things away?”

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