Picture of a family working remotely.

Good benefits help employees feel more secure far beyond office walls

The small New York tech firm settled into its sleek new office in December 2019.

Then came arguably the most profound disruption to office culture since the introduction of the personal computer: the COVID-19 pandemic and its acceleration of remote work.

So, a few months later, the tech firm in question, Button, vacated its office. Its staff dispersed among about a dozen different states.

While there was no avoiding the physical distance, Mike Sepesi, the company’s controller, and his fellow managers knew they needed ways to keep their employees feeling more secure. The answer: a continued comprehensive set of benefits for Button’s staff, even if the nature and emphasis of some of those benefits shifted.

Good benefits are a bedrock to help keep your business stable as so much fluctuates in our “new abnormal,” says Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of specialty benefits for Principal®.

“Maintaining the culture of your business is important, and it can be harder to do the longer we live in a remote-work environment,” she says. “Benefits are tangible building blocks for employers to maintain and build company culture for their employees.”

Retirement and other benefits offer stability

Button, a Principal 401(k) client that has won accolades from various business publications as a top workplace, helps companies yield more value from every click of their digital marketing. Some of its lines of business—travel, ride sharing, event ticketing—temporarily evaporated in the initial throes of the pandemic.

The tech firm adjusted cash flow and staffing but kept its retirement plan and company match intact to help provide stability to a workforce that no longer shared an address.

Button is consistent with the trend: The latest Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM shows most business leaders are maintaining or boosting benefits as they emerge from the pandemic. They say they want to help alleviate two top employee stresses:

  • additional family or caregiving responsibilities, and
  • lingering uncertainty around COVID-19.

Retirement, life insurance, dental, vision, and other coverage all can play a role. There’s also a strong new consensus (74% of business leaders we surveyed) that mental health and well-being offerings are important for employees.

74% of business leaders believe mental health and well-being offerings are important.

Flexibility of schedules, adaptability of benefits

Button didn’t just exit its office—the company also ended its lease. That meant a variety of other employee benefits inevitably had to adjust to help account for transformed work routines.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is among the groups recognizing how benefits—flexible schedules among the most common—are adapting to better fit new hybrid workplaces where employees split time between office and home. A new global survey from Microsoft shows that 73% of employees want flexible/remote work options to remain.

73% of employees want flexible/remote work options to remain.

Flexibility prior to the pandemic already had become jobseekers’ No. 1 request of a prospective employer, says Peggy Shell, CEO and founder of recruiting firm Creative Alignments (also a Principal client).

“The pandemic just forced the hand of a lot of employers that hadn’t been quite ready for or comfortable with remote work,” she says.

Businesses like Button experimented with adjustments to a range of benefits to help employees with the transition:

Button provided lunch daily to its staff in the New York office. It also helped subsidize employees’ bicycle, train, and subway commutes through urban traffic.Button’s $40 per month mobile phone allowance was boosted to a $130 to cover the heavier use of home phone and internet.
Button offered a $500 annual vacation stipend that employees could spend on personal airfare and lodging.The $500 stipend was expanded to include home office infrastructure—a new desk or ergonomic chair.

The future of employee benefits

From retirement plans to flexible work, employee benefits will remain crucial for a new era of business growth as the economy emerges from the pandemic. Most business owners (58%) say their employee benefits help improve productivity, according to the 2021 Principal Business Owner Insights survey. Finding the right mix for your employee base is the trick.

Don’t assemble your benefits plan in a vacuum, Hoogensen says. Take the time to really listen to employees—what’s worthwhile to them now and what they anticipate may be important to them a year or more later—before spending time searching for solutions.

From her home in Colorado, Shell oversees a staff of 32 now spread among at least seven states.

“I know personally I will not go back to the office five days a week, even as the leader of the company,” she says about the fine art of striking a balance in the modern workplace. “I very much like the flexibility, but I also miss seeing people more often.”

Shell spoke from a videoconferencing booth installed in the corner of her family’s den—a visible sign of workplace transformation.

Her 8-year-old son knocked on the door, as if to signal that the future of work already had arrived.

What’s next?

Button and Creative Alignments are not affiliates of any company of the Principal Financial Group® 

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.​ 

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Co. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 888-774-6267, member SIPC and/or independent broker/-dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.​