Rethinking Benefits for Remote Employees

As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase across the country, organizations that experienced workplace closures and needed to adjust to remote work environments are beginning to reopen. In a recent survey, LaSalle Network asked 350 corporate executives how they think their workforces will be modeled in the next year — approximately 77% said they expect to implement a hybrid approach with a portion of staffers working in-office and a portion working from home.

Although several employers have addressed their return-to-work plans, it is also important to recognize the substantial increase in employees moving to new states or areas that are too far away from their traditional workplace and because of this, employees may prefer to work remotely. Having a significant number of remote workers in different locations introduces new challenges for employee benefits design and administration.

Health Plan Networks

Structuring health plan networks around the location of the workplace may now no longer be appropriate in all cases. “Employees in remote work situations are not necessarily located in the same geographic region as the employer’s office, which means they may no longer be able to access in-network coverage and will be forced to pay higher costs for out-of-network providers,” said Ann Murray, Partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.

With that said, employers may have to establish separate provider contracts or coverage in each state or locality in which an employee lives. Therefore, employers are encouraged to review and adjust their benefits strategies to accommodate distant employees, as well employees in the traditional workplace; and promptly communicate any changes in coverage to avoid unexpected surprises in accessing healthcare.

“Offering [employees] benefits and perks to address various and unique circumstances will be key to not only support a remote workforce but to retain them as well.” — Sarah Britton, Senior Manager of Employee Operations for Lever

Leveraging Alternatives

As a number of people have postponed preventive care during the last year due to COVID-19, medical claims have surged. More specifically, 61% of adults reported unwanted weight changes, 47% reported declining overall mental health, 75% reported wanting more emotional support and 67% reported undesired changes in sleep patterns.

The pandemic has taken a drastic toll on individual’s health routines and can continue doing so if not properly addressed. If an employee has relocated to a more rural area with fewer healthcare providers available, employers should consider leveraging telemedicine and other wellness initiatives to provide routine and primary care triage. As more individuals are gaining an understanding of the benefits of telemedicine, instructive communications from Human Resource Departments and benefit providers are essential to driving utilization and knowledge of resources that still provide necessary care to individuals wherever they are located.

Employers — if you find that more employees need to work remotely, whether by choice or necessity, being transparent and flexible in regard to benefits can help employees feel more connected and cared for by their organization, ultimately increasing levels of collaboration and boosting employee health and wellness.

Information provided by Society for Human Resource Management.