Now that most of us in the technology sector are working remotely as a result of COVID-19, our favorite office perks - from catered lunches to on-site massages - are sadly no longer relevant.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to let that extra perks budget sit unused. Or worse, forfeit the budget. With employee morale being marked by turbulence in 2020 (COVID-19, social unrest and the shift to remote work), it’s more important than ever to continue investing in people programs and initiatives to engage your employees and foster community and culture.
This means that as a People and Talent leader, you have the opportunity to shift your pre-pandemic office perks to “new normal” perks that your team can still enjoy virtually from home. We’ll share a few ideas to help you adapt your offerings in a way that’s still impactful to your employees and your business. We’d also love to hear from you. If you have ideas that you’d like to see added to this list, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Defining the goals of your company perks
Company perks aren’t just for show. Like any other benefit your organization offers, they need to serve a greater business purpose. When it comes to company perks, we believe that they should meet these goals:
- Build community and shareability. Do your perks allow employees to connect authentically through shared interests and passions? Are they exciting to share and talk about across your community social channels like Slack or the company intranet?
- Add to your company culture. Are your perks a reflection of your company mission and values? And do they add to your company culture?
- Offer employees flexibility and choice. Are your perks offerings personalized, flexible and supportive of what your employees need right now? Or are they one-size-fits-none? Do they support an inclusive workplace environment?
By using this framework, you can ensure that any company perks you introduce to your employees are meaningful. Most importantly, it increases the likelihood of them being used and adopted. Because the last thing you want to do is invest in a perks program that no one is excited to utilize!
5 ways to adapt your office perks to the “new normal”
Below, we’ll touch on five traditional in-office perks for tech companies that may no longer be relevant to your business during COVID-19. Instead, we’ll offer alternatives to consider. We’ll also explain how these “new normal” perks still meet the goals we outlined above.
1. Free lunches and snacks → Virtual gatherings
Your employees probably miss the free catered lunches and micro kitchen full of snacks and La Croix that were available to them at the office. But these perks are about more than just freebies. According to Google, who made free lunch an expectation for most tech companies, there are a number of benefits. The one that stands out the most is around improving team cohesion and morale. Since most people are eating for free, a higher percentage of teams eat together more regularly at Google. This creates many opportunities for random “collisions.” It has created a much more inclusive environment - especially for employees who are less social.
The cafe and micro kitchen/snack areas provided opportunities for co-workers to chat about weekend plans or the latest episode of their favorite shows - the non-work stuff that keeps us feeling human at work. Even though we can’t have those organic “watercooler” moments at the office any more, there are still ways to recreate the benefits with a new type of perk.
Most companies are transitioning to virtual gatherings, such as organizing a weekly or monthly happy hour for the company. But there are two key factors to consider when transitioning this office perk: 1.) avoiding too high of frequency to avoid “hangout burn” and 2.) making sure your gatherings are inclusive. For instance, accommodating employees who either don’t want to drink or have responsibilities at home after 5:00 p.m.
A few ideas for creating virtual gatherings that are inclusive and support community and wellness goals:
- Send the snacks to employees. When hosting happy hour gatherings, arrange to have your employees’ favorite food or beverages delivered to their front door or provide them with a budget to order their own (we find ~$15-20/person is a fair standard). Then host a video call so that people can join and catch up with one another. This perk is a great way to provide your employees with the sense of community that they’re likely craving while remote (and they get to indulge in yummy snacks and drinks in the process!)
- Learn and grow together. At Blueboard, we’ve started a virtual book club that meets weekly to discuss learnings and inspirations in a small group Zoom. We’re currently reading High Output Management and Tiny Habits. Book clubs offer the opportunity to tap into continued learning and development, as well as the flexibility to meet during work hours.
- Host a Donut Date. Using Donut’s free pairing tool, we’ve adopted weekly “pairings” that connect employees randomly together for a 30-minute chat of their choice. We’ve seen employees meet up IRL for a socially distanced walk and talk, make a TikTok video together, or teach each other how to make the perfect Matcha Latte. Hear Donut’s CEO Dan Manion share more ways to leverage Donut for building meaningful connections in our latest webinar recap, “How to Create Authentic Connections (Even While Working Apart).”
2. In-person celebrations → Individual experiences ripe for sharing
Since we’re not in the office, the option to celebrate our employees in person is no longer available to us. This means that you can’t surprise your employees on their birthday with a decorated desk or let them enjoy their favorite dessert with the rest of their team. It also means that other meaningful milestones - whether it’s an anniversary or promotion - can’t be celebrated in person. But there are other ways to mark these important moments.
We believe this is a valuable opportunity to offer the equivalent in individual experiences:
- Gift personalized care packages and treats for birthdays. For a birthday celebration, mail your employees a personalized gift box that’s filled with their favorite treats, board games or any other personalized item that fuels their quarantine passions. At Blueboard, our Culture Crew gets to dream up birthday gifts (within a $25 budget) to share with each employee on their birthdays. For inspiration, we seed questions into an onboarding survey that each employee completes during their first week to capture some of their favorite things.
- Celebrate anniversary milestones. The year is moving so much faster during COVID-19, and we’re challenging ourselves more than ever before (both in and outside of work). That means anniversaries are even more important to celebrate now than ever before. To make anniversaries memorable, personalized and shareable, gift your employees an experiential reward from Blueboard. We make it easy to send experiences with just a few clicks. Employees get to browse our menu of experiences to select the one most meaningful to them - whether that's learning how to make sourdough bread or taking your #quaranteam out on a houseboat getaway. Employees are excited to share stories and memories from their experience, which serve as great tools for building community and culture through your shared communication channels.
- Recognize those living your company values. As we're working remotely, employees can easily lose touch with the company's broader business goals, mission or values. As a result, we're seeing more and more clients adopt Values Awards as part of their spot recognition strategy - celebrating employees who live your values or contribute to building a more positive company culture. For more inspiration on building a meaningful spot recognition program, grab a copy of our Spot Recognition Planning Guide featuring best practices from our clients at Medidata.
3. Commuter benefits → Learning and development (L&D) opportunities
In the United States, the average, one-way commute time is 26.1 minutes. This means that many of your employees were spending almost five hours a week going to and from work. A lot of people likely used that time to catch up on their favorite podcast or listen to an audiobook. Even though there’s no reason to travel to the office, you can still find ways to encourage employees to repurpose this time savings into continued learning and development opportunities.
Instead of letting your commuter benefits gather dust, we recommend reinvesting them into Learning and Development (L&D) programs with these ideas:
- Open up an L&D stipend. At Blueboard, we offer every employee a $1,000 stipend to invest into L&D initiatives annually. Employees work 1:1 with their managers to identify opportunities and request funds through a form that our HR team monitors. When the pandemic hit, we quickly revisited our People programs to determine where we could cut back to support our highest-priority business needs - and made the decision to keep the L&D stipend alive. Growth and personal development is so important right now as employees have time to reflect inward, and we’ve been thrilled to see what employees are digging into. From coaching sessions to creative leadership courses, employees are being energized by learning new skills. Now with the added time back from commuting, employees can more comfortably block time in their schedules to read or take online courses from online education platforms like MasterClass or Udemy without feeling like they were taking away from their workday.
- Invest in personal coaching sessions. For managers or growing leaders, personal coaching can be an added learning and development benefit to strengthen their communication styles, offer tools for hosting more effective 1:1s, or for more general career development planning.
4. Travel and expense budgets → Relationship-building experiences
Since business travel is currently on pause, you’re probably saving a ton from your otherwise unused travel and expense budgets. But without the face-to-face time your sales team usually gets with your clients, how can you build authentic connections and keep the relationship going strong? The good news is that there are ways to build connections safely.
There are tons of relationship-building experiences that can be done virtually:
- Connect with your clients through virtual experiences. Find an experience that your sales reps and clients can enjoy together - whether that’s a virtual cooking class or a drawing class - to provide a safe way for everyone to connect over a new hobby or activity. Experiences like these allow you to get to know your clients as real people - creating spaces that open up more dynamic, memorable conversations.
- Launch a mentorship program to build internal relationships. Now that people have more time “in the office”, consider launching a mentorship program to connect established managers with growing leaders. At Blueboard, we launched our first program pilot in Q2, and have seen amazing results from the relationships formed. Mentors and mentees meet weekly to chat through guided prompts or to just casually connect over top-of-mind issues, covering topics that range from career pathing to OKR ownership, to role-playing around critical conversations and feedback. We’re excited to continue investing in this powerful initiative and rollout an expanded program in Q4.
- Empower your teams to reconnect with those they love the most. You probably have a lot of staff in sales, partnerships and more who used to be constantly on the road to build meaningful relationships. They prioritized their quality time towards your company - often missing events, bath times, and family dinners. Now that we have more time at home, this is your chance to invest in quality time and find opportunities for these top performers to reconnect with those they love the most with a Blueboard experience. This is money they would have spent on travel expenses anyway, so why not use it to make your top performers feel appreciated for their hard work?
5. On-site health offerings → Wellbeing at home
Wellbeing and wellness perks are one of the best ways to show employees that you care about their physical, mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, now that we’re all working apart, employees don’t have those on-site yoga classes, office massage or their coworker’s doggo to turn to as a destressor. The pandemic has brought on unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, so taking care of your employees’ wellbeing needs is more important than ever - it’s just about transitioning your wellness perks from the office into their homes.
There are lots of ways to promote wellness at home:
- Create a comfortable and productive workspace. Give each of your employees a budget to make their home office as ergonomically friendly as possible. We’re hearing most companies are investing between $250-$750 in this area, giving employees a range of budget to work with. While this might feel like a heavier upfront investment, it will pay back dividends as productivity increases - especially with most of us in the tech sector looking to stay remote until 2021.
- Get fit online. Shift your previous gym stipends to virtual fitness classes or memberships. Make it fun and community driven by sending everyone company-branded yoga mats or water bottles to motivate them to get their sweat on! You can also build community by encouraging your own employees to lead their favorite workout or wellness session for the rest of the organization. At Blueboard, we’re offering a weekly Wellness Window every Thursday, where Blueboarders across the globe can volunteer to teach a session of their own with the group. We’ve loved using this space as an opportunity to invite employees to lead (who might not always have the opportunity) and to embrace our “Dance a Little Different” company value. We’ve experienced yoga and HIIT classes, as well as sewing lessons, watercolor gatherings and a session with our in-house Plant Mom on how to water and repot your houseplants.
- Celebrate with rewards that promote health and wellness. At Blueboard, our menu of experiential rewards contains hundreds of hand-curated adventures to promote a healthy lifestyle. From experiences to enjoy in-home like a new Peloton bike or watercolor painting classes, to out-in-the-world activities like surf lessons, glamping trips or touring our National Parks, there’s an experience to inspire wellness for every employee’s comfort levels.
Even though it’s challenging to not physically be in an office together, there are still ways to introduce new perks that build community, bring your culture to life, and demonstrate that you care deeply about your employees. If you’re curious to learn how Blueboard experiential rewards can amplify your perks and benefits offerings, request a personalized demo online here.