It's been over a year since the world shut down, but now that it's (slowly) starting to open back up, many companies are still operating remotely. These days, 71 percent of Americans are working from home—and over half of them say they want to continue WFH even after the pandemic, according to PEW Research. Working from home has given many people the flexibility they need, and has even made them more productive according to the same PEW Research survey. (And hey, if you're a pet owner, your pet has probably never been happier.)
But office happy hours have turned into endless Zoom calls, and the days of catered lunches, free snacks, using the company gym, and other office amenities seem like a thing of the past. If you're new to working remotely, you might find yourself needing some support with how to focus at home, as well as drawing boundaries between work and your personal life. Since many companies are still adjusting to having employees work remotely (it's only been a year, after all), you and your coworkers may need to talk to your HR department to implement changes that are more conducive to remote work.
Whether you plan on working from home long-term or just until your company calls you back to brick and mortar, here are some ways to take advantage of company benefits that will help you save money and maybe even get the work-life balance you need.
Ask for a stipend to set up your home office.
You probably received a laptop and other tech equipment from your company when you first started working remotely. But did you get any furniture for your work station? If you have never worked from home before, chances are you didn't have a home office already set up. If working on your couch is no longer cutting it, talk to your employer to see if they can give you a stipend to get a proper desk or ergonomic chair to upgrade your work space.
Google, Shopify, and Basecamp gave their employees stipends that paid for desks, chairs, and appliances to make the transition to remote work easier. "Giving your employees an allowance to buy the things that they need is one good way of showing them that you value them and that you want to invest in them," says Jori Patton, marketing manager and designer at Fast Food Menu Prices. "This results in a more motivated working environment even if it is in a remote setup."
If your company doesn't have a WFH allowance and you need office equipment that will support your remote work lifestyle better, Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn Austin suggests raising concerns to HR. "Say you don't believe you're getting the most out of the benefits promised by the company," says Bailey. "If that doesn't work, gather together with other employees and demand changes to benefits to be remote-friendly."
Transfer existing benefits to be more WFH-friendly.
Work perks like the on-site daycare and gyms are things you can't really take advantage of from home—talk to your employer and see if some of these benefits can be adapted to working from home.
"In the post-pandemic world, many workplaces are looking for ways to attract and retain remote employees," says Ann Martin, director of operations at CreditDonkey. Martin recommends having your employer expand existing benefits to make them more available to all employees. If your company offers discounts on gym memberships, ask for passes to online classes as well. This benefits both in-person and remote workers.
Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit says that you will often need to have a conversation with your employer regarding benefits if you will be working remotely, because they might not have considered the limited scope of some of the benefits. "It could be worth their while to create remote-specific benefits or to rework benefits entirely," says Seuthe. "It's certainly worth your while to ask." Seuthe says good benefits include help with utility bills when working from home, virtual exercise classes, and in-home daycare.
Miss those free, catered company lunches? See if your company is willing to offer a food stipend. Vancouver mortgage company Alan Harder swapped office lunches for food delivery once most of its employees started working remotely. The company also provides free subscription to a meal prep delivery service for quick meals at home. "This may not be an everyday thing, but this can still help in motivating our employees...this gesture can make them feel valued and important," says CEO Alan Harder.
Use your PTO and sick days.
If you're feeling guilty about taking vacation and sick days because you're working from home—don't. PTO is part of your total compensation, and calculating the value of your PTO might actually make you use it.
Taking vacation days (even if it means not going anywhere) can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. Put in that OOO request, don't check emails, and have yourself a nice staycation. "It's common for remote employees to feel guilty about using benefits like vacation time," says Daivat Dholakia, director of operations at Force by Mojio. "The same goes for sick leave. Don't ask for time off to recuperate and then end up checking your email. Take a proper rest so that you can bounce back stronger."
Using your sick days when you feel under the weather and taking advantage of your company medical plan to get regular checkups and screenings is important too. See if your plan includes Telehealth so you can get care right from home, or go in person if you need to. If you're going to get your COVID vaccine, see if your company is offering a sick day for it. "You are working for your benefits, so do not just let them pass you by," says Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity. Take a break when you need it, and don't feel guilty.
Put extra bonuses in your retirement fund.
If you get any bonuses, put them towards your 401k. Since working from home might be saving you costs in other areas like commuting to work, invest some of that money into your future. Michael Hamelburger, CEO of expense reduction consulting firm The Bottom Line Group, recommends contributing to your retirement account even if your company doesn't match the amount. "If you stop contributing to your 401k plan, you'll regret the time value of money compounding that would have benefited you," says Hamelburger.
Another option is to make the most of your Health Savings Account or HSA, and contribute to it—any contributions you make are tax deductible. CreditDonkey research analyst and financial advisor Ronald Samson says that if your employer allows for a pretax option, you can contribute to your HSA with pre-tax money. "You will then have the ability to use that money to pay for eligible prescription and non-prescription expenses as well as dental care and vision care," says Samson.
Working remotely has been a whole new world for many companies and employees. Some have transitioned smoothly, while others are still figuring it out. Make the most of your company's benefits by knowing your options and advocating for your needs.