Employee benefits can be difficult to organize at the best of times. But when you introduce a distributed workforce into the mix, selecting a set of incentives that appeal to and serve everyone can be a real challenge.
Not only does a distributed workforce mean that your teams are working both remotely and in-office, but it also means that they could be doing so from a range of different countries. This raises plenty of questions, from how you can arrange employee benefits that bring the team together to which benefits actually matter to individuals, and what they’re legally entitled to in each country.
So how can you create a benefits package that works for all of your employees, regardless of where they’re based? This post explores some top tips and best practices to make the process easier.
How to create a benefits package for a distributed workforce
When developing an employee benefits package that serves a distributed workforce, there are a few hacks that set you up for success. We’ll go through them together below.
1. Establish universal wants and needs
The most obvious hack for creating a benefits package for a distributed workforce is to focus on the commonalities first. That means establishing the broad desires that all of your employees share. Ask yourself: what do your employees want, irrespective of where they live and work?
The common themes will probably include health, fair compensation, personal development, opportunities to socialize, and stability. These are things that matter to all of us despite our differences. That’s why it’s important to ensure that all of your benefits gravitate towards them in some way or another.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the employee benefits you provide for employees in different jurisdictions must be identical, but it does act as a great framework to ensure that these core needs and wants are met, albeit in a variety of ways.
2. Devise benefits that bring people together
There’s also the risk that, with a distributed workforce, the benefits will be used by individuals in silos, rather than them being enjoyed together. Though this isn’t critical to the enjoyment of these benefits, it does mean that businesses with distributed workforces miss out on the opportunity to bring people together and create bonding experiences. While it is difficult to devise benefits that bring your team members together, it’s certainly not impossible. There are plenty of benefits that can be enjoyed together, either in-person or virtually.
One great example is an all-company meetup where the travel and hospitality costs for each member of the company are expensed to enable the business to meet up in one place, in person. These kinds of benefits, albeit less regular, are perfect opportunities to bring those that work across the world together for team building and socializing. If these aren’t possible, you could consider online team building activities.
Another example is in-company clubs, which can be joined by all members of the company irrespective of where they’re based. These clubs are typically interest-based, from motorsports to a wine club, and they allow individuals throughout the company to meet and discuss their shared interests. We facilitate this at Juro by offering an allocated budget per member each quarter.
However, the best way to ensure that your employee benefits can be enjoyed universally is to invite employees from different locations to join a social committee. By hosting a social committee, you can empower distributed teams to collaborate on ideas for social events and activities, rather than only hosting occasions locally.
3. Understand the legal requirements in other jurisdictions
Another challenge many people and talent functions face when designing a benefits package for a distributed workforce is that individuals in jurisdictions have different entitlements under their laws. To ensure your employee contracts are compliant with these, businesses need to conduct thorough research on these legal requirements and how they affect their overall strategy.
Paid time off (PTO) is a great example of this. Some countries, like Spain and Brazil, have a paid-time-off entitlement of at least 30 days a year under their employment laws. This means that workers in these countries are automatically entitled to more PTO than individuals in the UK, for example, who have roughly 28 days of annual holiday leave under UK law.
There are also more specific legal nuances that go beyond the amount of time they’re entitled to. For example, in many countries, this holiday entitlement cannot be replaced by financial compensation if it hasn’t been used. Certain countries’ laws also ensure that employees are eligible for paid leave after just a month of work, but in other countries, like Japan, employees are only legally entitled to PTO after working at a company for at least six months.
We resolve this dilemma with flexibility, but also by acknowledging that a bare minimum legal requirement isn’t always something to aspire to. We’re proud to offer more than just what’s legally required of us, and we are well-informed on employment legislation throughout the world to ensure we never offer any less.
As we understand the importance of taking regular breaks from work, we also adopt a use-it-or-lose-it policy for employees across the world. Not only does this enable us to adopt a consistent rule that applies irrespective of where our team works, but it also encourages our teams to take their paid time off and genuinely disconnect. We also set a minimum of 20 days that must be taken by employees, and we do that to protect their health and wellbeing.
4. Set up different focus groups
Another risk of creating a single employee benefits package is that it might not account for and accommodate cultural differences and existing benefits individuals receive outside of work. For example, certain celebrations in one country may not be celebrated globally, so setting up themed socials to mark these may be futile in some countries. Likewise, private healthcare may be an attractive benefit in the UK, but it won’t be as attractive in some other countries where that’s standard. On the flip side, the benefit might be a dealbreaker for those in countries without publicly-funded universal health care. With that in mind, how can you ensure you are truly catering to everyone when providing employee benefits to a distributed workforce?
First, you have to get to know your employees. One of the best ways to ensure that you’re providing a fair and diverse set of benefits to a distributed workforce is to ask a wide range of employees for their opinions. This can be a daunting task, particularly for scaling teams. However, it’s well worth the time and effort involved if it contributes to creating meaningful benefits that help the team enjoy their jobs in a healthy way.
The most effective way to ensure you’re receiving sufficient feedback from different individuals and teams across the company is to set up different focus groups within each jurisdiction or subset of countries. In these groups, you can then stress test certain employee benefits ideas or ask them to rank which types of benefits they deem a priority.
Then you need to take a flexible approach when shaping your employee benefits. Consider whether it’s possible to create more than one package, or whether you can make certain benefits elective to cater to different locations. This flexibility can ensure that the specific benefits you’re providing employees are meaningful to them and that they have access to what they regard as non-negotiable benefits.
5. Take inspiration from companies facing similar challenges
Finally, you should be open to taking inspiration from other companies that have both a distributed workforce and a strong reputation for their employee benefits. These companies won’t necessarily have to be your direct competitors or tech giants. They can be any company—big or small—that’s making a positive change to the way employee benefits are designed and executed for teams across borders.
Where possible, you could even reach out to the people and talent leads at these companies and ask to set up a call to delve more deeply into their strategy. From these discussions, you’ll be able to quickly identify the best and worst practices and learn from the mistakes of others, rather than making them yourself.
Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to employee benefits when you operate a distributed workforce is risky. Not only will the benefits you pay for not prove meaningful for some employees, but it can also leave other employees without the incentives that matter most to them. At worst, it could drive your most talented employees to look elsewhere for a role where their needs are met more attentively.
But developing employee benefits for a distributed workforce isn’t easy. As has been the theme of this post, it requires research, creativity, and flexibility. It also demands that you establish more opportunities for feedback from your employees and that you stress test your ideas before you invest heavily in them.
It’s certainly a learning experience. However, it’s a process that offers a great ROI in terms of employee retention and satisfaction.
Thomas Forstner is Director of People & Talent at Juro—a contract software platform on a mission to help the world agree more—where he is building a human-centric, scalable People & Talent function from the ground up. Tempo’s annual poll recently rated Juro as London’s best startup to work for.