While working remotely can be extremely attractive to employees, there are still several companies that have built workforce happiness through appealing on-site perks. Meal services and free snacks, fitness gear and facilities, and high-tech office spaces are just some of the benefits that employees are missing out on at home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Recently, Google announced that some of the benefits employees are used to, such as food and gym perks, will not be available or replaced while employees work from home. The tech company is known for its expansive benefits, which include on-site food services, health and fitness amenities, and dedicated budgets for expense travel, gifts, and events.

In the updated policies, Google forbids employees from expensing things like meals purchased during virtual meetings and home office furniture while working from home. Even if a team has unused money in their travel and event budgets, they cannot be used for food, gyms, or other costs by employees during this time. Furthermore, the tech company stated that any leftover budget cannot be used for donations to charities.

Google has asked its employees to be understanding during this economically-difficult time as executives tighten budgets. These new policies also attempt to ensure “fairness across teams” and tax compliance. While the company has prevented employees from making charitable donations with unused budgets, the company is setting up funds for businesses affected by the pandemic.

As a result, some Google employees report a decrease in productivity and increase in stress. Those that relied on in-office coffee stations and cafeterias report being underprepared to make food at home and are faced with the choice of spending more on kitchen appliances or food delivery and restaurants. Time spent cooking and cleaning has also cut into workers’ daily routines, making the transition to at-home work somewhat more challenging.

Disruptions To Budgets And Expense Reports

Google’s decision to not replace its highly-valued on-site benefits also reflects the difficulty that employers are facing when it comes to adapting budgets and expense reports to fit newly-remote operations. Prior to the pandemic and economic crisis, budgets had been designed for work as usual. Now, events, travel, and workplace expenses have all been put on hold.

For employees, the company policy on how to manage these budgets and what can be expensed may not align with their expectations. Many may expect this money to be theirs to use for comparable remote and at-home expenses, so businesses should update and clarify what may or may not be expensed or if this spending is being reduced.

Replacing On-site Benefits For Employees

From an employee’s perspective, not replacing on-site benefits is a reduction in benefits—and, therefore, compensation. While staff members at Google admit that these issues are not as harmful as a reduction in hours or job loss, the toll that it is taking on employee satisfaction and productivity is very real. As such, employers should look for ways to make up for losses in on-site perks, especially if the company has built its reputation around these generous benefits.

Many employees feel that the money saved by taking advantage of office facilities, for example, should be put towards similar benefits while they work from home. However, expensing meals to make up for the closure of an office cafeteria, for example, would end up being much more costly per employee and an unreasonable solution. Companies could consider making discounts or credits available for employees to use with food delivery services, grocery stores, or restaurants. If employees are no longer able to use an on-site fitness center, consider providing access to virtual fitness classes.

Another option could be to have the savings from reduced on-site benefits go towards something else, such as a charitable donation of the employee’s choice, reimbursements for home office expenses, or increased employer contributions to retirement accounts or insurance premiums. Expanding access to virtual benefits, such as telemedicine, online wellness content, or digital subscription services can also be practical and affordable replacements while many communities continue to practice social distancing guidelines.

Regardless of how businesses choose to address disruptions to normal office life, communication needs to be clear, and employees concerns need to be addressed to minimize disappointment and confusion.

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