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Resetting Total Rewards in the new world of flexible and remote work

By Monica Martin | June 2, 2022

With challenges arising from shifting employee demands, organizations are looking to reset their Total Rewards programs to enhance the business and employee experience outcomes of flexible/remote work.
Inclusion-and-Diversity|Ukupne nagrade

“Don’t make me come back to the office!” This request is ricocheting across Zoom meetings around the world. Employees are unwilling to give up their new non-commuting lifestyles and the benefits of working from home, including the cost and time savings. They want flexibility and autonomy to choose how and where they work.

This is a challenge for employers that are concerned about the deterioration of company culture and employee connections that accompany remote and hybrid work. Our new Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that employers are right to be concerned, as employees around the world who are working remotely say that, while their work/life balance has improved (70%), they are feeling more disconnected (52%).

With challenges arising from shifting employee demands and an unpredictable and evolving work environment, companies are looking to change their Total Rewards programs to enhance the business and employee experience outcomes of their flexible/remote work strategies. We see six areas of focus emerging as companies look to reset their Total Rewards strategy:

  1. 01

    [Re]commit to DEI/ESG

    Nearly one in four organizations have made significant strides in connecting their Total Rewards strategy with broader business commitments around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG). Yet remote work, when not considered properly through Total Rewards, can pose a significant risk to organizations’ DEI progress. There is widespread concern that, as worksites continue reopening, the makeup of the workforce will change. After all, after two years of working remotely, there are many employees who cannot go back into the workplace because of disabilities, caregiving responsibilities and other challenges. These workers are concerned that employers will unfairly reward those who are able to return to in-person work. And they have cause to be worried, as over 40% of employers say their culture has barriers to making flexible work arrangements work, including attitudes toward employees who opt into flexible work arrangements.

    Mapping the Total Rewards experience of diverse employee groups in a new work environment is a critical step to ensuring there isn’t a backstep on DEI/ESG progress. This includes not only reviewing pay equity and benefit equity practices but also thinking about career equity implications of remote work. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) represent diverse DEI and ESG perspectives and can provide immediate links to emerging on-the-ground experiences. For example, caregiving policies and wellbeing programs are among the most urgent for many remote and hybrid workers. Make sure employees don’t compromise career growth by investing in collaboration technology and skills development and by designing inclusive work policies and career/skills pathways for all. A purposeful approach to Total Rewards will ensure your programs equitably deliver on your promise to all employees.

  2. 02

    Get the core right

    Flexible work models are helping companies hire more diverse candidates. For example, you may be sourcing talent from new regions and thus are adjusting to varying availabilities. Or you may have realized during the pandemic that the work/life balance for married employees with college-age children differs from that of single parents with young kids. Or you may find that access to quality healthcare varies by location, and employee health will be influenced by new social determinants of health.

    Start by identifying the core elements of your Total Rewards strategy (e.g., pay, wellbeing, healthcare affordability, provider quality, eligibility and coverage, and consistency) and consider these in the context of the unique work profiles of your workforce. Use this to inform what’s working and what no longer makes sense when viewed through your new work strategy lens.

    As you consider location-based pay tactics that are anchored to your business strategy and compensation philosophy, watch for changes that could inadvertently cause internal pay biases between remote, hybrid and onsite workers. Listening to your employees to understand what they need as core elements of your Total Rewards strategy, and how that’s changed with flexible work, is essential to your success.

  3. 03

    Reoptimize your Total Rewards portfolio

    The specific needs of hybrid and remote employees can differ in many ways from those working onsite. Research shows that a top advantage for hybrid and remote employees is saving time and money by not going to the office; however, they lack social interactions at work, tend to work more hours, and have blurred boundaries between work and home responsibilities.

    It’s crucial to design a Total Rewards portfolio that fulfills employees’ most pressing needs. Use employee sensing tools to understand their priorities and redesign your Total Rewards programs to:

    • Align with the priorities of different employee groups
    • Enable new work models
    • Offer flexible benefits for personalization
    • Remove programs that are no longer relevant
    • Integrate DEI and ESG goals

    Once you have this information, allocate your Total Rewards budget in a way that generates the highest perceived value for employees at the most economical level for the organization.

  4. 04

    Modernize delivery, administration and governance

    Your Total Rewards programs come to life when employees can access and maximize the investments you have made on their behalf. Upgrade how you communicate and deliver rewards to remote and hybrid employees.

    Remote employees who may have relocated to a new city may need to find new doctors, caregiving resources and housing, and they will look to employers for support and navigation. Work with your program vendors and partners to design a process that aligns with your flexible working strategy and explore where new vendor partnerships may be needed to sustain a positive employee experience. Consider that many employees now expect a virtual or digital method for accessing their rewards. Leverage employee experience platforms to help employees understand how their rewards can change depending on their ways of working.

    Keep in mind that the role of managers is going to look very different than it has in the past. Managers will be asked not only to oversee and steer individual performance but also to be accountable for providing emotional support, creating connections to the organization and unlocking new ways to support employees’ career growth. Equip managers with the tools, skills and information to support employees in all work models, and measure and reward leaders’/managers’ ability to manage dispersed and flexible teams effectively.

  5. 05

    Rethink success metrics

    While flexible work presents new opportunities for employees to shape their work experience, it also creates additional risks, including burnout, social disconnection, sedentary lifestyles and slower career progression. Traditional success metrics for your Total Rewards strategy may not properly capture or expose these risks until it’s too late.

    Companies looking to play offense and get ahead of these risks will embrace new, more modern approaches in measurement — moving beyond utilization to metrics that assess employee outcomes in pay, benefits, career and wellbeing, as well as link to business performance (e.g., profitability, safety, diversity in leadership roles). These metrics will capture the experience and outcomes of the “whole person,” rather than in siloed programs, and will provide actionable insights that unlock Total Rewards opportunities at a much deeper level.

  6. 06

    Use Total Rewards to amplify your desired culture

    It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. Every organization has an opportunity to refresh its vision, values and culture in the new world of work. Reflecting this fresh outlook in your Total Rewards strategy ensures alignment between the organization’s new vision and the employee experience.

    Employees are looking for a company culture that embodies trust, flexibility and autonomy, and there are several ways Total Rewards can contribute to this desired culture. For example, transparency in your Total Rewards programs aligns to building trust with your employees. Increased flexibility and choice in your benefit programs can enhance the flexible experience you may want to provide your employees. And cross-functional opportunities, via virtual collaboration platforms, for employees to explore new skills, strengthen internal networks and innovate can reinforce a culture of autonomy and self-driven success.

Optimizing Total Rewards under flexible work

The pandemic disrupted how we work and shifted employees’ experiences and priorities. Now, progress requires organizations to shift gears on their Total Rewards strategy. Remote and hybrid work models require a rethinking of Total Rewards to promote the collective performance of dispersed teams; borderless career opportunities; skills-enabled career frameworks; and benefits that support remote working, wellbeing and resilience. Organizations that get it right are well-positioned to compete for high-value talent, and those that don’t risk losing ground on their DEI/ESG objectives, damaging employee productivity, wasting dollars and, in turn, creating long-term implications for their bottom line.


Senior Director, Integrated and Global Solutions,
Total Rewards Leader

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