Companies are offering a slew of incentives to lure employees back to the office

To bring workers back to the office during the pandemic, employers are pulling out all of the stops; offering childcare support, transportation stipends, bonuses, free meals, and more.

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In a matter of months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people work, live, socialize, and more. The surreal new normal has altered personal and professional lives on short notice. In August, Alight Solutions released a report detailing various ways employers have adjusted benefits packages due to the coronavirus. Many respondent employers were providing employees with financial education resources to help weather the economic challenges of the pandemic and expanding vacation carryover policies among others.

In recent weeks, a number of organizations have started to offer a wide range of incentives to bring employees back to the office as COVID-19 continues to spread globally. We asked for submissions about the various incentives employers are offering to lure employees back to the traditional workplace amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

We asked for submissions to find out more about the myriad incentives companies are offering.

"As businesses have, of course, been advised against trying to 'force' staff back to their workplaces, many have opted for trying to 'lure' them back instead. Employers are now offering a number of quite persuasive incentives to bring employees back to the office," said Milosz Krasinski, managing director at web consulting company Chilli Fruit via email.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Employee meal programs

In recent years, many companies have used stocked on-site pantries and fully furnished kitchens to incentivize employees. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many employees have similarly been able to enjoy meals from the comforts of home. This could lead to more companies offering on-site meal options to incentivize returning workers.

Krasinski referenced recent moves by Goldman Sachs to provide free food to London employees. Interestingly, Sara Nash, a public relations manager at ezCater noted a shift in the way companies are offering free food as an employee perk.

"We're seeing companies shift their use of food as a perk, to a way to keep employees safe. Some are having meals delivered twice a day to keep employees from having to leave the office and wait in long elevator lines and crowded restaurants," Nash said via email.

From an enterprise perspective, there could also be collaborative and company culture advantages to these employee meal programs.

"We offer our employees free meals together with the whole team three days a week. We're respecting all health guidelines but at the same time, we want people to go back to the office to feel that connection once again," said Dmytro Okunyev, founder of Chanty via email.

Fuel and transportation reimbursement

With the shift to remote work, telecommuters are often fitting the bill for the burden of day-to-day utility costs. This has created a windfall, at times, for companies. However, some organizations are reinvesting these savings on their employees.

"Due to lighting, storage (we downsized office) and other savings, we actually made a fair bit of capital for the business not being in the office, so [we] thought we would use the supplementary funds on our workers," said Abigail Dodwell, HR director at Haro Helpers via email.

At the same time, employees are also saving plenty of time and money without the daily commute and more. Historically, employees have nearly two hours each week commuting to and from the office, per the US Census Bureau. As part of the transition back to the traditional office, some employers are offering a number of incentives to offset the cost of the daily commute.

Dodwell notes that Haro Helpers employees are saving between $100 and $200 each month from reduced spending on their commute, fuel, work clothes, and food. The company has now promised to reimburse fuel and transport costs, according to Dodwell. Similarly, Eri Panselina, a media relations representative at TalentLMS, said the company had recently offered paid parking to all returning workers.

Childcare stipends

The shift to virtual collaboration has been by no means exclusive to worklife. Schools and universities around the globe have also adopted distance learning policies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, many remote workers have been able to stay home and support their children during online education, reducing the cost of childcare during this time.

"Parents are under a lot of stress as they have to home-school along with meet the expectations of their employers to return to work. Thus, providing financial support to cover child care costs can be of massive help. Employers can also offer a subsidized child-care center or program for their employees," said Syed Irfan Ajmal, a growth manager at Gigworker via email.

Bonuses and flexibility

There are myriad approaches companies can take to incentivize employees to return to work. Some are using old-fashioned bonuses to lure employees back to the office. Mike Sadowski, CEO at Brand24, noted offering employees a "back-to-the-office financial bonus," and also reiterated the importance of empathy and understanding during this time period.

"I knew that some employees have children, and as the daycare centres and schools were still closed, I would let them leave the office earlier to take care of them. I also made the office more comfortable; there would be more space between the desks, so the workers would feel safer coming back. Communication matters, too. They knew when they were coming back to the office much earlier, so they had time to prepare and get comfortable with the thought," Sadowski said via email.

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Exclusive benefits

While some may be apprehensive about returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic, the latest incentives offered to in-house employees may be reason enough to bring some remote workers back to the office. This "fear of missing out" on the latest offerings could nudge others to return.

"We're basically trying to bribe everyone by organizing a lot of really fun activities and events in the office—maybe people will bite. We're taking all the necessary precautions of course, it's not like we're gambling with people's lives, here. But I do think people have gotten too comfortable at home," said Nelson Sherwin, manager of PEO Companies via email.

"We're alluring them back into the office with exclusive benefits, like Mario Kart Monday and Waffle Wednesday. You snooze, you lose! Gotta be here to enjoy it," Sherwin said.

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