Everything You Need to Know About Remote Employee Perks and Benefits in 2021

With no commute to worry about and a schedule that allows for maximum flexibility, the benefits of remote work may seem endless—but there’s more where that came from.

In addition to the many informal perks of working from home, many remote employees also enjoy more tangible benefits as part of an overall compensation package.

Prior to 2020, employer-provided benefits for remote team members were seldom discussed. It’s perhaps unsurprising: studies published as recently as 2019 found that many workers were willing to accept a pay cut in order to secure remote employment.

However, times have changed in several key ways:

First, there are significantly more remote jobs available nowadays. This reduces the perceived benefit of simply allowing employees to work remotely; remote employees no longer feel like they’re among the privileged few working from home.

Second, employers are increasingly recognizing the importance of health and wellness among their employees. In the wake of COVID-19, business leaders know that it’s in their best interest to take a holistic approach to benefits and compensation to ensure their team members are performing at their best.

Third, companies making permanent moves to a virtual or hybrid employment model are revisiting their compensation strategies.

While recent data suggests remote professionals are often being paid more than their on-site counterparts, some companies, like Facebook, have indicated that they plan to localize salaries, meaning that employees in areas with lower costs of living will be paid less.

In these instances, a competitive benefits package can provide employers an avenue to smooth things over and lure in qualified candidates for their virtual job openings.

Related: A Complete Guide to Getting Your First Remote Job After College: For Graduates and Soon-To-Be Graduates

To help you as a job seeker effectively evaluate and understand the relative advantages of the many benefits your new remote-enabled employer may offer, here’s a round-up of popular perks and common terms you may encounter in your job search:

Traditional benefits

As benefit plans are restructured to meet the needs of an increasingly remote workforce, traditional employer-provided benefits like commuter allowances and relocation packages may fall out of favor.

But other, more traditional benefits, like those listed below, are likely to remain a key part of compensation packages well into the future:

1. Health insurance

Along with a competitive base salary, respondents to Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work survey rated group health insurance options as the most important benefit remote-enabled employers can offer.

Depending on the size of the company, you may find that some employers have a variety of options to choose from, so you can pick a plan that best meets the needs of your family—and your pocketbook.

Employers also frequently sweeten the pot by subsidizing, and in some cases paying, employees’ monthly premiums.

2. Paid time off (PTO)

A yearly paid vacation and ample sick days have long been musts for many professionals, but in an era when flexible work schedules are becoming increasingly common, some employers are upping the ante—and attracting top talent—by offering unlimited vacation days.

In either case, be sure to familiarize yourself with your company’s PTO policy to ensure you’re making the most of your time both on and off the clock.

3. Retirement plans

The opportunity to contribute to an employer-subsidized retirement plan can be a huge selling point for job seekers who are eager to plan for the future.

Employees can typically set up automatic contributions to these accounts from their paychecks, and those contributions are often tax-deductible. Many employers will also match their employees’ contributions to these plans up to a certain percentage.

4. Tuition reimbursement

While less common than previously mentioned benefits, many remote-enabled employers are beginning to explore options for covering the costs of employees’ continued education, including by paying tuition and fees incurred as part of a degree program with an accredited college or university.

5. Life, accident, and/or disability insurance

As part of a comprehensive benefits package, many employers offer a variety of insurance plans. These can include term and whole life insurance to protect your family against a sudden loss of income.

Other plans may include short- and long-term disability to mitigate any financial hardships you may suffer as a result of not being able to work.

6. Family leave

In addition to adhering to federal and state-level maternity and paternity leave requirements, some employers may opt to offer additional paid, or unpaid family leave that employees can take for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy or the birth of a child, an adoption, or a family emergency.

7. Child or dependent care

Although it may seem like a redundant benefit for remote employees, smart employers are realizing that subsidizing some or all of these costs can have a direct and measurable impact on employees’ productivity.

As any parent of small children knows, having a young one underfoot while you’re trying to get work done at home can be more than a little distracting. Providing benefits for employees who also serve as caretakers can also benefit those caring for aging loved ones or those with disabilities.

Non-traditional benefits

In addition to the familiar benefits commonly provided by employers both in and out of the remote workspace, there are a variety of non-traditional benefits that companies can use to reward and attract top talent.

Non-traditional benefits tend to focus more on boosting morale than on financial planning.

However, it’s important to note that despite their non-monetary nature, these benefits can still be taxable, so it’s a good idea to check in with HR or your own accountant to see about any obligations you may have.

Outside of the office, parking privileges, casual Fridays, on-site daycare, and other facility-based perks like cafeterias and fitness amenities just won’t cut it. Instead, benefits like these are beginning to emerge in compensation packages as employers continue to strive to appeal to remote workers:

1. Flexible scheduling

One of the most popular benefits among both employers and employees—especially millennials— is the ability to work on a flexible schedule.

Since allowing employees to work when they work best poses little if any, cost to employers, it’s an easy solution for business leaders who want to prioritize work-life balance and overall wellness among their team members.

2. Time off for volunteer work

Many companies offer employees several days off each year to allow for volunteer work. This is another win-win for employers who see the company image boosted—and enjoy a tax break—and for employees who get the chance to contribute to their communities without missing out on any income.

3. Health and wellness perks

While remote employees may not benefit from a corporate gym or weekly fitness classes, some companies are now offering a variety of wellness opportunities as part of their benefits packages.

These can range from access to an employee wellness platform to online counseling, fitness equipment, and reimbursement for gym memberships.

4. Home care services

Another benefit unique to remote work that has gained in popularity in recent months is the provision of services to support the employee at home. These can include meal delivery, house cleaning, and laundry services.

Working condition benefits

This is a class of benefits defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as comprising perks that employers provide to help employees do their jobs better. These include business-related equipment and services—and even if the costs of these aren’t covered by your employer, you may be able to claim them on your federal income tax return.

Some examples include:

1. Workstation equipment and support

Some employers may provide the computer equipment required for you to do your job well, including desktops, monitors, laptops, routers, printers, scanners, and so on.

Such benefits may also include related services, like internet or broadband and technical support.

2. Learning and professional development opportunities

In contrast to tuition reimbursement, these benefits include employer-provided professional development training workshops and seminars that are directly tied to the completion of your work tasks.

Many of these opportunities are now available online or via live stream, but in-person courses and conferences may also be options, even for remote employees.

3. Business trip expenses

While employers will often cover the costs of plane tickets and hotels for employees traveling on official business, some offer exceptionally comfortable arrangements and generous reimbursement policies to help smooth those travel bumps.

4. De minimis benefits

A final category of benefits includes those categorized by the IRS as having minimal financial value. These benefits are important because they provide job seekers with insights regarding a company’s culture, as they are usually employee appreciation-oriented.

These benefits can take many forms, including virtual or in-person parties, holiday gifts, or even a company-provided cell phone.

Related concepts and terminology

As you research remote job benefits, you may come across a variety of related concepts and terminology.

Here are a few of these terms to know:

  • Compensation package. This term refers to the combination of salary and benefits provided by an employer to employees. Remote job seekers should consider the value of the total compensation package when choosing a position.
  • Market rate. This is the current going rate paid to individuals in a particular position and at a particular career level. Employers can use this number to help budget for new team members.
  • Recognition. If a company offers special monetary or other in-kind incentives to their top salespeople or as part of annual employee achievement awards, it may fall under the benefits umbrella.
  • Fringe benefits. This U.S. Department of Labor classification comprises contributions that an employer pays to a third party or trustee for pension, life insurance, and health insurance plans.
  • Employee benefits. This is the IRS’s official term for employee perks like vacation time, accident plans, education assistance, dependent care, and adoption benefits.
  • Variable pay. Commonly included as part of a comprehensive compensation package, variable pay options can include merit-based bonuses, annual and sign-on bonuses, and sales commissions.
  • Equity-based compensation. Financial incentives like these could include employee stock options, restricted stock, and even profit-sharing arrangements.

The takeaway

As working from home becomes more and more mainstream, companies are quickly seeing the advantages of distributed workforces and, in many cases, are moving to permanently adjust their business models.

In addition to making more remote positions available, these changes also offer remote job seekers an unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of a variety of benefits that range from health insurance and wellness perks to retirement plans—and of course, a range of creative new options designed just for remote workers.

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Laura Spawn

Website: Virtual Vocations

Laura Spawn is the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, the web’s No. 1 hand-screened, all-telecommute job board. Alongside her brother, Laura founded Virtual Vocations in February 2007 with one goal in mind: connecting job seekers with legitimate telecommute job openings. Laura lives in Oregon with her husband, three children, and two dogs, Ivy and Jilly.