Flex work becoming more permanent for employers

Organizations are considering new pay models amid uptick in flexible work arrangements, Willis Towers Watson finds.
By: | December 1, 2020 • 2 min read

Employers expect the increase in flexible work arrangements to continue at least through the first quarter of next year—but more likely permanently, new research finds. Meanwhile, those work arrangements are also spurring employers to rethink their approach to pay and rewards.

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A new survey of 344 employers from consulting firm Willis Towers Watson finds that about six in 10 employees are currently working at home while 25% are working from anywhere, compared with just 14% and 6%, respectively, last year. Employers expect that just over half of their employees (52%) will work from home in the first quarter, while 24% will work from anywhere. Just over a quarter of workers (26%) are expected to use flextime arrangements next year, similar to the 25% currently doing so.


Meanwhile, more organizations are planning for or considering adopting a formal policy or set of principles to manage flexible work arrangements next year, Willis Towers Watson found.

The data is proof that employees working at home or remotely is likely to become a permanent fixture for many employers, says Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director at Willis Towers Watson. “While most employers are providing flexible work arrangements for safety reasons today, employers also recognize that offering remote or flextime arrangements can play a significant role in retaining talent and keeping workers engaged and productive even after we move beyond this pandemic.”

Various reports have found that flex and remote working options have been popular even before the pandemic and a widely sought-after perk for workers. But the massive shift to such arrangements caused by the pandemic have solidified how well the model can work, with many reports finding that it suits the majority of both employees and employers.

Related: HR leaders plan to embrace remote work post-pandemic

Significantly, the continued shift to remote and flex work is prompting some employers to consider new pay models, Willis Towers Watson finds.

Half of employers say the new work requirements will require a hybrid reward model. As such, 18% of employers are setting pay levels by first determining the market value of an employee’s skills and then applying a geographic differential based on where the employee is located; however, six in 10 employers will continue to pay remote employees the same as in-office employees no matter where they work. Additionally, 29% are providing additional benefits to promote workplace flexibility, including backup daycare, subsidies for daycare or virtual learning, and subsidies or reimbursement of costs for working from home.

The survey also found that most respondents say their flexible work policies won’t have a significant impact on their overall budget, with two exceptions: Forty percent expect to see a reduction in commuting and travel costs next year, and 36% expect their real estate expenses to decline in 2021. A quarter of employers expect to see some reductions offset by an increase in expenses for allowances and subsidies for working from home.

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“Employers that are able to create and manage a flexible workplace through automation and adaptable policies while reinforcing an enhanced employee experience will not only meet their employees’ needs but also be better positioned to compete in the new world of work,” says Catherine Hartmann, North America Rewards practice leader at Willis Towers Watson.

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Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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