Translating Office Perks for Remote Employees

In a prior job I moved away from the corporate office and experienced first-hand the transition from in-office employee to remote employee. I have previously worked in a remote-first company so telecommuting wasn’t a new concept for me, but this transition was an experience that unearthed some unexpected feelings. I saved a Slack conversation where I began to work out my feelings around providing free lunch to remote employees to replace an in-office catered lunch. With permission from my conversant (marked as the ubiquitous “HR”), I want to share an excerpt with you as a window into the complexities of how perks are delivered and valued.

Me [10:40 AM]
So this $40/mo for remote workers to have lunch on the company as a replacement for in-office, catered lunches… can you tell me how you feel about it from a personal and financial viewpoint? I’m not sure how I want to feel about it yet and I’m reaching out to you for another point of view.

HR [10:41 AM]
That’s a tricky question. I have my personal opinion about it at the same time I’m trying to support the desire for our remote employees to have the same perks as in-office employees. From an administrative perspective, it’s time consuming to find delivery services and match those services with employee locations. And without more assistance, it’s basically not able to even happen unless the employees themselves do it.
When this idea originated, the intent was to only provide lunch from one location (Jimmy John’s). When the previous admin was here, it was suggested to use DoorDash for more variety and that’s when it got out of control. I understand that Jimmy John’s gets boring after a few times. I understand the desire for variety. I also understand that offering variety is 3-4x more money than what we spend per person for in-office lunches.
After some discussion, we decided on a monthly expense reimbursement of $40 for remote employees to receive the same perks but you can choose what you want.
That’s a long answer without even giving my opinion. What’s your opinion?

Ben [11:00 AM]
Oooh, I still want your opinion!

HR [11:37 AM]
When it was initially proposed, I was opposed from an administrative perspective. The idea of an admin having to research options near the employee and coordinating options with what the employees wanted to eat each week sounded like a very daunting task. But when we put a box around it, that Jimmy John’s would be the go-to each week, I was on board. That fell apart with the addition of DoorDash and Uber Eats.
I believe that all employees deserve the same perks. The way this remote employee perk is structured puts burden on the employee to arrange their meal. Is it still a perk if it takes leg-work on the employee’s part? I think the answer depends on the employee.
I get concerned about in-office employees, that work from home on Friday, getting wind of the monthly reimbursement for remote employees. Does that send the message that if you aren’t at HQ then you’ll get lunch money instead? Also, our current *monthly* average cost per employee to provide lunch is about $12-17/employee. The reimbursement amount of $40 was my idea to meet in the middle for administrative time saved and employee perk provided (knowing the meals will cost more with delivery)
My opinion is that this is a squishy way to extend this perk to remote employees. I think we can test it out and revise if needed. 

Ben [11:45 AM]
Thanks. I appreciate you sharing that with me.
I feel embarrassed having so much effort put into something as little as lunch. Does it make me feel connected? Yes, it’s nice. My wife appreciates it more than I do though (which should probably add, not detract from the overall value).
Work-sponsored lunch (aside from occasional team lunches) is a new concept for me and I can’t help but think that we’re in a special time when the market is strong, companies are competing for workforce and our company is growing. One day these things will go away and we, as a region, as an industry, will have to reconsider perks. I hope that employee appreciation never goes away though. In this regard most of the companies I’ve worked for have been “enlightened” and the current array of perks represents an evolution of service providers, not how much companies care.
I feel embarrassed that the Uber Eats backfired because I encouraged that as well. I didn’t realize that it made things harder. I’m sorry about that. On this front I recommit to never complain about what the company does for me because I know that it represents extra time and money over the average in-office employee.
Intellectual puzzle: Does $1=$1 when you’re paying salaries, insurance and perks for employees in different regions with different costs of living? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this from people with experience. I could lean both ways.

HR [11:55 AM]
I don’t see your feedback or suggestions as complaints at all. Perks never fit all employees 100%. I welcome your feedback and suggestions 110%. Not all will be implemented but if nothing is said, how will we evolve in offering the best we can?

Ben [11:57 AM]
Asking the remote employees to take care of themselves does ameliorate the administrative overhead and that seems to be a smart solution. It does take away the spontaneity and variety that makes in-office lunches great. I won’t get the same value out of that as someone in the office does. And it costs more than $4 a lunch, so it’s less efficient too. But it gets me fed and it’s nice and it’s a perk and there is a lot of thought going into it.
The Scrooge in me says, “Don’t worry about it. I moved away from company lunches when I moved out of state!” And I would be fine if nothing was done here for -”I wouldn’t even resent anything that happens for other remote employees.
If I had been hired to BE a remote employee, I wouldn’t feel that way though ^^
So I recognize that my opinion and feelings here doesn’t solve the problem for everyone!
If I sniff out that there’s a problem or concerns around remote employees being treated over-fairly, I’d run away from the perks because I’d hate to be a part of anything divisive within the company.
That’s why I wanted to hear your thoughts because I knew you’d be honest. So thank you for sharing.

HR [12:05 PM]
Intellectual puzzle – I don’t believe $1=$1 for remote employees but I also don’t believe it’s equal for in-state employees. Further discussion in person will probably be better on this one.
I appreciate your perspective on out of state employee perks. I think we agree that long-term success of perks will need periodic review. Thanks for the discussion!

Ben [12:06 PM]
Thank you.

HR [12:06 PM]

Ben [12:06 PM]
I still don’t know if I’ll expense the $40/month though.

Managing employees is hard because employees are people with different needs and opinions. What I appreciated most within this particular aspect was how caring my in-office counterparts were in their efforts. That mattered 100x more than a sandwich—even if it was a Jimmy John’s Club Lulu!

Image credit: Yelp and Neil T.

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