Coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis is ushering in a new generation of working from home perks

Key Points
  • Some staff are getting perks such as free fitness classes, psychotherapy and coaching as they work from home.
  • Businesses are setting up virtual pubs, wine tasting and kids' entertainment packages.
  • Companies say they are investing in such benefits to keep people motivated as staff self-isolate.
A London ad agency has set up a virtual pub, the "AML Arms".
AML

Working from home certainly has its drawbacks, but some employees have arguably never had it so good.

For many, setting up a home office while in self-isolation can mean sharing desk space with kids, having furry friends participate in conference calls or writing a presentation from an unloved guest bedroom — while working longer days too.

But some companies are now giving staff generous working from home perks, providing home-office budgets, entertainment packages for children, and psychotherapy sessions. One business is even delivering wine to employees for a virtual tasting session over video call, while fitness app ClassPass is providing private online classes to staff from companies such as Lyft and M&C Saatchi.

Ad agency Isobel usually organizes three-yearly "Isobelly Laughs" comedy nights, where staff and clients are hosted at the company's London office to watch British comedians such as Sara Pascoe and Angela Barnes. After the U.K. went into lockdown last week, managing partner Jamie Williams decided to move the April event online, organizing a virtual comedy night presented by actor and BBC writer Mike Shephard.

"We've got a real mix of people that work for us, some have got families and live a bit out of London … others are younger and live on their own in smaller flats (apartments). Trying to keep everybody's spirits up and engaged is really important," Williams told CNBC by phone.

The agency is also organizing a quiz in the style of U.K. TV show "Through the Keyhole," featuring the home of an employee each week, with staffers having to guess whose home is being shown based on a series of clues. It's also providing presentation training and public speaking courses taught by an actor and is working on moving its week-long summer internship program for teenagers online.

Emotional help

Mental wellbeing is a focus of many working from home perks. A survey at software company Salesforce showed that 36% of staff were reporting mental health issues, according to a company blog posted Friday, and it's hosted top names such as Arianna Huffington, author and physician David Agus and mindfulness expert Jack Kornfield to address staff remotely. 

Salesforce director of safety and resilience Stasha Wyskiel had this advice for employees not used to working from home: "Get up, take a shower, make sure you're making that transition from a sort of Saturday morning into a little bit more of a work day. And we're just simply asking our employees to show up as much as they can in whatever way they can," according to an employee video earlier this month.

A woman exercises at home with the help of an online course.
Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Salesforce's online training website Trailhead has a series of live sessions this week. Monday kicked off with meditation classes, while on Wednesdays, staff can attend training on "Virtual White Boarding," or "Maintaining Work Relationships" and Fridays include learning to code.

Other companies are making sure staff carry on their social lives. Supply chain software company Tradeshift is organizing a "gastronomy experience" where staff will be sent a kit containing wine and food pairing suggestions, before joining a video conference call for a wine tasting session. At ad agency AML, people can join virtual pub the AML Arms, bringing their own drinks. Kids and dogs are welcome too, but there's one rule — no work chat.

Having children at home can also cause family clashes, and cybersecurity company Rapid7 has created a "Little Moose" academy for children, including math, science and reading e-learning courses, and is organizing story time over Zoom calls, while medication software company Medisafe sent children's activity kits out to staff.

At software company Citrix, staffers can do online volunteer work for the Smithsonian Institute, helping it transcribe historical documents and update Wikipedia pages.

For Ewen MacPherson, people director at ad agency group Havas Media Group in the UK, working from home benefits are a way to keep people motivated. "From a budget perspective, it's less about do you need to buy printer ink and more about what can we still do in the way of care package stuff, to keep people's spirits lifted," he told CNBC by phone.

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At the company's U.K. headquarters in London's Kings Cross regeneration area, Havas' 2,000 staff are used to being able to access a custom built "wellness lounge," where they can meditate, relax or sleep. As employees now work from home, the company has created a virtual version, where "Wellness Wednesdays" feature hourly guided mediation and reiki, with some sessions seeing four or five times the usual number of in-person attendees.

Havas is also offering weekly high intensity interval training fitness classes and yoga lessons and has moved its coaching service online where staff can have half-hour personal development calls with a professional coach or psychotherapist. While it can no longer run events such as an annual employee appreciation day, which has senior executives deliver tea and cake to staff at their desks, MacPherson is working on virtual alternatives.

"Our approach is that it's a very strange and unprecedented time for everybody, and we're all just trying to do our best. We trust people to do the best they can during the situation," MacPherson added.

It's not all yoga and mindfulness however. One HR tech company provided staffers with a $250 working from home allowance and a bonus of half a month's salary plus 20%, while many people are expensing items such as cleaning products and facemasks, according to data from expenses software company AppZen. Its data showed working from home claims increase 3.5 times in a week, with people expensing items such as printers, headphones and HDMI cables.