When Covid-19 closed most offices in March 2020, employers looked for ways to support their stuck-at-home staffs. Supervisors checked in regularly with employees. Companies sent Uber Eats gift cards and care packages. Employees got free subscriptions to the meditation apps Calm and Headspace.
Some employers have spared no expense or imagination, even as the pandemic drags on, coming up with extra-generous or extra-creative ways to keep employees happy, engaged, and productive.
More than 130 local companies shared with us the new pandemic-era policies and practices they’ve implemented in the wake of Covid. Here, some of our favorites—measures that might inspire (or make you envious).
1. $1,000 to every employee to enhance a home office. (Glassman Wealth Services, a 15-person financial-planning firm in Tysons)
2. A list of WFH items—worth $750 in all—that any employee can order, plus $75 a month for each worker’s home wi-fi. (GetUpside, a tech startup in DC with 204 employees)
3. A “work-from-home store” stocked with not just keyboards and desks but yoga mats, foam rollers, and, as a joke, a “friendly pet llama.” The company pays for it all. Sadly, the llama is “sold out.” (Motley Fool, Alexandria, which has 620 employees)
4. A monthly $300 “Covid-assistance bonus” that employees can use however they like. The money has come from funds that have gone unspent because the team is not all in the office drinking coffee, eating free lunches, or throwing office happy hours. (Improbable, a 47-person tech firm in Arlington)
5. Reduced its office space, then passed the savings onto employees in the form of bonuses, raises, and a 7.5-percent profit-sharing distribution to each employee’s 401(k). (Black Cape, a 90-person technology-services company in Arlington)
6. Purchased an $80 National Park pass for any interested employee, using money that had been set aside for a company picnic. Some employees later shared photos of themselves and their families hiking and camping. (New Editions Consulting, a 65-person government contractor in Falls Church)
7. Rolled out Ginger, a 24-7 emotional-support app that allows employees to text a behavioral-health coach and schedule a virtual counseling session. (DC’s Vox Media, which has more than 1,200 employees)
8. $100 a month per employee to spend on something relaxing—such as cooking instruction or a movie-streaming service— via a benefits platform called Fringe. The most popular offering? Kits containing succulents, ferns, and other plants. (19-person Rhythmic Technologies in Dulles)
9. Five extra “well-being days” to take off this year. (Global tech giant Microsoft Corporation, which has a Reston office)
10. Increased paid time off, first by giving every other Friday off, then by switching to unlimited vacation. (Silverback Strategies, a 65-person Alexandria digital-performance marketing agency)
11. Weekly meditation and yoga, plus periodic “mindfulness challenges” with options such as a ten-minute breathing exercise or paint therapy. A “gratitude challenge” created a “kindness matrix” for employees to achieve—whether buying a customer in line behind them a cup of coffee at a coffee shop or writing a note to someone special in their life. (IQ Solutions, a 179-person public-health communications firm in Rockville)
12. Unlimited paid mental-health sabbatical. (Advanced Simulation Technology, with 49 employees in Herndon)
13. A new $1,000 stipend that employees can put toward home fitness equipment, personal training, nutritional counseling, or other wellness expenses. (12-person SOAR Management Consulting in Fairfax)
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14. A monthly subscription to Peloton, whose content can be used even without a Peloton bike or treadmill. This replaced the monthly gym stipend. (Silverback Strategies)
15. A subscription to TaskHuman, which allows employees to book free, unlimited one-on-one sessions with wellness coaches, including nutritionists, yoga teachers, and HIIT instructors. (OM Group, a 78-person government contractor in Reston)
16. Reimburses staffers for one weekly coffee-shop purchase, both to perk them up and to support those small businesses. (Avalon Consulting Group, a 60-person marketing firm in DC)
17. For several months last year, reimbursed employees for purchases at small, locally owned restaurants and coffee shops—up to $75 weekly. One catch: For the tip to be reimbursed as well, it had to amount to at least 25 percent. (Rhythmic Technologies)
18. Then there’s this impressive gesture: $1,000 given to every employee—more than 60 in all—to spend at local small businesses last year. (New Editions Consulting)
19. Unlimited company-paid tutoring for employees’ children during the 2020–21 school year—including SAT prep. (164-strong Apex Home Loans in Rockville)
20. New laptops, when learning virtually, for any team member’s school-age children. (62-person DC tech company teKnoluxion Consulting, which gave out 15 laptops)
21. Up to ten hours a week of extra paid leave for employees with children under age 12. (New Editions Consulting)
22. $10,000 annually for child and dependent care—double what it used to offer—for anyone earning less than $170,000. (Cassaday & Company, a 70-person wealth-management firm in Tysons)
23. Sent parents shirts identifying employees’ children as “interns”—a way of embracing the reality that kids wan-der into virtual meetings. (C3 Integrated Solutions, a 27-person IT provider in Arlington)
24. Introduced a Family Care Leave pro-gram giving five hours a week of paid leave to anyone who doesn’t have enough paid time off and needs the leave due to increased caregiver responsibilities. (950-person Science Systems and Applications in Lanham)
25. Created paid “carer leave”: Anyone who needs to take time off or work flexible or reduced hours to act as a caregiver can do so at full salary, with no cap on the amount of leave. (Improbable)
26. Pays to put up an employee’s family in a hotel for two weeks if the staffer tests positive for Covid. (Microsoft)
27. Gave up to 12 weeks of Covid pay to any employee unable to work last year when client sites were closed and remote work was impossible, so that person wouldn’t go without paychecks. (OM Group)
28. Paid 100 percent of the salary, benefits, and bonuses for employees on secured government sites who were able to work only part-time when social-distancing capacities were in place. (Reston’s 26-person Matrix Consulting)
29. Handed out $250 grocery gift cards at the beginning of the pandemic to its operations staff. Then, for seven months, offered some employees the choice of paid weekly housecleaning or meal delivery of up to $135 a week. (Apex Home Loans)
As we head into winter—and virtual company events—here are a few interesting ideas beyond the usual Zoom happy hours, game nights, and virtual escape rooms.
While many companies have hosted virtual cooking classes for employees, IQ Solutions, a public-health communications firm in Rockville, enlisted team members’ children for “IQ Kids in the Kitchen,” in which child chefs demonstrated how to make zucchini muffins and healthy snacks such as apple dippers.
Why not actually build something in a team-building session? That’s what Improbable, a tech firm in Arlington, did during a terrarium-making class. Everyone was sent the necessary supplies—planters, tools, succulents, soil, rocks, moss. To this day, employees sometimes show how their plants are doing during virtual meetings.
Lots of employees have been happily bonding over virtual games, some of which are novel. For one quiz event at Advanced Simulation Technology in Herndon, staffers provided two facts about themselves ahead of time—their favorite book and movie—and colleagues had to match up facts and people. Meanwhile, the Tysons recruiting firm Turn2Partners has hosted virtual recreations of popular game shows such as Jeopardy! and Family Feud. Everyone’s a winner: The company pays for snacks, too.
Virtual pumpkin-carving contests are nice, but when Halloween rolled around last year, the Reston IT firm Matrix Consulting hosted a virtual murder-mystery party, complete with scripts, props, and costumes sent to each participant.
Lots of employers clearly feel that the way to employees’ hearts is through their stomachs: They’ve sent snack boxes, holiday pies, gift cards for Tuesday tacos, and cake and Champagne to toast milestone anniversaries. Then there’s FYI, a government contractor in Beltsville, which didn’t let Covid get in the way of its holiday bash. It enlisted Occasions Caterers to deliver 65 four-course meals—think crab dip, boneless beef short ribs, apple-pecan tart—to employees. Caricature artists sketched in breakout rooms, while prizes including an iPad, a 50-inch TV, and a workout Mirror were awarded.
This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.
Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.