One of the more immediate effects of the global Covid-19 outbreak was that the world shifted online seemingly overnight. As those who could work from home, people began to reduce non-essential trips outside the home. This created a scramble among companies to move online. And while the process of digital transformation has been driving change in almost every industry for years, the sudden growth in home working is speeding up digitalisation and enabling more flexibility of benefits.

Digital transformation is often portrayed as an inevitable force, one that promises to reshape the way businesses operate and interact with their customers. But replacing non-digital or manual processes with digital ones or introducing innovative new technology to established architectures is not a simple or linear process. Doing it in a way that minimises disruption and doesn’t compromise the customers experience takes planning and shouldn’t be rushed. The global outbreak of Covid-19, however, is causing many companies to accelerate their transformation timelines.

There has been a huge shift to home working in a relatively short amount of time, and many companies are beginning to plan for a hybrid approach even after the current pandemic passes. In August 2020, 90% of those who have been working from home due to Covid-19 want to continue doing it in some form. This means companies are having to get to grips with remote working fast, and digital solutions are an important part of the process. In a recent survey, 70% of executives from Austria, Germany and Switzerland said the pandemic would accelerate the pace of digital transformation. Another business survey found that 77% of the UK respondents had increased their digital transformation budgets in the last nine months.

Clearly, companies are moving faster towards digitalisation than they assumed they would be. But how is the change affecting the potential range of benefits employees may want from their employers?

The digitalisation of employee benefits 

In many areas, Covid-19 is acting as an accelerator. Hotels are speeding up digital check-ins, retailers are making sure they have an online presence and delivery capabilities, while many employees are discovering the unique benefits and challenges of remote working. The way that companies and their employees interact on a daily basis is changing, and benefits need to reflect this.

The digitalisation of employee benefits was already an established process before the unforeseen events of 2020 thrust it even further into the spotlight. A 2019 survey by HR Review found that 92% of benefits leaders thought that embracing digital solutions held the key to building staff loyalty and driving better retention. AI, machine learning, IoT and wearable technologies were all highlighted as important tools for delivering faster, more seamless and personalised experiences for employees. 

Giving people greater control and choice when it comes to the employee benefits they use creates better outcomes for everyone, with employees better able to live and work with confidence and being more engaged with their employer’s goals.

But the acceleration of digital transformation carries some risks for companies eager to use this unique moment in a positive way. Rushed implementation without an overall strategy in place creates the potential for a business to end up with a number of siloed solutions that don’t integrate effectively with one another or with existing ways of working. This can actually cause more inefficiencies in the provision of employee benefits, and make it harder for people to actively manage their packages.

There is a real opportunity to embrace new technology and use it in a way that allows employee benefits offerings to work better for people while also supporting the overall digital transformation strategy of businesses. Leaders need to make sure they have the right vision, partners and internal skills to make the most of it.

Benefits that reflect the moment

At the heart of the digital transformation of benefits is using technology to maximise the value businesses get from their investments. Utilised in the right ways, emerging technologies have the potential to not only reduce the workload of HR staff but to improve employee engagement, wellbeing and retention. When combined with effective upskilling and reskilling programmes, benefits can become a pivotal part of a company’s growth strategy. To do this, though, benefits solutions need to accurately reflect the world around us.

Covid-19 has produced a sudden and significant change in the way that people all over the world go about their daily activities. This has had some immediate effects on employee benefits. In the UK, for example, restrictions on the use of public transport have spurred a rise in the use of cycle-to-work schemes including an increased sale of children’s bikes. Other changes could be less immediate, but could lead to more substantial long-term changes. Many employees will be looking for employers to provide increased protection and group risk benefits such as partner life insurance and will writing benefits.

For many, months of lockdowns, travel restrictions and limits to social interaction have created a priority for many employees around spending quality time with loved ones. If this continues after the current pandemic passes, there could be an increased uptake in benefits relating to leisure, lifestyle and wellbeing. These could range from discounted health club memberships to more specific offerings relating to nutrition and sickness prevention.

Providing confidence in uncertain times

Covid-19 has created a great degree of uncertainty, both in terms of its ongoing economic effects and the changes to everyday life. Employee benefits help people live with confidence, and digitalisation can be an important way to help people preserve their self-determination in the face of unprecedented challenges. But benefits need to be flexible in order to change as employees lives do, evolving to meet new needs as they appear. Digital transformation can help companies better support their staff as we all move forward together.