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Work Reimagined:
Employee benefits for the hybrid workplace

As leaders rethink physical workspaces, time must also be spent on deconstructing benefits plans and rebuilding them for the future


(Prostock-studio/Adobe Stock)

The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been long and difficult.

After much reflection, workplaces are beginning to piece together the future, and the way forward appears to be in a hybrid format.

While leaders rethink physical workspaces, time should be spent on more holistic changes as well, including reimagining employee benefits for the hybrid workplace.

In January, Talent Canada hosted an exclusive roundtable in partnership with TELUS Health to explore the future of health benefits in a hybrid world.

Virtual health-care advancements through COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world of work as we previously knew it, but a bright spot for many has been the advancement of virtual health opportunities.

With assistance by way of digital solutions, employers have begun to transform their focus to one of “whole health” — including mental health, said Jason Kennedy, RPh, general manager, Virtual Pharmacy at TELUS Health in Toronto.

“We’ve seen a significant uptake in the adoption of virtual care throughout this timeline,” he said, noting anecdotal and survey feedback from employees has been positive to this change.

“The market was starting to move there anyway, and we saw COVID really accelerate that.”

Similar to a newfound familiarity with Zoom video conferencing, employees have also become more comfortable using telehealth options, added Norm Sabapathy, executive vice-president of people at Cadillac Fairview in Toronto.

“We’re more comfortable with virtual health — being more self-directed, informing ourselves and playing a more active role in our health,” he said.

“We’re seeing this empowerment,” said Kennedy. “It’s not just the comfort, but ‘I want to be a little more in control, on my terms.’ As everything else is on-demand, health care… and some of these benefits offerings are turning into that as well.”

And while traditional benefits usage has declined at FleetCor during the pandemic, when virtual care was added as an option, usage went back up, said Crystal Williams, CHRO at the company in Atlanta, Ga.

“We had a big spike in people taking stress leave, just trying to deal with working remotely, dealing with homeschooling children, the demands of work, etcetera.”

New benefits considerations for remote staff

As employers reimagine workplaces, benefits plans, and the importance of employee health in the post-COVID world, providing employees with access to modernized health care could be the preventative medicine needed to help keep employees and businesses healthy.

Unique benefits implementations have occurred as a result of pandemic-style work conditions, said Kennedy.

“(At TELUS Health), we have implemented flex benefits — this idea of allowing employees to really prioritize what is important to them within that benefits plan, whether it be mental health needs or physical health needs, or work remote or work-from-home accommodations,” he said.

Kennedy explained that on-demand solutions such as Spotify, a popular music streaming service, have altered users’ expectations in all industries, and that has become the basis for building more “elegant” health and wellness experiences.

Flex opportunities and the advancement of health-care spending accounts (HCSAs) continue to empower employees, he said.

“There’s more base offerings now than ever before. Virtual health care is starting to become an integrated part of the benefits plan.”

Legal considerations for hybrid benefits packages

When it comes to shifting employee agreements to reflect new-look hybrid benefits packages, it is wise for employers to consider potential legal issues, including the possibility of having these contractual changes being considered as constructive dismissal.

Constructive dismissal is triggered by a “unilateral and substantial change to a fundamental term or condition of employment,” explained Brittany Taylor, partner at Rudner Law in Markham, Ont.

Employee buy-in on changes is the best course of action in this instance, she said. “If an employee is agreeing to the changes, you’re avoiding the risk of constructive dismissal entirely.”

Ensuring changes are beneficial to employees — given the changes to the workplace environment — is information that can be achieved by speaking with workers or issuing a survey, said Taylor.

If changes are substantial and unilateral, however, giving appropriate advance notice could insulate employers from legal action, she said.

“It is important to do that front-end work to save the back-end headache,” noted Williams.

Employee morale is another consideration employers should consider, in an effort to retain workers, said Taylor.

Accommodation to the point of undue hardship is also an important point to contemplate, as remote workers may require different needs, she said.

Virtual pharmacies as a viable option

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to recede slightly in some areas and employees begin returning to the office, new health services such as virtual pharmacies are becoming a highly beneficial option within Canada’s health-care system.

“From our point of view (at TELUS Health, virtual pharmacies) do a real great job of convenience and ease of use, helping to empower patients to better understand their therapies,” said Kennedy.

TELUS Health launched its digital Virtual Pharmacy service in January to help improve medication adherence by offering Canadians the opportunity to set up automatic refill reminders for prescription medications that are shipped directly to their doorstep.

Importantly, Virtual Pharmacy allows users to have unlimited one-on-one video or phone consultations with experienced and licensed Canadian pharmacists from the comfort of their home, while also providing them with tools to keep track of their family’s medications through an online dashboard.

Communication strategies for benefits plans

As always, communicating the value of benefits plans to remote workers is critical in terms of garnering a solid return on investment (ROI), while reducing turnover and driving productivity.

Communication is much more than simply talking to people — it’s ensuring the message has also been understood and received, noted Williams.

Many employees still do not understand their personal company benefits offerings, she said.

Getting marketing or communications specialists involved in the process is critical to combating this issue.

“Stale, boring documents that go through the legalities of everything is not the way to go, at all. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is also not the way to go,” according to Williams. “It’s small bits of pieces of information that are in nice infographics, and bite-sized pieces that the employees can digest.”

TELUS Health encourages an open-door policy for managers, so employees can ask questions and maximize benefits usage, noted Kennedy.

“It’s there to use,” he said. “We don’t want this to be something that you should be embarrassed talking about or asking about: ‘How do I optimize my RRSPs?’ or ‘How do I log on to this virtual meditation app that I have?’”

Moving towards flexible benefits

With hybrid workplaces as the new norm, the world of work is expected to shift in many ways, with many office workers now able to “work from anywhere.” Employers may need to consider more personalized and flexible workplace benefits plans that allow for choice.

“Flexible working” has been a new standard at FleetCor through the pandemic, said Williams.

“That doesn’t mean working hybrid or working remotely — that means flexible working,” she said, allowing workers to integrate personal matters into their day. “The ‘flexible’ means it’s not 9-to-5 anymore — it can be anytime during the day… to get your work done.”

Remote work is becoming standard operating procedure, she noted. “This hybrid thing, and remote thing, is here to stay — for sure.”

Remote work has accelerated through COVID-19, and can lead to more inclusion in the workplace, if done right, Sabapathy claimed.

“We can really foresee this being, not only a benefit to employees, but a benefit to the company in terms of the talent we can attract and retain.”

Appropriate benefits packages will continue to play a key factor in recruitment and retention of diverse talent, he said.

“Health care and benefits programs are going to be a big part of that. We need to consider how we adapt those programs for remote work, for various family arrangements, and the multigenerational workforce.”

Practically, the workplace has changed, and employers need to seek to understand what their workforce requires as a result, said Taylor.

“The word of the day that we’ve all been using is flexibility — having something that allows choice to employees, in terms of putting their benefits to use where they need it.”

The full virtual roundtable conversation is available below:


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Virtual pharmacy – the newest evolution of digital health care

By Jason Kennedy, RPh, general manager, Virtual Pharmacy at TELUS Health

Virtual health care is booming in Canada and quickly becoming a lasting and positive outcome of the uncertainty and disruption of the global coronavirus pandemic. By March 2021, more than 5 million virtual health-care appointments had been conducted across the country and while virtual health care has been around since the 1950s, social disruption seems to be what was needed to push its proliferation.

As we observe people across Canada embracing virtual physician visits that save them time and generally improve their overall access to primary and specialist care, we remain hopeful that more areas of the health-care continuum will adopt virtual modalities to improve patient access, experience, and health outcomes.

One particular area of health care that has been slow to move virtual is community pharmacy services.

Most people know that a trip to the local pharmacy can be time consuming, especially during the rolling lockdowns of the pandemic period, when lines were long and pharmacies co-located inside of retail settings were limited in their capacity to adequately consult with their patients.

The good news: Like virtual visits to a family doctor, a virtual pharmacy visit is simple to manage, convenient, and often less costly — as individuals avoid the allure of retail purchases while they wait. It can also support improved medication adherence and provides more privacy for pharmacist consults.

Consider this: A recent internal study conducted by Leger on behalf of TELUS Health found that a full one-third of respondents said they often missed picking up their prescriptions, which translates into a lot of missed medications and the risk of compromised health.

In fact, 60 per cent of respondents said they simply “forgot” to pick up their prescriptions, with 50 per cent citing they were too busy with work or personal activities to do so.

And so, a convenient, predictable, and reliable virtual health service could be a game-changer for many managing their own health, the health of their family members, and other loved ones.

Virtual Pharmacy is the latest offering from the TELUS Health suite of digital health and medical services. It is available to anyone in Canada (except in Quebec), including employees through their workplace benefits plan. This is just one of the company’s recent innovations helping to improve the health-care experience for us all.

For employers, Virtual Pharmacy adds value to employees’ workplace benefits, providing pharmacist care for the entire family. In addition, it can be part of a business strategy to reduce costs through lower drug markups and dispensing fees, and can contribute to a healthier and more productive workforce.

Those workers who live with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, or depression will benefit as they can speak directly to a pharmacist to discuss new and changing medications. They can also have medications delivered to their doorstep to avoid disruption to their prescribed care protocol which could result in a medical incident.

Information is power, and being in control of one’s circumstances will only help with following medication protocols — for employers that means reduced absenteeism.

COVID-19 has been with us now for two years and while we have all experienced challenges, every day we are learning new ways to live in this new normal. It has been disruptive but not all the disruption has been negative.

Changing our behaviour in the way in which we live our lives, such as using virtual primary care, has proven successful. The logical extension of this is an evolution to virtual pharmacy — a reliable, secure, and convenient service that not only helps to improve health outcomes for those in Canada’s workforce, but also saves them time.

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