Why Remote Companies Are Doing Employee Perks Better Than Google

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By Blake Thorne

Employee perks. The idea rushed into our vocabulary sometime around the year 2000. The world feared Y2K, it got foosball and laundry service. Since then perks at tech companies have covered all positions on the field, from the practical (catered lunch) to the silly (birthday parties).

Some perks — casual dress, equity — are so common in Silicon Valley that they don’t even seem like perks anymore. We take them for granted.

In your parents’ or grandparents’ day, insurance and sick days were the only perks needed. Even weekends and holidays started out as a wacky and progressive idea. Those days are gone. Today’s employees expect ping pong, pizza Fridays and bring your dog to work policies. Or at least that’s what we’re told.

In reality, many companies are evolving their understanding of what a good employee perk really is. We’ve gone from the early perks of the dot-com bubble (ping pong tables to seem cool and attract press attention) to the perks designed to help keep you sitting on your squishy exercise ball writing code all night. Now, a new kind of perk is emerging, and remote companies are leading the way.

Call it the whole and healthy employee perk. These perks aren’t designed to make work radical, or to give you no excuse to get out into the world. These perks are designed for holistic, long-term health and happiness for the employee. Because happy and healthy employees work better, care deeper and stick around longer.

Or consider the way it’s phrased in this job posting from our friends at HelpScout:

“There are no kegerators, foosball tables or Xboxes. Instead, we’re focused on the craft and doing excellent work. We prefer employees to have a sustainable work/life balance and optimize their career at Help Scout to be a long one.”

Or take in these thoughts from David Heinemeier Hansson, Founder and CTO at Basecamp, formerly 37Signals:

“We focus on benefits that get people out of the office as much as possible. 37signals is in it for the long term, and we designed our benefits system to reflect that. One of the absolute keys to going the distance, and not burning out in the process, is going at a sustainable pace.”

What’s the X factor with Basecamp and HelpScout? Both are remote companies, with employees based across the world. Basecamp wrote the book on remote working. Really.

These companies had a nudge to think differently, working remote forces you to often think harder about workplace conventions.

Besides, the approach is more in line with what employees are looking for.

In their 2013 State of the American Workplace, Gallup found that “engagement has a greater effect on workers’ wellbeing than any of the benefits it studied. At the end of the day, an intrinsic connection to one’s work and one’s company is what truly drives performance, inspires discretionary effort, and improves wellbeing. If these basic needs are not fulfilled, then even the most extravagant perks will be little more than window dressing.”

Remote companies are doing perks in a more practical way. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still fun and exciting. And let’s be honest, working from home is a pretty big perk in its own right.

Let’s take a look at some of the best remote company perks that are out there.

Free Books

Several remote companies understand the power of a good book and are picking up the tab for employee reading habits. Invision buys free books from Amazon for employees, and Buffer hooks up employees with a Kindle and whatever ebooks they’d like to download. Buffer employees even share their reading lists with the team, so workers can bond over what they’re reading.

Retreats and company gatherings

Nothing brings a team together like face-to-face interaction. Many remote companies fly everyone out to a single location for annual or semi-annual retreats. Speak rented a cabin in Lake Tahoe for their first retreat. Automattic has held retreats in Greece, Mexico and Tokyo. At iDoneThis, new team members are brought out to our offices in NYC for their first week, to get a chance to spend time with the founders in person.


Here’s a weird anti-perk you see at a lot of companies: unlimited vacation. (Unlimited! But not really). When everyone around you is working hard to help the company and get ahead, you’re going to seem selfish for taking any time at all. Several companies, remote and non-remote, are avoiding this guilt trip by making vacation time mandatory, and even paying for the vacation. Upworthy provides its remote employees with a $500 vacation stipend. Basecamp works with a travel agent to provide a selection of vacation packages for employees, all paid for by the company.

Health Tracking

You are what you measure. That’s why a lot of remote companies are helping workers measure and share their activity levels with a fitness tracker. Buffer employees all receive a Jawbone UP when they’re hired.

Coffee Cards

Maybe coffee isn’t the healthiest habit. But neither is sitting alone all day every day. Some remote companies are paying for gift cards for Starbucks or other coffee shops for their employees. It gets employees out in the world and around other people, which is beneficial if you’re feeling cooped up in a home office.


Automattic and Basecamp have started offering employees long-term sabbaticals after a certain length of employment. Basecamp employees are encouraged to take a 1 month sabbatical after 3 years of employment. “This in particular has been very helpful at preventing or dealing with burnout. There’s nothing like a good, long, solid, continuous break away from work to refocus and rekindle,” Hansson has wrote.

Sounds like a pretty appealing perk to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a month to refocus, do some reading, spend time with family.

Maybe get a few games of ping pong in.

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