From startups to global corporations — here's what you need to know about paying remote workers. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Weighing the pros and cons of how to pay remote workers

Guest column

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. job market saw a steady increase in hybrid and remote work opportunities. The mass adoption, however, of a more “flexible workplace” — and the teleconferencing technologies necessary to make it a widespread option — was not yet commonplace. And in many industries, the idea of offering employees the ability to work from home several days a week — or more — brought up concerns over loss of productivity and loss of control.

Although the tech industry was more open to the idea of hybrid and remote work (and offered the option to a growing number of employees) — it wasn’t until pandemic lockdowns sent millions of workers home in early 2020, that the landscape of the American workplace, as a whole, changed forever.

For those workers whose positions allowed them to work from home, there were challenges related to balancing remote work with remote learning and overcoming Wi-Fi and teleconferencing glitches.

To minimize the time necessary to adapt to a whole new way of doing business, tech companies stepped in — utilizing their innovation to power hybrid work spaces and provide applications and other means to facilitate virtual collaboration and solve network connectivity and security concerns.

As employees — in tech and other industries — adapted to the “new normal,” a few things became clear:

  • Productivity — in many cases — increased
  • Hybrid and remote work option are viable for the long term
  • Employees value flexibility (in many cases, they value it over a higher salary)
  • Remote work offered up a whole new world of opportunities — no matter where you live or where your business is located

For employees and employers alike, hybrid/remote work broke down geographic barriers — allowing tech companies to hire qualified talent anywhere in the world and providing employees with the ability to relocate to hometowns that offer lower living expenses, a better quality of life, or the opportunity to be closer to family in other cities or states.

This new geographic freedom also brought up a very important question — especially for tech companies based in regions with a high cost of living:

As we open job opportunities up to remote workers across the country, do we pay employees based on their location (cost of living) or the job description?

According to an April 2022 article in Fast Company, “Several large tech companies, including Meta and Google, announced that employees moving to cities with a lower cost of living would be taking a pay cut. For instance, Google employees moving to cheaper cities or outside of the office hub could see a cut—as high as 25 percent —in their compensation.”

While Reuters’ “Pay cut: Google employees who work from home could lose money,” by Danielle Kaye noted that “…smaller companies including Reddit and Zillow have shifted to location-agnostic pay models, citing advantages when it comes to hiring, retention and diversity.”

We have clients on both sides of this equation, but it is important to note that asking an employee to take a pay cut might be risky in a competitive labor market. Making a decision on location-based pay versus job-based pay should consider all factors involved to help determine what's best for your workforce and your business.

We outlined a few pros and cons for each pay model. As you make decisions for your own organization, it’s a good idea to consider the following:

Pros and cons of location-based pay

  • PRO: Workers are paid wages commensurate with where they live and can expect to cover state and local taxes, housing, and other expenses associated with that location.
  • PRO: A company can save on wage costs, mainly if remote workers live in more affordable markets.
  • CON: Employees who live in less expensive housing markets make less for the same work done by co-workers in locations with a higher cost of living.
  • CON: Companies may experience higher turnover rates if they impose a pay cut policy that penalizes employees who move to smaller, more rural locations.

Pros and cons of job-based pay

  • PRO: Employees who live in a lower-cost area can opt for a larger home and more expensive "extras" and save more than if they choose to live in a city with a higher cost-of-living.
  • PRO: A job-based compensation structure can be more straightforward to administer because it focuses on allocating pay systematically and not on where employees live, which may shift over time.
  • CON: Employees with specialized skills and expertise who live in more expensive geographic markets may not be compensated as generously as those who work for competitors with location-based pay policies. This can diminish a company's recruiting competitive edge.
  • CON: Employees who move to locations with increased legislative and regulatory requirements can create increased operational costs for employers as they comply with new laws in the new location.
  • CON: Job-based pay structures can increase a company's wage (operating) costs.

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Lisa Bauer is director of compliance services at G&A Partners.

Employers across industries need to step up their game when it comes to retention and recruitment. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to thrive as an employer amid The Great Resignation

guest column

With Baby Boomers and older generations exiting the workforce in droves and COVID-19 variants still straining hospitals and doctors’ offices, the health-care industry is experiencing its own “Great Resignation” at a time when health-care occupations are projected to add more jobs than any other occupational group.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that “Employment in health-care occupations is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.6 million new jobs … mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for health-care services.”

This greater demand might run into a supply issue if employers don’t act swiftly to find creative ways to retain and recruit their staffs. Today’s workforce knows its value and is no longer so easily enticed or satisfied with basic benefits packages. It’s an employee market and employers across all industries are having to step up and bring their A-game when it comes to retention and recruitment.

What you can do to up your ‘A-game’ in 2022

COVID has taught employers that they must change to survive. Spend the time now to develop a strategic plan that will allow you to adapt and improve throughout the year. Be sure to give yourself a cushion in your budget that will allow you to meet new employee demands as they arise and to be generous with relocation and sign-on incentives when you compete for top talent. You can later list these incentives in your job advertisements and highlight any other benefits that might capture interest and bring talent into your organization.

Start your recruitment and retention efforts with a survey of your staff. Find out what they really need and want from you, then try to find ways to meet their demands. Some simple ways for you to take care of your employees right now include:

Bring employees meals to their floor.

Hospitals are becoming filled up once again with sick patients and most are understaffed as employees are contracting COVID from patients. Treat your staff to healthy food—not cookies and cakes—allow them to really stop and take 15 minutes to breathe and fuel their body. This can be done twice or three times a week for each shift. Talk to them about food options or restrictions so that everyone feels like they can participate.

Bring in a counselor on a monthly basis that employees may access during their shift.

Providing this accessible, valuable resource will give your staff the opportunity to address their mental health and wellness and can help you reduce burnout among your ranks.

Allow at least one meeting a week to be focused solely on your employees.

Often the shift start-up meetings are rushed due to the day’s demands. Spend at least one of these meetings a week asking your team things like, “Where do you feel you impacted someone this week?” or ask everyone to share a personal achievement that has helped them personally keep going. This will help you build unity with your team and develop a more positive, empathetic relationship.

Provide bonus incentives to take on extra shifts.

There’s a lot of work to be done and often too few people to do it, so make it worth their while by offering a bonus for taking on more work than normal. You can also provide an option for them to earn overtime on a rotation so they can plan accordingly and still have opportunities for rest and a life balance.

Help relieve the stress of being in a high-risk environment by offering additional paid sick leave for a COVID-related absence.

The paid leave should be for the employee to quarantine at home and convalesce or care for an immediate family member who has the disease, and it should not take away from their accrued unused time off. Consult your HR advisor or attorney to find out whether paid sick leave is legally required in your jurisdiction.

Say “thank you.”

It may sound overly simple but just having the executive leadership go in and say thank you, shake hands, or even show up to a shift meeting can show the staff that their leadership cares about their hard work and recognizes the excellent care they are providing to their clients and patients. People in health care or associated service industries just want to know that they are making a difference, so share positive feedback from patients when you can. It matters.

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Denise Macik is the manager of strategic HR advisory services for G&A Partners, a leading professional employer organization that has been helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses for more than 25 years.

Maintaining employee engagement can be tough this time of year even pre-pandemic. Here are some tips and considerations from a local expert. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to keep your employees engaged during the holidays

Guest Column

When you combine standard holiday distractions with a year of prolonged and intensified stress, it can result in an exhausted team and real employee engagement (and productivity) problems for your business.

So, what can you do to minimize the impact of this year's holiday slump? It starts with understanding why employees tend to disengage during the holidays.

Reasons your employees are less engaged around the holidays

While employee engagement is something to be focused on throughout the year, the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time. Pre-pandemic, common distractions included holiday parties, upcoming travel plans, and the pressure to find the perfect gift.

This year, travel and large holiday gatherings will likely take a back seat to burnout, pressure to keep family safe, and a different kind of shopping stress (like factoring in delivery times), which could pull employees away from work commitments.

Plus, the business gets busier. While not every business is seasonal, the end of the year tends to be a busier time for many companies, especially for those whose fiscal year matches the calendar. For these companies, the arrival of the holiday season can be an abrupt reminder that they only have a few days left to accomplish the year's goals, meet their annual quotas, or close out requests they've been meaning to get to throughout the year.

We also have the arrival of flu season. When you combine cold and flu season with a very contagious coronavirus, you can be looking at sidelining even the most dedicated employee for days or even weeks. And, unlike vacations, employers have a much harder time planning for illness.

There's also the end of the school session. Working parents are looking forward to spending quality time with their family, and prior to time off from work, they may still need to make childcare arrangements during the workday, the cost of which can be burdensome at the holidays.

Ideas for boosting employee engagement around the holidays

Even though the holidays can compound workplace stress, there are effective strategies you can put in place to minimize the impact of any holiday-related slumps:

Planahead. The single most important thing employers can do to prepare for the holiday season is to plan ahead. If you haven't already, make sure you have all PTO requests in. Forecasting for a lighter staff or arranging additional coverage and adjusting timelines for projects during the holidays can help you meet year-end objectives without intensifying the strain on your already stressed team.

Be flexible and understanding. It's important to try to be as accommodating as you can (within reason). Between potential illnesses, family responsibilities, and added financial burdens, employees will appreciate a little more flexibility and understanding during the holidays. Allowing employees to adjust their schedules or even work overtime to complete projects can build morale and have a positive impact on your bottom line. If you can't accommodate employees' requests, communicate early, and keep an open dialogue to help them understand why. Loyal employees want the company to succeed as much as you do.

Encourage employees to stay healthy. We've all come to understand that more than ever this year. Keeping any wellness programs in place (online or otherwise) can make a big difference. To help keep your staff healthy, happy, and productive during the holidays, you can:

  • Host a flu-shot clinic or encourage employees to get one from their healthcare provider
  • Provide general tips and education about the importance of getting enough rest
  • Make sure common areas are cleaned thoroughly for those present in workplace facilities

Embrace the holiday spirit. While it may not be appropriate for every employer to focus on a specific holiday tradition, ignoring the holiday season isn't going to improve engagement. In fact, a little holiday cheer is exactly what most of us need this year. Even if your team is fully remote you can host intentional, inclusive activities to help employees decompress and encourage camaraderie and collaboration.

Show appreciation for your employees. A little extra employee appreciation or recognition is always needed and welcomed. Your team has worked through some very difficult times in 2020. Celebrate their successes with (if possible) an end-of-year bonus, a complimentary meal, a meaningful gift, or simply a kind email or handwritten note. The holiday season is a great opportunity to show your appreciation for all of your team's hard work. It can be a much-needed reset for what we all hope is a much-improved 2021.

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Susan Crowder, senior HR adviser at Houston-based G&A Partners.

What are the best companies to work for in Houston? Inc. magazine has released its list. Getty Images

Inc. named the​ best workplaces in U.S. — and 6 Houston companies landed on the list

workers loving work

These days, finding work is a full-time job for thousands of struggling Houstonians. Some of those people might want to check out six employers from Greater Houston that were just named among the country's best workplaces.

On May 5, Inc. magazine revealed the 395 employers in the U.S. that made its 2020 list of the best workplaces. In all, 30 employers in Texas ranked among the country's top workplaces.

To develop the ranking, Omaha, Nebraska-based Quantum Workplace surveyed employees from more than 3,000 companies in the U.S. on topics such as trust, management effectiveness, perks, and confidence in the future. Quantum based the final list on a composite score of survey results.

Houston employers that appear on the 2020 list are:

  • Alliantgroup, a tax consulting firm
  • AMBArchitects, an architecture firm that specializes in designing medical and corporate offices, stores, and building renovations.
  • EaglePipe, a distributor of pipes for industrial and municipal projects
  • G&APartners, an HR outsourcing company
  • Rekruiters, a staffing firm
  • TheBlackSheepAgency, a marketing, branding, and design firm

Here's a rundown of the other Texas companies that earned spots on Inc.'s list of the country's best workplaces.

Dallas

  • Dialexa, a provider of technology R&D and development
  • Embark, a financial consulting firm
  • January Digital, a digital marketing and consulting firm
  • Munck Wilson Mandala, a tech-focused law firm
  • OneDay, a provider of a video storytelling platform for senior living centers
  • OutMatch, a provider of a platform that helps employers hire, retain, and develop employees
  • Worldwide Express, a shipping company

Addison

  • Lone Star Analysis, a provider of analytics software

Fort Worth

  • Blue Jean Networks, an IT support and services company

Irving

  • 5, an energy advisory firm
  • JB Warranties, an insurance firm

Plano

  • LiquidAgents Healthcare, a staffing agency for nurses
  • The Vested Group, a consulting firm for users of NetSuite software
  • TRUth, an advertising and marketing agency

Austin

  • 9GaugePartners, a business management consulting firm
  • Abilitie, a provider of simulation-based learning tools
  • AlertMedia, a provider of emergency notification software
  • AllProHospitalityStaffing, a staffing service for hotels and caterers
  • OJOLabs, a maker of AI-powered software for homebuyers and home sellers
  • Personiv, an outsourcing company
  • Pushnami, a provider of digital marketing software
  • SourceDay, a maker of supply chain management software
  • TheZebra, an insurance comparison website

Round Rock-based Jacaruso Enterprises also showed up in the ranking. It offers sales training, technology, and consulting for hotels.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.

City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

hi, tech

A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

Texas has the 5th highest health care costs in the nation, Forbes says

dollar signs

A new Forbes Advisor study shedding light on Americans' top financial worries has revealed Texas has the fifth highest health care costs in the nation.

Forbes Advisor's annual report compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across nine different metrics to determine which states have the most and least expensive health care costs in 2024.

Factors include the average annual deductibles and premiums for employees using single and family coverage through employer-provided health insurances and the percentage of adults who chose not to see a health care provider due to costs within the last year, among others. Each state was ranked based on its score out of a total 100 possible points.

Texas was No. 5 with a score of 91.38 points. North Carolina was No. 1, followed in order by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

According to Forbes, out-of-state families considering a move to the Lone Star State should be aware of the state's troubling statistics when it comes to family health care. More specifically, nearly 15 percent of Texas children had families who struggled to pay for their medical bills in the past 12 months, the highest percentage in the nation.

Furthermore, Texans have the highest likelihood in the U.S. to skip seeing a doctor because of cost. The report showed 16 percent of Texas adults chose not to see a doctor in the past 12 months due to the cost of health care.

"Unexpected medical bills and the cost of health care services are the top two financial worries for Americans this year, according to a recent KFF health tracking poll," the report said. "These financial fears have real-world consequences. The high cost of healthcare is leading some Americans to make tough choices—often at the expense of their health."

In the category for the percentage of adults who reported 14 or more "mentally unhealthy" days out of a month, who could not seek health care services due to cost, Texas ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with 31.5 percent of adults experiencing these issues.

The report also highlighted the crystal clear inequality in the distribution of health care costs across the U.S.

"In some states, residents face much steeper health care expenses, including higher premiums and deductibles, which make them more likely to delay medical care due to costs," the report said.

For example, Texas' average annual premiums for both plus-one health insurance coverage ($4,626, according to the study) and family coverage ($7,051.33) through employer-provided policies was the No. 4-highest in the nation.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

The state with the most expensive health care costs is North Carolina, with a score of 100 points. 27 percent of adults in North Carolina reported struggling with their mental health who could not seek a doctor due to cost, and 11.3 percent of all adults in the state chose not to see a doctor within the last 12 months because of costs.

Hawaii (No. 50) is the state with the least expensive health care costs, according to Forbes. Hawaii had the lowest percentages of adults struggling with mental health (11.6 percent) and adults who chose not to see a doctor within the last year (5.7 percent). The average annual premium for employees in Hawaii using a family coverage plan through employer-provided health insurance is $5,373.67, and the average annual deductible for the same family coverage plan is $3,115.

The top 10 states with the most expensive health care are:

  • No. 1 – North Carolina
  • No. 2 – South Dakota
  • No. 3 – Nebraska
  • No. 4 – Florida
  • No. 5 – Texas
  • No. 6 – South Carolina
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – New Hampshire
  • No. 10 – Louisiana

The full report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.