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

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:

Plan ahead. 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
  • AMB Architects, an architecture firm that specializes in designing medical and corporate offices, stores, and building renovations.
  • Eagle Pipe, a distributor of pipes for industrial and municipal projects
  • G&A Partners, an HR outsourcing company
  • Rekruiters, a staffing firm
  • The Black Sheep Agency, 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

  • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm
  • Abilitie, a provider of simulation-based learning tools
  • AlertMedia, a provider of emergency notification software
  • AllPro Hospitality Staffing, a staffing service for hotels and caterers
  • OJO Labs, 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
  • The Zebra, 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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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.