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Exploring the Future of Rewards with Senior Executives at TRV


WorldatWork’s annual Total Rewards Conference, like many in-person events across the globe, was forced to pivot and rebrand as the “Total Resilience Virtual Conference & Exhibition” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork, kicked off the event by leading a virtual panel with three total rewards leaders and, fittingly, they discussed the future of work and rewards.

When it came to remote work, Susan Brown, senior director of compensation at Siemens, Kumar Kymal, managing director, global head of compensation and benefits at The Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon, and Steve Pennacchio, senior vice president of total rewards at Pfizer Inc. all agreed it will play a more prominent role going forward.


Pennacchio said he expects some companies to do away with portions of their office space and convert other parts into meeting areas that employees utilize a couple times a week, working remotely the rest of the time.

Kymal, who noted that 95% of BNY Mellon’s 50,000 employees are currently working remotely, said he expects companies to segment their workforces when it comes to remote work.

“I think we need to look at roles and the need for collaboration within roles. There’s some roles that can work remotely and it’s OK for them to be remote all the time,” Kymal said. “There are many roles where you actually need to have some additional collaboration and that collaboration may be most effective to take place in a physical environment. It may not need to be every day, but likely for a portion of time.”

Brown echoed Kymal’s sentiment and added that she also anticipates new terminology around office work, such as “collaboration centers” or “joint project spaces.” Brown, who said 70% of Siemens is currently remote, said this forced reality of full-time telework has also created more empathy and understanding around the whole idea of working from home, which should serve businesses well as the model inevitably shifts toward more of it.

“It’s a lot warmer understanding now that we’re all in this,” Brown said. “I feel like that will change the mentality around virtual work as well, that you can be productive and effective even if there are things happening around your house.”

Brown thoughts on remote work budgets/pay changes here?

The Need for Video

Given that the working world appears poised to make a significant shift to remote work in the future, the present circumstances have allowed businesses to determine what works and what doesn’t. All three panelists agreed that video is necessary for a remote setup.

Kymal emphasized that humans have an innate need to interact with one another and without the ability to do so in-person, being able to see each other via video is crucial to optimize those interactions. Kymal noted, however, that leaders should determine when video chat is a necessity and allow their employees to determine whether to be on video when it’s nonessential.

“It’s about choosing when it’s really important and when it’s OK not to,” he said. “As a leader, you need to give permission for individuals not to feel like they need to be on video at all times, because that adds to the burnout of employees.”

Brown said video has been a critical component in the onboarding process for new-hires the past several months. To integrate new-hires onto a team, Siemens orchestrated a meet and greet with everyone on video and then had the new employees meet with a couple team members over video each day for the remainder of the week.

“The relationship builds with seeing each other,” Brown said. “Virtual is harder than in-person to build that from the beginning. If you’re an already existing team it’s easier, because the relationship is already there.”

Pennacchio said he’s had to get innovative to remain connected with his team, including organizing virtual walks and sending them chocolate.

“We’re going to have to get our culture in a different way, but we can solve the culture problem by looking at it differently,” he said.

Adapting the Rewards Structure

To close the session, panelists were asked to theorize how total rewards could change as a result of the pandemic. Pennacchio said having an effective recognition program is something that is not only critical during COVID-19, but something that will be imperative going forward.

“It isn’t about necessarily the money, but recognizing the people who have done the special efforts,” he said. “People want the sense that they’re appreciated and that their efforts are noted.”

Brown said as work becomes more remote, organizations will need to determine how that affects compensation. For instance, if an employee in the tech industry in Silicon Valley is suddenly allowed to work remotely full-time in a more affordable part of the country, does that change his or her compensation? In that same vein, Brown said she anticipates many organizations will re-evaluate the traditional merit increase structure. 

“I think the way talent is going to move in and out, we may see more of that gig workforce and I think that means we look at that big budget amount of dollars in the merit pool and maybe use it differently,” Brown said. “Most people (will also) look at their annual bonus to see if it’s doing the right things and driving the right behaviors. I’d focus on those two.”

Kymal looked at rewards in the abstract and said he believes the expectations of talent will shift because of the pandemic. Whereas compensation elements are generally more important in attracting and retaining talent, Kymal expects benefits and health care specifically to become more important due to people’s experiences with COVID-19.

In addition to that, Kymal said mental health and overall well-being will become more of a priority for leaders and organizations could rethink how they reward lower-waged workers who were deemed essential during the pandemic.

“We will continue getting more investment (in mental health and well-being) and it’s something companies that invested during the pandemic will continue leading with,” he said. “There’s also going to be a shift in the thinking of the criticality of lower-paid workers and potentially the conversation around living wage and doing the right thing for employees who have shown to have more risk.” 

About the Author

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Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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