When his client shifted to working remotely amidst the coronavirus lockdowns in March, Elliot Wilson advised that they cancel their office lease as soon as possible. “You save a ton of money without an office downtown and once you get used to working from home, you don’t want to go back,” said Wilson.
Wilson, a business consultant who helps technology startups become profitable, has himself worked remotely from his home in Toronto, Canada since 2015. “Before the pandemic, I would go in to give a presentation or something, but otherwise there’s no point,” he said. “I have a better coffee machine at home anyways.”
Working remotely, even just some of the time, employees can save an estimated $4,000 per year. But if employers don’t chip-in for home office setup costs, those savings might end up being a wash. Workers can expect to spend about $1,000 for essential items like a desk, ergonomic chair and computer monitor. There are also higher monthly costs to working at home though, for example a faster internet connection, higher electricity usage and caffeinated drinks – all bills their company used to pay.
Here’s what to expect from employers, how to negotiate for a productive workspace and why a coronavirus vaccine won’t end the work-from-home trend.
Companies, particularly in the technology industry, have committed to remote working arrangements even after the pandemic ends. Working from home can give employees a productivity boost – chatty coworkers, unless they’re family members, can’t interrupt like they would in an office – and saves companies the overhead of an office lease.
Workers have responded enthusiastically to telecommuting and a majority say, after the pandemic ends, they want to replace their commute with a zoom. According to a May study by Iometrics and Global Workplace Analytics, 76 percent of workers say they would like to continue working from home at least one day per week.
Twitter and Facebook have said that employees can continue working remotely as long as they wish. On Friday Microsoft joined in, announcing new guidelines for a “hybrid” workplace that will allow employees to work from home up to half the week.
Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that employers save an average of $11,000 for every employee that works remotely even part time. Lister says employees can also come out of the arrangement ahead financially, estimating up to $4,000 saved annually on commuting and food.
Office space is one of the largest overhead costs for companies and, for those struggling to trim their budget amidst pandemic-related shortfalls, the benefits of remote work are obvious. But it’s not a zero-sum equation – most companies are saving money on office space at the expense of their employees.
According to a recent Aon survey of 1,400 U.S. companies, only about 20 percent report paying for their employees to set up a home office. Twitter is providing employees with a $1,000 allowance to set up a home office space in addition to reimbursing their internet bills. Unfortunately, packages like Twitter’s are the exception.
Employees may be saving a few thousand dollars on their commute, but devoting a part of their home to an office carries a personal cost. “Is the family room or your bedroom off limits between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while your spouse is ‘at work,’” said Jessica Weaver, a wealth advisor at Foran Financial Group. “It may not be a financial cost cause you’re still paying the same in mortgage or rent, but you may be giving up some of your private living space,” said Weaver.
A home office isn’t a luxury when it comes to remote work – it’s a business expense.
Even the most generous large companies aren’t offering remote employees a raise to move to a larger home with a dedicated workspace. But if companies want their work from home experiment to be successful they’ll need to pass some of their cost savings down to employees. Don’t think of it like a raise, just an operating cost.
What equipment should employers provide?
At the very least, companies should cover the cost of good internet connection and a computer, whether through a reimbursement of a monthly allowance. But other basics, like a desk and an ergonomic chair, are just as important to creating a workspace where employees can put in long hours. A good rule of thumb is to consider the equipment that was provided in the office – if it was necessary there, it’s probably still necessary at home.
Understand the local laws around remote work and reimbursement.
Depending on the state, employers may be legally obligated to cover some work-related expenses. Section 2802 of the California Labor Code “liberally applies to many expenses that employees may be required to incur to perform their jobs, including vehicle expenses, travel expenses, and cell phone and internet plans,” said Josh Henderson, an employment and labor attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright. California has the most progressive laws on employee reimbursement, but other states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, have also enacted legislation to regulate the practice.