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Who should absorb home office costs?


If there’s been one bright spot in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the ability of employees to work from home. According to a new report by Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, employees love working from home, and 77% of respondents say that even after COVID-19 is over, they would be happier if they could continue working from home.

However, the report also reveals that only 20 to 25% of companies pay or share the cost of home office equipment, furniture, internet, etc. And employees believe that companies should be paying more.

“Before the pandemic, working from home was perceived as a privilege — something a person chose to do; but now they don’t have a choice,” says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “Understandably, employees don’t feel they should have to go ‘out of pocket’ to cover new costs.”

The report also reveals that many employees are saving money by working at home. “While most are saving somewhere between $2,500 and $4,000 a year, that savings doesn’t come in a lump sum they can spend on office furniture or technology.” (These savings are likely in transportation, clothing, and the cost of eating out.)

And there’s another factor that could explain why remote workers want help paying for their work-from-home necessities: the demographics of remote workers have changed. “Before the pandemic, it was mostly the older, more senior, higher-paid employees that were allowed to work from home,” Lister says. “Now, everyone’s doing it and those at the lower end of the wage scale are feeling the pinch.”

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Plus, workers aren’t the only people saving money as the result of a remote workforce. Companies are saving money on utilities, security and cleaning personnel, snacks and various paper products (including toilet paper and paper towels) and some renters have even discontinued their leases. “I think people see how much money their employers are likely to save by reducing their real estate costs and some might feel they deserve a share,” Lister says.

Adam Gordon is the co-founder of PTO Genius, an HR tech platform that helps companies increase employee satisfaction and engagement. “Organizations provide employees the right supplies at the office so they can be engaged, happy and productive.” And he says that shouldn’t be any different if employees are forced to work from home. “After all, how can you expect an employee to do their best if they don’t have a functional computer or they’re spending 8 hours in a chair that doesn’t provide back support?”

Gordon points to a survey by Procurify that reveals 32% of professionals said they’d never worked at home prior to COVID-19. Understandably, they wouldn’t already have the tools needed to do so effectively. “Working from your couch or perched uncomfortably at your kitchen table gets old fast,” he says. “You want to ensure employees are both comfortable and productive, so providing employees with necessary tools is critical now more than ever.” Plus, there’s another bonus to helping employees set up a home office. “An organization that contributes to these set up costs sets an example that shows they care for their employees’ well-being.”

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And Lister says that employers do feel that they should take responsibility for at least some of the home office costs. “Equipping people with necessary technology was a priority right out of the gate — without it, employees could not function.” But now, so many months into this new work arrangement — especially since there is no definite end in sight, she says they may need to increase their efforts. “Many, if not most, are realizing that an ergonomic chair and desk are important for employee health and productivity,” she says. “Working at the dining room table for eight or more hours a day is an invitation to repetitive stress and muscular skeletal injuries.”

According to research by Namely, 47% of employees say their monitors, laptops, and desks were being subsidized, and 41% felt that companies should also be paying for Wi-Fi. In addition, 11% thought ergonomic support was crucial.

“The issue of home-office reimbursements could become a legal problem if an employer doesn’t follow certain state and federal laws,” Gordon says. “In some states, including Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Montana, employers are legally required to reimburse their employees for certain business-related expenses that they pick up on the job, regardless of wage,” he explains. “Meanwhile, in every state, employers must reimburse minimum-wage workers for job-related expenses.”





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