During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers across all industries had to make immediate shifts in work arrangements to protect the health of employees. This included requiring many, if not all, in-house staffers to start working from home. Even post-pandemic, many businesses and employees might elect to continue working remotely. As such, more employers are considering covering home office expenses for their remote workers.
But how should you go about covering the added expenses of remote working? Should you pay to set up workers’ home offices with appropriate equipment, technology and supplies? Or should you limit your funding to connectivity stipends? Here’s what to consider as you earmark funds for your remote workforce.
What Home Office Expenses Should You Consider Covering?
According to Remote.co, an organization that supports businesses with remote workforces, covering the cost of internet or phone service for employees working from home isn’t entirely unusual. They say employers might even foot the bill for these additional home office items:
- Hardware: Computer, keyboard, mouse, printer/copier, phone, second monitor.
- Software: Operating system, applications, antivirus protection.
- Furnishings: Desk, supportive chair, lighting.
- Supplies: Paper products, writing utensils, calculator.
When deciding what to cover, a good rule of thumb is to understand what each role requires to stay connected and productive.
Employees in client-facing roles might need premium Zoom accounts to conduct meetings as usual. They might also need work phones or tablets if they’re routinely traveling to client sites. All employees will likely benefit from laptop computers. If you do provide laptops, invest in cutting-edge machines—as budget allows—that are loaded with compatible operating systems to reduce tech errors. Also, have workers connect them to a secure VPN to preserve information privacy.
Home office furnishings can help remote employees in a number of ways, from reducing back pain to promoting focus on the tasks at hand. Nonetheless, deciding whether or not to cover these items can be tricky. One approach is only helping employees pay for a home office when remote work is a requirement rather than a perk. If you do extend this funding to everyone, take solace in knowing that many office furnishings can be purchased at a discount, rented or even borrowed.
Also, consider what the working relationship is. On your taxes, you can write off the costs of home office needs you cover for full-time workers. Contract workers and freelancers, on the other hand, will need to write off the home office expenses they pay for.
How Are Companies Helping Pay for Home Office and Co-Working Costs?
According to Forbes, Google reimbursed its employees up to $1,000 to cover home office supplies needed during the pandemic. Other companies, such as Shopify and Indeed, are offering generous stipends to cover the cost of setting up an ergonomic home office. Software company Buffer had a home office expense policy long before the pandemic, which paid for remote workers’ internet service plus a “$200 annual stipend for technology costs and a one-time payment of $500 to set up their home office,” reports CNBC.
While there are no federal laws requiring you to reimburse workers for their remote home office setups, the California Telecommuting Act requires employers in that state to repay remote workers for all work-related expenses, including their home offices and phone and internet service.
What if employees want to use co-working spaces? Most co-working spaces supply furnishings, internet service and a comfortable environment to get business done. They also usually have a shared conference room for taking meetings. This can be a great option for those who can’t get work done at home, either due to a lack of space or noise distractions from housemates or nearby businesses. However, working in any public space might put an employee at risk for contracting COVID-19. If you do pay for them to lease a co-working desk, emphasize this risk and remind them of safety best practices during the pandemic.
Why Your Bottom Line Needs to Remain Top of Mind
During this time, you must balance supporting your employees with doing what’s best for your organization. If yours is one of the many companies dealing with financial struggles right now, be upfront about this with your workforce when discussing home office reimbursement. Stress that while you might not be able to cover the cost of everything, you’re dedicated to landing on solutions that work for everyone.
By understanding your employees’ needs and your budget requirements, it’s possible to provide generous yet thrifty office reimbursements or monthly stipends for remote workers.
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