Switching from working in an office to working remotely is a little like ditching cable for streaming services: At first, you think you’re saving a lot of money each month, but over time, expenses start to creep up. Maybe you started with just a Netflix subscription, then decided to spring for Hulu’s live TV bundle, and now, with HBO Max in the mix, you’re somehow paying more than you ever were.
Similarly, working at home has no doubt brought immediate savings on commuting, parking, lunch, and dry cleaning. But the other side of the ledger includes some costs you might not have anticipated, like higher-speed internet packages for all your Zoom meetings, better headphones for video calls, a computer (if you didn’t already have one), or an external monitor to turn your personal laptop into a desktop suitable for office work. You might even have to start paying for coffee now that you’re making it at home, and that Peruvian light roast doesn’t come cheap.
Who Pays for All These Expenses?
You might expect your employer to pay for these new expenses. After all, they’re part of the cost of doing business, no different from the chair at your office or the paper clips. Indeed, states like California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, and South Dakota require companies to reimburse their remote employees for necessary expenses. And some forward-thinking companies, like social media management platform Buffer and project management software firm Basecamp, reimburse (or at least subsidize) their employees’ expenses, ranging from standing desks to food and drinks consumed while working at coffee shops.
“We have always covered coworking spaces in an effort to help everyone on the team work where they are happiest and most productive,” said Courtney Seiter, director of people at Buffer, in the company’s 2019 State of Remote Work report. “But we realized that coworking isn’t the right solution for everyone, so we expanded our coworking benefit to include coffee shop coworking.”
Nationally, though, it’s a different story. A recent Aon survey of 1,400 U.S.-based companies reported that just one in five are contributing to their employees’ home-office equipment. A separate survey by Mercer found that less than one-third of companies are reimbursing employees for their laptops, less than 15 percent are paying for ergonomic office furniture, and only about 10 percent are picking up the tab for their employees’ internet bills.
Paying for legitimate work expenses is in an employer’s best financial interest. Buffer’s extra $2,400 per employee annually for food-and-beverage costs at coffee shops might initially make a CFO’s eyes pop, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, that cost was likely more than offset by savings on office space, rent, and utilities. And when you consider that the average cost to hire an employee is more than $4,000, according to a 2016 SHRM study, any perks that keep employees happy and productive can help companies avoid the high costs of turnover. Think of these benefits as you would any other others that companies deploy to attract and retain employees.
Tips for Convincing Your Company to Cover Remote Work Expenses
- The first step is simply to ask.
Unless you live in a state where employers are required to reimburse you for remote work expenses, you might not get anything without making a formal request. Do it.
- Be specific in your request.
If you ask for a round amount or estimate, the answer will be no. Instead, when you ask your employer to pay all or part of your internet bill because you had to upgrade your bandwidth to handle videoconferencing and transfer of large files, show your manager your bill and the number of hours you’re using the internet for work tasks. Your chances of success will increase.
- Remind your employer of the money it’s saving during the pandemic.
For example, if your company downsized to smaller headquarters because of fewer people in the office, note that. And then remind your employer that you’ve taken on the costs of heating and cooling your home workspace during the day, and that you’d appreciate some reimbursement.
- Come prepared with evidence of how other companies pay for remote work expenses and how doing so has increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
For example, at The Pioneer Collective, a group of coworking spaces in the Seattle-Tacoma area, employers cover more than one-third of memberships. Employees who work out of these spaces often find themselves networking with colleagues from other companies, and that can lead to unexpected (and profitable) collaborations.
Thus far, employers haven’t rushed to cover remote work expenses. But the more you can convince your bosses that everybody wins when the company reimburses its employees for the tools they need to do their jobs, the more likely they are to pay for these costs of doing business.