Does working from home save you money or add to your expenses? The answer might not be as simple as you think. As usual with complicated questions, it may get answered in a court of law.
The LA Times recently ran an article on the increasing number of law suits against employers for money employees have spent out of pocket and not reimbursed. So are employees spoiled rotten? Are employers evil overlords who are squeezing their employees?
Fail to plan, plan to fail
There is certainly evidence of both things if you look hard enough. The real problem may stem from a much simpler source: Most organizations and employees didn’t plan on working from home for so long, or not returning to the office sooner. As a result, assumptions that got made in March of 2020 (remember we were all going to be back by Memorial day, right?) turned out not to be relevant two years later.
On the surface, employees should be saving money, right? Just in commuting costs alone, the average teleworker saves anywhere from $2000-4000 a year, and with the cost of gas going up, that number looks better and better all the time. Of course, some families also experience reduced childcare costs because one or both parents are home more often.
The hidden costs of working from home
That doesn’t mean people who work from home are making out like bandits. Good, work-quality internet access isn’t free. When you worked mostly in the office, all the necessary equipment such as printers, scanners, and desk phones, was on site. You might have had a work laptop and a home computer, and the work laptop was paid for and maintained by the employer. And, of course, it turns out you still sometimes need someone to watch the little ones so you can actually get your work done.
Many agreements that made sense at the time are now being reexamined as the lines between our work and personal lives get blurrier. Some of these are minor quibbles, but as Napoleon said, “If we want to prevent war, we must avoid the thousand little pinpricks that lead to war.”
Questions that need answers
- Does the company pay for high speed internet? Sure, people need it to work, but they’d probably have it for the family anyway, right?
- The company probably will pay for a dedicated laptop and the costs associated with it (software, antivirus and the like). But who pays when someone uses their own computer and it comes down with malware?
- Are people expected to use their personal devices like phones? They already have a phone plan, why should the company pay?
- Incidental costs like pens, paper, and copier toner add up. Not to mention you can’t just wander down to the supply closet like you did in the office. Now you have to go to the Office Supply store, and who pays for that? The feeling of getting “nickeled and dimed” can be a small irritant that becomes a big deal over time.
- The occasional purchase or expense might be “no big deal,” for one employee, but a huge burden on someone else depending on their financial status or other situation such as disabilities that make running to the store a challenge.
- Several years ago, these costs could be written off on taxes as “unreimbursed employee expenses.” Changes to the US Tax Code mean people can no longer deduct those costs from their taxes at the end of the year, which used to take some of the sting out of them.
Have you reexamined your work from home policy and the financial impact on your employees? If you’re an employee, have you said anything or waited until you’re so fed up you mention it during your exit interview?
Lawsuits don’t get filed when there is trust and compromise is the goal. The time to have these discussions is now, before lawyers get involved.
If you’re looking to prevent conflicts among your remote/hybrid team members, this learning series is a great place to start.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.