When workers first decamped from their offices at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most thought they’d only be working from home for a few weeks. It would be inconvenient, sure, but since the majority of workers who need technology access to do their jobs have internet and a laptop at home, it wasn’t a big deal. As time wore on, though, the situation has become more challenging. Couches and kitchen tables no longer suffice as makeshift offices, but who is responsible for equipping remote workers?
Remote Work Standards
Under ordinary circumstances, businesses would have certain obligations to their workers in regards to what equipment they need to supply, which would be set out in their remote work agreement, and which depend on the tools needed to do the job. For example, while some companies equip their staff with what’s known as a “fully loaded” work set-up, including work phone, computer, printer, and other tools, others take a hands-off approach, preferring a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, or even just a quarterly or yearly stipend for office expenses. Any of these can work depending on the requirements of the job, and it’s up to you and your supervisor to use your discretion to determine what supplies are important.
Workers who are being encouraged to work remotely under ordinary circumstances may also have some leeway when it comes to negotiating their home office provisions. For example, since having the right office equipment can improve productivity, such workers may be able to negotiate for nicer home office furniture. Right now, workers don’t have as much leverage – they have to work from home – but there’s still some room to negotiate.
Given their own limitations, it’s no surprise that many businesses didn’t preemptively equip staff as they headed into this new world of all-remote work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have retroactive responsibilities to staff. In particular, some states, including California, have laws requiring employers to reimburse staff for their remote work expenses. This has discouraged some offices from opting for BYOD policies, but overall such reimbursement policies cover items that employees had to buy because they didn’t previously own them.
Is office furniture included under these reimbursement schemes? Given the importance of having appropriate furniture, such as a comfortable chair that doesn’t cause wrist or back strain, it’s certainly possible That’s why many workers are choosing to outfit their home offices with furniture from BTOD. After all, it’s become clear that they won’t be back in their typical offices for a while, so it’s important to set a functional work space. But while some workers can easily swallow this expense, now would be a good time for businesses to extend good will in the form of reimbursements, even if they aren’t required to, since workers are facing such difficult circumstances right now.
Don’t Forget The “Office”
While home office-related reimbursements tend to focus on equipment – and for good reason – such an approach leaves out something important: space. If an employee has a committed home office space, even if it’s just a cordoned off part of a room, then they can also be reimbursed for this home office area based on square footage, rental costs, and even utilities like electric and internet. And businesses get a boost from reimbursing these costs, too; the cost of reimbursement is ultimately tax deductible.
Setting up a great home office that will allow you to be productive in the long-term is an important part of dealing with the current pandemic, so workers who haven’t taken this step yet should begin to prepare. Given current patterns, even when offices reopen, many will do so in a hybrid fashion that leaves a lot of workers at home at least part time. This will provide a productivity boost, a division of time and space for work, and it’s something to bargain for – offices can afford to give a little to improve current working conditions.