Following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, workers and employers alike are experiencing cost savings and productivity benefits and realize the sense in continuing this work structure moving forward.
Research conducted by Keypoint Intelligence reveals that a majority of remote staff would like to continue the arrangement after the pandemic passes. A large majority feel their employers would be open to this.
Statistics about employers backs this belief. In a report titled “Navigating COVID-19: Returning to the Workplace,” SHRM shows that 68% of organizations said they probably or definitely will adopt broader or more flexible work-from-home policies for all workers.
But the new WFH arrangements also raise questions about expenses. Yes, workers may realize significant savings by not commuting, but they might bear new expenses. These could be one-time costs to set up a home office, such as getting the right office chair and desk to avoid working at their dining room table or on their living room couch. A computer monitor and other hardware and software might also be required to get their work done, or there might be ongoing costs, such as a robust online connection and telephone package.
More companies are realizing that, to perform well, remote workers might need the right home office equipment and furniture. For example, the Keypoint Intelligence research finds that “57% of new work-from-home individuals pay for their own ink or toner, either on an as-needed basis or as part of an auto-resupply plan.” Then, it points out that 71% would print out their work if their employer covered the costs.
To help their employees working from home have the right tools for their job, more and more companies are introducing different stipends to cover the costs, or developing cost savings and discount programs. Whether the company offers a one-time stipend upfront as a temporary measure to get WFH employees up and running, pays for ongoing expenses, or reimburses expenses up to a set limit, the stipend can cover things such as:
Cellphone or home phone
Home office rental
Of course, companies don’t only give remote workers stipends but use them for permanent and long-term in-house employees as well, to encourage productivity and instill loyalty. Some companies provide perks to employees, such as learning stipends, enabling them to pursue professional development or continuing education.
Benefits of Remote Work Stipends
At one time, a stipend was more narrowly defined as a “predetermined amount of money that’s paid to trainees, interns, and students to help offset expenses.” Common recipients were interns, apprentices, fellows, and students — people who were unable to get a regular salary for their services and received stipends instead. The predetermined amounts of money often came with other benefits, including room, board, and even higher education.
In a work-from-home context, stipends are often offered to workers to acquire the functionality they need to operate effectively, offsetting costs that would have been picked up by the company if they were still in-house. Some companies use stipends to provide remote working perks, such as wellness programs, to deserving employees for their hard work and serving as part of a retention strategy.
For example, Workflow provides their team members with $200 a month to spend on health and wellness items, ranging from gym memberships to workout gear to meditation apps.
Companies realize that the stipends they pay remote employees are covered by other related savings. For example, Tulip, a mobile retail platform, started giving its at-home workers a $500 stipend to improve their home office spaces.
Says Marco Osso, vice president of employment success at Tulip, “We looked at the cost savings from office maintenance, office snacks, and travel during this time, and we just repurposed it back towards this $500 stipend.”
He adds: “It wouldn’t be fair for us to say, ‘work from home and work from a sub-optimal environment.’ We want to make sure everybody is able to do their job effectively.”
Many other businesses are offering stipends to help their remote employees work effectively. Buffer, a software application company, has had a fully remote company since 2015. It pays its employees internet costs, gives them a $200-a-year technology stipend, plus a one-time payment of $500 to set up their offices. Workers also get a $200 per-month “Working Smarter” stipend for coffee shop purchases and an $850 annual stipend for continuous learning.
Basecamp, a project management platform, offers its almost fully remote company:
$200/month coworking space stipend
$100/month fitness allowance
$100/month massage allowance
$1,000/year continuing education allowance
$2,000/year matching charitable gifts stipend
Some of the benefits of remote work stipends reported by companies that offer them include:
Workers get what they want: Rather than receiving specific perks, remote workers spend the stipend in ways they see most fit, helping to make sure perks don’t go unused and to help save the company the burden of setting up specific programs.
Deepens connections with the company: The stipends help earn loyalty among remote employees, deepens relationships in the company, and helps align them with corporate culture and values.
More mindful spending: Because workers spend the money on what they need to work efficiently, they are more likely to spend it thoughtfully than just asking for perks for perks’ sake.
Acquiring and retaining talent: Stipends can help serve as a strong draw to get and keep the growing pool of strong talent attracted to WFH arrangements.
Many of the stipends and cost savings that companies offer remote and in-house workers are ongoing programs. However, the sudden demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted many companies to provide one-time or short-term help to set up home offices and get help adjusting to the new normal.
In March, e-commerce company Shopify announced it would offer new WFH employees a stipend of $1,000 to help ease the transition from the office to the home office. Employees can purchase items such as office chairs, desks, and lamps, and then claim the one-time remote allowance through their expenses.
Or job marketplace Indeed said it would reimburse employees for up to $500 for what they spent on standing desks, chairs, or lighting in their home offices.
Cost Savings and Discount Programs
Rather than providing employees stipends, some companies might make arrangements with suppliers to offer employees savings and discounts. These offers might include discounts for office supplies, electronics, and other items needed for remote work, either as a one-time purchase to set up a remote office or an ongoing program.
By purchasing home office and electronics supplies from a trusted vendor partner, companies can offer attractive discounts to their workers. There is usually no cost to sign up with a large retailer’s discount and rewards program.
In its listing of the “18 retailers with the best loyalty programs,” Business Insider quotes Beauty Kitchen founder Heather Marianna on the “holy grail” for business owners, the Office Depot® OfficeMax® Rewards program.
The program gives customers 2% back on their favorite supplies, furniture, technology and more. If you spend $500 a year, you qualify as a VIP and you'll get 5% back on ink and toner; case, ream and photo paper; printing, and shipping services. Marianna says “I'm constantly printing and having to restock on ink — and always cringing at how expensive the price of ink is — so this definitely helps. You'll also get free shipping on your purchases, which is gold when you're pressed for time and can't get to the store."
In some cases, companies may seek to get office supply discounts for employees through local chambers of commerce, where members have access to special savings programs. The Cincinnati Chamber, for example, gives its members up to 55% off a core list of 350 business supplies, plus free delivery for orders over $50.
There is a variety of employee discount and purchase programs that allow remote, temporary, and full-time workers to obtain products and services at a discount or purchase them through a payroll deduction program. These might include:
Merchant discounts: Manufacturers and service providers often give discounts for employees of large companies and association members. Discounts can cover home office supplies, electronics, mobile phone service, and much more.
Employee discount programs: Employers can either contract directly with vendors and merchants to obtain discounts and group rates for employees or can get the services of an online employee discount program platform.
Employee purchase programs: These provide employees an easy way to access products and services on an interest-free basis through payroll deduction. As a voluntary benefit, employers can offer it as a low- or no-cost addition to the employee benefits strategy.
Improving the Home Office
Whether the stipend is an amount used at the employee’s discretion or for a specific purchase, the companies that supply it want to help give the worker the means to improve work performance. For example, Marco Osso at Tulip reveals that getting the right office chair has been the No. 1 request from employees working from home.
That makes sense since a computer chair tailored to an individual’s needs provides ergonomic benefits, including lumbar support, adjustable height, tilt control, armrest options, choice of materials, and more to make working more comfortable.
The right work desk not only fits the layout of an office but can accommodate someone who wants to explore the benefits of a sit-stand desk, stay organized with the extra storage space of a hutch, or get one that is designed to accommodate all the parts of a computer workstation, which could include a sliding drawer for a keyboard, a raised monitor shelf with an optimal viewing angle, built-in USB ports, and much more.
Some jobs might be better performed with the right computer monitor. For example, designers might require an extra-large monitor with excellent color fidelity for their work or side-by-side monitors to have tools on one screen, which can be used and dragged back and forth with the work in progress on the other. Or they may need a monitor with different horizontal and vertical viewing angles to share work with a colleague or client.
Dell monitors can offer choices to handle all these needs plus others, including ones with technology that reduces eye fatigue during long hours of use or a widescreen ratio and fast response time good for watching videos.
Part of encouraging professional performance from remote employees is to help them set up a home office that is as professionally furnished and thought out as an office at work. For example, a person looking to contrast their brightly colored home office walls and patterned curtains with neutral-colored furnishings might consider a white desk chair or white desk to match their taste and decor, helping to create the right ambiance for them to do their work.
A Procurify survey of 600 at-home workers, done last April, found that the wish list of supplies that could make the most significant improvement to their home office included:
A sit/stand desk (18%)
An ergonomic chair (15.67%)
A new computer monitor (14.67%)
A printer (9.67%)
A laptop stand (9%)
A wireless keyboard and mouse (7%)
A Keurig coffee maker (6%)
A yoga mat and ball (4.67)%
A high-end water bottle (2%)
Personal Protection Equipment
With the coronavirus pandemic, there is a growing demand for PPE, in addition to social distancing practices, increased cleaning of facilities, and more. Companies may allow stipends to be used for the purchase of face masks, face shields and hand santizer as a means to help reduce the risk of exposure for employees.
Workers and companies can check with their favorite suppliers for savings and discounts offered on popular PPE products.
With the growing move to work-from-home arrangements, stipends can serve as a valuable way for employers to promote this type of work and give employees the means to do their jobs as efficiently as if they were operating in-house.
About the Author
Peter Giffen is a writer, editor, and creative project manager with more than 40 years of experience working for national publishers, major corporations, innovative start-ups, creative agencies, content companies, and SEO houses in Canada and the United States. He currently writes about technology, business, health and wellness, travel, project management, and more.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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