While recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor statistics shows the number of employees working from home decreased in October, according to a recent survey, going forward nearly 25% of organizations expect 75% or more of their workforces to work remotely three or more days per week. Only 5% of companies report that they expect to return to onsite work when the pandemic is over and nearly half say they’re permanently shifting to remote formats. With these changes, 61% of companies say they now feel they should absorb the cost for home-office upgrades.
“At the start of the pandemic, nobody really had a plan or policy regarding home office expenses,” says Matthew Lieb, owner and CEO of Design Public Group, one of the companies behind the survey. “Many reacted quickly by letting employees take their office set-ups home or offering stipends via paychecks without much oversight into how or where they’re spent.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, in October 21.2% of employees teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now employers have begun to think about the implications for sitting in chairs and at desks with improper ergonomics, Lieb says, including how those cases could turn into workers comp and health insurance liabilities.
“What we’re seeing now is a realization among employers that it’s in their best interest to ensure employees have a setup that’s designed with employee health, safety and productivity in mind,” he adds.
An employer could pay for over 350 ergonomic office chairs for the cost of one compensation claim, adds Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “Before COVID-19, employees who worked from home generally saw it as a privilege and didn’t expect their employer to cover their home office expenses,” she says. “The survey shows that sentiment has shifted during the pandemic.”
The survey, conducted by Global Workplace Analytics and Design Public Group, now shows that over 80% of employers believe they should pick up the tab for home offices, which, according to Lister, represents a dramatic increase from pre-COVID-19. According to her company’s findings, 61% of companies agree that organizations should be responsible for absorbing the cost for work-from-home setups even when employees work from home just three days per week. For those that work from home one day per week, 23% of respondents say those costs should be covered—including for home office technology, furniture, utilities and more.
“I think three factors are at play here,” Lister says. “First, working from home is no longer a matter of choice. Second, it’s one thing to sit in an uncomfortable chair or work with just one monitor when you are used to having two when you’re doing it one or two days a week. It’s another thing altogether when you’re doing it every day for months on end.”
She also says that the demographics for those working from home have shifted to include employees who might be unable or unwilling to cover the costs for upgrades. Prior to the pandemic, home-based workers were mostly high-income, she says, but a recent study conducted by the research firm Morning Consult for the National Association of Home Builders shows a wider spread these days. Among the 17,000 adults surveyed, Generation Z made up 12%, while Millennials and Generation X each held 26%, and Baby Boomers 33%. Regarding education, 31% of respondents had a bachelor’s or graduate degree, while 69% had less formal education. When it comes to income, results show 55% of respondents earned under $50,000, while 30% earned between $50,000 and $100,000, and 16% had income over $100,000. Among all those surveyed, around a third say they’re working from home—61% of whom say they expect to do so on a part- or full-time basis even after a vaccine is distributed.
Meanwhile, according to the survey conducted by Lister’s firm, most employers have already provided employees working from home with such things as laptops (92%), webcams (68%) and additional monitor displays (54%). Now, 41% say they may go as far as providing chairs and 31% are considering desks.