When Winona So began working from home in mid-March, she retreated to the second floor of her loft apartment where she already had a small office space set up.
But it wasn’t long afterward that Ms. So, a senior graphic designer at the mobile retail platform Tulip, discovered the shortcomings of her home office. The wireless internet connection wasn’t quite strong enough to keep up with her work tasks. And her choice of chair, a rolling model from Ikea that wasn’t ergonomically built, left her feeling achy after a day’s work. “It’s definitely not meant to be sat in for a long period of time for multiple days in a row,” Ms. So says.
Thankfully, in late May, her employer announced a $500 work-from-home stipend that employees could use to improve their home office setups. Ms. So was one of the first of the company’s 130 employees to access the benefit, using funds to call an Uber to and from Tulip’s downtown Toronto office so she could retrieve her office chair. She also set up a wired internet connection to her office space and purchased a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones for online meetings.
Tulip is just one of several companies offering new benefits to staff working from home due to the pandemic. Shopify offered its workers $1,000 to purchase office supplies, furniture and equipment while Google employees also received $1,000 for setting up or enhancing a home office.
Marco Osso, VP of employment success at Tulip, says that the company was able to offer the work-from-home stipend without decreasing other employee benefits by assessing funds saved from remote working. “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,” Mr. Osso explains. “We provide quite a [few] employee perks in the office – things like lunches every Wednesday and snacks in addition to IT equipment, stationery, the usual things. So there are significant savings.”
Tulip has decided to keep its staff working remotely for the rest of 2020, which further reinforced their desire to support employees working at home. “It wouldn’t be fair for us to say, ‘work from home and work from a sub-optimal environment,’” Mr. Osso says. “We want to make sure everybody is able to do their job effectively.”
Mr. Osso says that office chairs have been the number-one request from employees so far. And he hasn’t had to turn down any stipend-use requests yet, although he expects to once more employees access the benefit. “Whatever they need to make their working space more comfortable and more functional, we’re pretty open to what they’re spending money on,” he says.
Jing Wang is an associate professor at York University’s School of Human Resource Management. Ms. Wang says that work-from-home stipends should be a priority for companies that have implemented remote working since the pandemic. “Employers are obligated to provide anything employees need to do their job,” explains Ms. Wang, who says that allocating funds for setting up home offices can positively impact businesses overall. “Ultimately, companies will benefit by providing employees with the office supplies to work at home so they can work more conveniently and productively.”
Ms. Wang also cites social exchange theory and how receiving benefits and supports from employers can help workers feel more committed to their company. A stipend for purchasing home office equipment is just one of the ways that employers can extend their support. “It shows that employers care about employees,” Ms. Wang says. “When they receive benefits, employees feel the need to reciprocate, they’ll feel more committed to their work and work harder.”
Ms. Wang says that smaller businesses may find it more of a financial challenge to offer a work-from-home stipend. She also supports workers asking their employers to provide a home office stipend. If companies aren’t able to make funds available for a stipend, they can still support their employees by lending out existing office equipment or facilitating delivery to employee’s homes. At Security Compass, a cybersecurity company based in Toronto, the HR team personally delivered office furniture to employees.
Another way that companies can help is by informing their staff about tax breaks that they now qualify for because of working from home. Employers can fill out and sign a T2200 form for staff that will be working from home for more than 50 per cent of the year. Then, staff can deduct a portion of work-related expenses from their taxable income like utilities, rent and office equipment. Think Research, a health care tech company, plans to sign off on T2200 forms for staff that qualify.
With her recent additions, Ms. So now feels that her home office is well-equipped. “I can definitely say from an employee perspective that we were really grateful and happy when the stipend was announced,” she says. “There’s definitely lots of murmurings now amongst the employees about what we can spend it on and different ideas everyone has about what to spend it on.”
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