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Catherine Harris outside her home in Toronto, on April 28. Ms. Harris estimates she’ll spend about $500 on office-worthy attire in the next few weeks.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Canadians returning to the office are finding that trading the kitchen table or home studio for corporate quarters is squeezing not only their free time, but also their wallet.

For Kaman Sandhu, 27, a provincial public servant in Edmonton, the surprise cost was parking.

“My first week, I think I ended up paying $60 worth of parking just for the three days,” said Ms. Sandhu, who switched to a hybrid work model at the beginning of April.

“That’s a bit frustrating,” she said, recalling much lower parking rates in Calgary, where she lived until recently, before starting her current job.

But workers going back to the office aren’t just adding new or long-forgotten costs to their monthly budgets. They’re also finding that many of those expenses are much higher than they were before the pandemic.

To be sure, many Canadians who can’t perform their duties remotely have borne those costs all along. But for many of the roughly 30 per cent of workers who got used to labouring from the comfort of their homes, going back to the office is peeling back a layer of protection against the impact of inflation.

Take an office lunch, for example. In big cities across the country, buying a soup and sandwich now costs nearly $18 on average, up 24 per cent from about $14.50 in March, 2020, according to data from digital payments company Square. For a hamburger, you’re looking at $10.86, up 26 per cent from $8.61. And an average salad will cost you $12.63, up 25 per cent from $10.11.

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Similarly, for those who drive to work, commuting now means not just filling up more often, but spending a lot more on it. Data from GasBuddy, which tracks real-time retail gasoline prices, show the average across Canada was around $1.70 a litre in mid-April, up about 70 per cent from $1 or so a litre in early March, 2020, when many employers started sending office workers home at the onset of the pandemic.

And whether they come by car or public transit, some workers face a much longer and costlier commute.

Learning strategist Kate Bowers, 37, exchanged a $6.50 two-way streetcar ride for a $30 four-hour round trip on southern Ontario’s GO Transit system and the Toronto Transit Commission when she returned to the office for two days every other week.

Unable to afford a home in Toronto, Ms. Bowers and her husband, who have two young children, left their big-city rental last summer after buying a house in Hamilton where property prices are lower.

And while Ms. Bowers knew the move would raise her commuting costs, it brought some additional knock-on expenses. Because she must lug a heavy laptop to and from the office, Ms. Bowers says she can’t also carry a brown-bag lunch, which means she spends another $10 to $15 a day on food.

She said it’s lucky her husband has a flexible job that allows him to care for the kids without relying on before- and after-school programs.

But social-media posts reviewed by The Globe and Mail suggest that for many parents, checking in at the office means a longer workday that requires additional child-care arrangements and costs. Some families also anticipate needing extra help with household chores, because working outside of the home means it’s no longer possible, for example, to fold the laundry during lunch break.

Similarly, the return to the office means pet owners can no longer do such things as participate in a conference call while walking the dog, which means that, once again, they need a dog walker.

Some employers are trying to sweeten the pill with perks. In Toronto, for example, e-commerce ad software startup Perpetua introduced a $150 monthly transportation allowance for employees who are commuting in.

The company has also expanded its popular catered meals program and revamped its office snack offering, among other initiatives, says Margot Perlmutter, Perpetua’s head of people and workplace operations.

“We do try, when it’s safe to do so, to get as many people into the office as possible, because we’ve seen the value firsthand of what happens when organic conversations happen,” she said.

Still, there are also one-off expenses tied to seeing your colleagues in person rather than through the computer screen. If Zoom meetings required office attire only from the waist up, now you’ll also need bottoms.

In Toronto, Catherine Harris, a communications professional who started going to work downtown in late March, estimates she’ll spend about $500 on office-worthy attire in the next few weeks.

For Ms. Harris, 50, the expense will include a new pair of New Balance shoes for the six-kilometre daily walk back from her place of work. Ms. Harris picked up walking during the pandemic, and chronicles her strolls on Instagram under Walkswithcat. She has put in more than 5,000 kilometres since October, 2020. But now that her daily trek coincides with her commute home, she said she realized her well-worn runners would need an upgrade.

“I want to be healthy and stable in good walking shoes, but I also want to look the part as I go into the corporate set,” she said.

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