The financial downside of remote: 75% of workers spent their own money to work from home

The average price employees paid out of pocket to set up a workspace during the pandemic was $572, a new survey revealed.

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Image: iStock/ismagilov

Nearly a year ago, 33% of Americans lost their jobs, a result of COVID-19's impact . Employers were either unable to support staff with a shuttered business or were deemed nonessential workers. Another 42% of the US labor force were quickly sent to work from home, in an attempt to manage the spread of the coronavirus. There was bound to be overlap between devices, and in all but rare circumstances, employees would likely pay for their own internet, etc.  A new report, "Building and Sharing a Home Office: Exploring How Remote Workers are Setting Themselves Up for Success at Home," sheds light on an unexpected phenomenon (the mass exodus off-premises and into working from home). 

Most telecommuters had no idea—and still don't—how long they would be working from home. Until the brick-and-mortar office has safety protocols installed until workers feel comfortable and fully confident going back into an on-premises location, as well as meeting whatever challenges that have surfaced, many will continue to work remotely, or at least work a hybrid schedule (part time at home, part time in the office). The study cited a Pew Research Center report in which more than half of employees want to continue working remotely, even after the pandemic "has passed."

Setting up a remote workspace at home

Many (75%) anticipated the long quarantine period, and-whether they wanted to establish boundaries within their home or they're self-aware enough to know they work best undisturbed-set up a designated remote workstation/home office. And they paid for the workspace themselves, to the tune of an average of $572.

"The data seems to showcase that employees want to ensure they have a comfortable setup at home and are willing to spend even as budgets continue to tighten," said Marc Mezzacca, the founder of the company that conducted the report. 

Likely, reflective of the financial investment, the highest percentage (49%) planned to keep their home workspace in the long term, 33% said they'd keep the area/space permanently, 15% said it was only short term, with 3% unsure.

Arrangements in homes were as follows: 48% have a dedicated office space and higher-level management was likely to have one; gender distribution shows 70% of men and 60% of women have a designated office. Respondents who have meetings (49%) are likely to have a designated office as well, compared with 37% who did not. Further,  27% designated shared space/common areas (i.e. family room, living room, kitchen), 19% temporary home office, and 7% temporary workspace in a shared workspace.

While that may seem a financial commitment, "the home office has become a long-term fixture for many families," the Building and Sharing report stated, adding that "families are making permanent changes to their homes to create space for working that meets all the demands (including technology) of their professional routines."

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Out-of-pocket costs

The most money spent was by those who had a dedicated office; 58% spent $500 or more on arranging their workspaces. Conversely, those working in temporary setups were the least likely to spend any money at all.

What is the employer's responsibility during this transaction, and what will it be if remote work becomes the norm? Employees differed in opinion, with some saying their employer provided sufficient support for  computer equipment for work (39%); software to support remote work (36%); home office equipment and furniture (22%), and financial support for the home office setup (18%).

The most worthwhile purchases

The top 10 most worthwhile home space purchases, based on a price range (each of these low-cost items were in the 90% range): Keyboard, internet upgrade, mouse, plants, VPN, decorations, desk accessories, notepad/notebook, room lighting, and music subscription. The following in the moderate-cost range scored percentages of 99% to 88%): sitting desk, office chair, computer, webcam, headphones, printer/scanner, microphone, wall paint, Bluetooth speakers, and standing desk.

Coworking from home

Nearly two in three (63%) of the working-from-home respondents said they were cohabitating with someone else who was also working from home, and 50% allocated space comparably, 33% shared the same space, and 17% reported an inequity, one person had a better workspace than the other. The reason for the unequal workspace was given as one person needs more quiet or needs it more or cares more about where to work or works more or has a higher priority career or needs more privacy and, lastly, makes more money.

The people sharing workspaces were revealed to be romantic partners (82%), roommates (26%), siblings (25%), and other family (20%). And there have been some positive aspects to sharing, with 73% saying sharing a remote workspace brought them closer to the person with whom they're sharing space, and 63% said sharing a remote workspace "was a positive experience overall."

Eighty-two percent cited performance as a positive impact with sharing spaces for remote work, 77% said productivity, and 73% said focus. Working habits in this situation meant taking calls in other rooms, having lunch together, working together in silence, leaving the room when the other person has a call, taking breaks together, working while wearing headphones, listening to music, and scheduling calls and meetings to accommodate.

The downsides of sharing were found to be passive distractions (hearing each other), interactive distractions (talking to each other), arguments, lack of space, annoyance, lack of privacy, disagreements, frustration, and resentments. 

Working from home gets a thumbs up

Overall, the vast majority of those surveyed didn't mind establishing a workspace at home and felt they did not overspend; 92% said they're satisfied with their home work area, and were also more rather than less satisfied with their effectiveness, engagement, focus, and productivity. In a typical week, respondents experience seven hours and 27 minutes of additional engagement at work and six hours and 42 minutes of additional productivity.

Mezzacca recommended that "it could be beneficial for employees and employers to come together and discuss needs that can be met to ensure maximum productivity and success."

Methodology: The report was conducted by the discount code provider CouponFollow, which surveyed 648 full-time remote employees, who ranged in age from 18 to 83, with the average age of 38;309 were female, 2,337 were male and two did not identify as either. To ensure accurate responses, they were required to identify and correctly respond to decoyed attention-check questions.

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...