Who should pay for at-home office expenses?
Now that I’m working from home, I’m using my personal computer instead of my work computer and I’m using my cell phone instead of my work phone. Whose responsibility is it to pay for the devices I’m using for work?
My first question would be: where is your work computer and why didn’t you bring it home like everyone else in the nation when they moved to virtual status? It’s hard to imagine a situation where an employer wouldn’t make a concerted effort to ensure your home productivity is maximized by providing you with a computer to ensure minimal disruption to your contribution.
I can’t fathom a situation where an employer would ask someone to use their own computer when they moved to a remote working situation, unless they were freelancing or functioning as a contractor. Beyond those two examples, laptops or PCs are nearly always provided to associates for use, even though they remain company property. It’s especially important not to use personal devices when security and privacy protections are issues every organization faces. Networks need to be secured and data protected!
Simply stated: if you’re a full-time employee that has been authorized to work remotely, and your role requires a computer, your employer should provide it.
On the other hand, mobile phones, printers, and office equipment already owned are typically not provided in these circumstances. Some level of reimbursement for phone usage, printer paper, and toner would be expected as employers were previously providing these resources prior to the change. In no situation should an employee be incurring out of pocket expenses by working from home, unless they previously agreed to some exceptions negotiated as a condition of ongoing employment.
I assume if someone is in a professional position that allows them to work virtually, they likely have internet access, which wouldn’t be eligible for reimbursement unless a bandwidth upgrade was necessary. Similarly, virtual employees are likely saving their employers some costs like travel expenses, mileage reimbursement, meal allowances, etc. so any reimbursement may well equalize themselves.
Every organization that now has associates working remotely will need to formulate policies that address equipment and supplies. Generally, I think if an associate already owns their own hardware that’s now being deployed for their employer’s use, they shouldn’t expect reimbursement unless the usage is extreme and requires a replacement.
For organizations still without a policy, I encourage them to gather a team of people― possibly including associates who represent different divisions― and talk through what seems reasonable. Gather a list of every situation, even if it seems extreme, as confusion abounds currently. One of my favorite guiding quotes in life is from Blaine Lee, author of The Power Principle, when he says: “nearly all, if not all conflict in life comes from mismatched or unfilled expectations.”
Clarity is paramount when it comes to lowering conflict and violated expectations. Ensure that as a leader, you take the time to explain any changes in policy or new requests you may have from your employees. Similarly, if you’re not the owner or leader and instead you’re the employee, you have the same responsibility to force clarity on topics that may seem vague, extreme, or violate your values.
But here’s the overarching principle: assume good intent. The overwhelming majority of organizations and leaders don’t conspire to screw their employees. They, like you, are hardworking, well-intended people who sometimes get it wrong. A little patience and a respectful and considerate challenge of a policy go a long way in building trustworthy relationships, which after all, is all that matters in work and in life.