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Remote Worker Office Supplies: What Employers Typically Provide

By Jori Hamilton

Remote Worker

Image source: Unsplash

April 5 2021 - From recruiting and interviewing to background checks and onboarding, HR professionals know the hiring process like the back of their hands. But as remote work continues to flourish across industries, HR teams now must prepare to answer questions about more than salaries and benefits. For both job candidates and current employees, your company needs to have a policy on what remote worker office supplies are covered, and what’s not.

In a remote work setup, some expenses that businesses traditionally cover - such as furniture, technology, and utilities-are shifted onto team members. These expenses can demotivate employees. Figuring out what equipment to supply (or when to reimburse) can help you improve employee satisfaction and build a well-functioning digital workplace.

Here’s what you need to consider when building your office supply policy.

Research Legal Requirements

The United States doesn’t have a federal mandate regarding what office supplies you need to cover. As long as your employees are still making minimum wage-plus whatever overtime pay they’re entitled to-after business expenses, most companies aren’t legally required to provide reimbursement.

However, some states and cities may have their own guidelines about expenses. For example, places like California and Washington, D.C. require reimbursement for all necessary spending, so you must cover all the equipment your team members need to get their jobs done.

Do some research to determine if you’re legally obligated to provide any types of office supplies, as well as if you need to provide reimbursements within a specific time frame.

Identify the Necessities

Regardless of whether you’re obligated to or not, many remote teams do provide what’s needed for work. Minimally, this should include a desktop or laptop computer (and perhaps a mobile phone), but also consider the unique needs of each employee and their positions. A graphic designer, for example, may need a drawing tablet or a printer.

Some startups with smaller budgets may prefer a bring-your-own-device policy, but this can limit your applicant pool and lead to both efficiency and security issues on your team. For example, older devices may not be compatible with certain apps, which can hinder your ability to streamline a process. Hackers can more easily penetrate unprotected personal devices, too. Regardless of how you handle tech among your staff, one of the most important things you can do when managing your remote workers is create a clear policy around device usage.

On the flip side, providing a company computer allows you to pre-load it with all the necessary programs and anti-malware software, so team members can get started straight away (with the help of your IT team). And if a situation occurs in which employee discipline must be considered, you’ll be better equipped to revoke access or review online activity as needed.

Though utilities don’t generally need to be reimbursed, consider providing WiFi, too - perhaps in the form of a portable router. Beyond empowering team members to work from anywhere, this can also enhance your cybersecurity by ensuring your team isn’t jumping on public WiFi.

Make sure your remote work policy also notes when employees are entitled to equipment upgrades, too. Technology doesn’t last forever, after all.

Consider Providing a Complete Remote Work Setup

Some companies may choose to provide more than what’s required. These may include:

  • Computer accessories, like monitors and speakers
  • Additional gadgets, like Amazon Echos and tablets
  • General office supplies, like sticky notes and paper
  • Furniture, like a desk, filing cabinet, and ergonomic chair

Offering these remote worker office supplies can attract talented job seekers and help improve team morale and productivity.

Plus, when you provide ergonomic equipment, you can protect your company from rare, but costly workplace hazard penalties. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t expressly require you to provide furniture, but it does state that workers should be protected against ergonomic hazards.

Alternative: the Remote Work Stipend

An alternative to directly purchasing and shipping office equipment or constantly managing employee expense reports is providing a general stipend. After providing the essentials upon hire, you can simply offer a bulk payment that employees can use on anything that can help them stay productive or excel in their careers, such as:

  • A coworking space membership
  • Additional or upgraded office equipment
  • High-speed WiFi
  • Additional utilities usage
  • Admission to conferences or networking events
  • Coffee, food, and snacks

The customizability of a stipend can also help employees stay productive in remote work situations that are unique to them. For example, stay-at-home parents can purchase the equipment they need to work more flexibly while helping their children transition back to school or daycare. Returning to school routines, especially morning ones, will be difficult for all family members, and flexible schedules and proper equipment to support them will be key to re-establishing the habits. A stipend can even support mental health needs when employees face personal crises that can impact their work.

As a rule of thumb, provide at least $200 per month to cover average remote worker expenses.

If you choose to offer a stipend, make sure your policies still outline what employees must always have. This way, if their laptop malfunctions, they know they’re expected to spend the stipend on a repair or new device.

Some Contractor Reimbursement Can Be Beneficial

Companies generally aren’t required to reimburse contractors. Contractors are self-employed, which means they can write off business expenses when tax season rolls around.

Still, providing contractors with the necessities can be a big step in enhancing online security and attracting top talent to your company.

However, if you do choose to reimburse contractors, make sure you’ve fully vetted them first. Contractor screening is a step that many HR teams skip, leading to the very security vulnerabilities that you’re trying to avoid by providing devices.

Build a Productive, Well-Engaged Team

Remote worker office supply reimbursement is an increasingly important topic for HR teams to discuss. With more people working from home than ever, companies must make it clear to job candidates and employees what they’re willing to cover. Consider your team members’ unique needs, then decide whether you want to purchase equipment, reimburse employees, or offer a general stipend - and always put your policy in writing.

About the author

Jori Hamilton

Jori Hamilton is a freelance writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity, recruitment, HR, and marketing strategies. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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