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The truth about how much it actually costs us to work from home

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Lauren Geall
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A senior minister has suggested that civil servants who continue working from home should receive a pay cut, because not having to commute amounts to “a de facto pay rise”. But that’s not exactly true.

If you thought the coronavirus pandemic might have ridded society of its obsession with office-based working, think again. While some businesses are opting to adopt a flexible, hybrid working model as lockdown restrictions ease, others are forcing their employees to return to the office – or at least trying to.

One such example of this approach was seen earlier this week, when an unnamed Cabinet minister suggested that civil servants who work from home should be paid less than those who commute in, because not having to pay commuting costs means they’ve had “a de facto pay rise” since the pandemic hit.

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“If people aren’t going into work, they don’t deserve the terms and conditions they get if they are going into work,” they told The Daily Mail. “I think people who want to get on in life will go into the office because that’s how people are going to succeed.”

Not only are these comments based on the (wrong) assumption that people working from home aren’t doing as much or working as hard as their office-based counterparts, but they also fail to recognise that working from home comes with its own costs for employees.

It’s a fact that’s easy to forget when you’re checking your emails or logging on to your next Zoom call, but the electricity, wifi and other utilities you use while working from home are all extra costs you’re shouldering, unless you’ve claimed WFH tax relief or have been given an allowance from your employer. 

A woman working on a laptop
Working from home may mean additional costs.

Let’s take internet usage, for example. According to a poll of 2,000 adults conducted by NordVPN earlier this year, the average British adult spends the equivalent of 128 days of the year online – with 47 of those days being used for work purposes among those whose job involves using the internet. That means that more than a third (36.7%) of the average person’s internet usage is being used doing their job.

So, what does that mean in terms of costs? Well, according to analysis by Cable.co.uk, the average broadband package in the UK costs £26 a month, or £312 a year. If, as we’ve already discussed, over a third of that internet usage is spent doing work, then that means employees are using £9.36 of their own money per month to get their job done.

And internet isn’t the only additional cost employees working from home have to shoulder. From the cost of powering your laptop to the additional funds you’ll need to spend on heating in the winter (a figure estimated at over £100), there are plenty of additional costs associated with spending time out of the office.  And of course, that’s not forgetting the money many workers invested in new chairs, desks and stationery for their makeshift home office at the beginning of the pandemic.

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While some of these costs may already be included in your household bills (for example, if you’ve got an unlimited internet tariff), they’re still costs that your employer won’t have to shoulder – which makes the idea that home workers deserve a pay cut even more confusing.

At the end of the day, if you’re able to do your job well from home, it shouldn’t matter whether or not you’re in the office or not. The coronavirus pandemic has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the ways we live and work – let’s not hurry back to the old system at the first opportunity.  

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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