Commentary: Why Employers Should Cover WFH Expenses
SINGAPORE: As of April 5, more employees were able to return to the office as workplaces shifted to a more flexible way of working.
Immediately after the announcement of the easing of restrictions, many expressed concern that it could herald a possible return to pre-COVID working arrangements.
However, public discourse, several surveys and employer actions since then have shown this to be less likely than previously thought.
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Many employers have reportedly continued to allow their employees to work remotely and others have introduced hybrid and flexible working arrangements that allow employees to work remotely for a certain number of days per week.
In a survey published in September 2020 by recruiter RGF International, among 95% of local employers who had set up flexible working arrangements, 61% said they intended to offer such devices even beyond the pandemic. .
According to a recent report from Deloitte, over a multi-year horizon, Singapore could have a potential remote workforce of up to 45% across all industries.
The reduction in real estate, travel and infrastructure costs are the main drivers of this phenomenon.
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In view of these savings, employers should begin to seriously channel funds to enable their employees to work effectively from home.
Several began to do so shortly after the establishment of Work-at-Home Arrangements (WFHs) around the world.
E-commerce company Shopify, which employs 5,000 people globally with the majority of its workforce in Canada, announced in March 2020 that its remote employees would receive US $ 1,000 to set up their new home office.
Twitter has provided its teleworkers with the same amount for this purpose in order to facilitate the transition.
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Since then, various other companies have also announced allowances for telephone and Internet bills.
Some Singaporean companies we work with have started to at least partially subsidize remote employee utility bills and intend to continue to do so.
ARE REFUNDS REALLY NECESSARY?
Some might argue that since those who work from home benefit from savings in terms of, for example, travel costs, employers should not have to reimburse other costs. While employees can channel cost savings in some areas to cost increases in others, is their rationale.
In addition, in June of last year, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore announced that workers who incurred WFH expenses last year can claim tax deductions on their employment income in the return of income this year.
This covers expenses such as electricity and telephone bills if they are not reimbursed by employers.
However, there are limits. For example, those who had already set up Wi-Fi routers before working from home will not be able to make a complaint. In addition, one-off costs such as installation or connection costs cannot be claimed, as they are “of a capital nature”.
A QUESTION OF PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE
Notwithstanding the tax deductions and cost savings for employees on other fronts, companies should seriously consider this not only as a matter of principle, but also for practical reasons.
If one is to argue that employees are already making savings in other areas and therefore do not need additional support from the employer, then the counter-argument could be that companies are squaring additional savings as well. thanks to remote work – in particular in the rental of offices, transport allowances. and other investments in staff well-being such as pantry supplies and meal vouchers.
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Businesses should channel these savings into other benefits currently relevant to employees, such as Wi-Fi and power allowances, so they have everything they need to be productive at home.
Additionally, such a gesture will help boost employee morale and send an important signal that bosses are sincere in making working from home comfortable, doable, and long-term.
Our survey of white-collar professionals shows that they are among the top five determinants of a positive employee experience.
As companies have addressed various other aspects of the employee experience, such as more frequent virtual check-ins to engender a sense of ownership and ensure a collaborative spirit while working remotely, it appears that allowances and reimbursements WFH expenses could contribute just as much. .
In turn, a positive employee experience has the potential to significantly contribute to the bottom line.
An IBM study based on data collected in 45 countries and territories in 2016 and 2017 showed that organizations that rank in the top 25% for employee experience report nearly three times the return on assets compared to bottom quartile organizations.
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These organizations also report double the return on sales compared to those in the bottom quartile.
SHOULD SUCH PROVISIONS BE IN LAW?
Last year, a Swiss high court ruled that companies must contribute part of their employees’ rent if they work from home. While we cannot go this route in Singapore, there are certainly areas that could be the subject of greater clarity, even through legislation.
The support employers should provide in the context of a post-COVID world is uncharted territory, so it’s no wonder employers and employees have questions and are pondering their options.
For example, the Singapore Parliament recently clarified that employees are eligible for workers’ compensation if they sustain injuries while working from home.
In public forums, some have suggested that other WFH provisions such as reimbursement for equipment and other work-related expenses should also be enshrined in law.
ADVANTAGES OF HUNTING TALENT
Whether they are or not, employers need to realize that this could benefit them in the long run.
In fact, whether an employer provides such allowances and reimbursements is one of the main questions that job applicants ask us when they are presented with employment opportunities that allow them to work from home.
This is not only a “good to have”, but an important consideration for them.
They regularly say that a company that has such benefits embedded in its HR policy appears to be more progressive and interested in the well-being of its employees.
Candidates would easily choose to work for such a company rather than one that does not provide such support.
You might think that in a crisis, workers would be less aware of who they choose to work for.
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But this is clearly not the case in many rapidly changing industries such as digital healthcare and communications and information technology, which are experiencing a talent shortage, where the best talent can afford to be. more insightful.
Especially in times of prolonged economic uncertainty, making reasonable adjustments to deliver relevant benefits to employees that serve to enhance their overall experience can boost talent attraction and retention to a significant degree for business results.
Jaime Lim is the CEO of PeopleSearch Group, an executive search and outplacement services company with operations in six cities, including Singapore.