Working from home has recently become the new normal, leaving office buildings empty and employees, at all levels, seeking out new ways to connect, collaborate and get their jobs done. Now, individuals who normally come into an office and use the resources there to conduct business may be using their own laptops, Internet, and carving out office space in their apartments and homes.
That’s a massive change, by anybody’s standards.
Since most organizations had to pivot so quickly to respond to state and local government work-from-home mandates, very few had a chance to think through how the change would impact their current expense policy. Will employees be reimbursed for broadband, Internet expense, or hotspots? What about office furniture, software updates, or the coffee and bottled water they used to get for free?
Although the answers will be different for every company, one thing is certain: creating and publishing a “Business Continuity/Work from Home” expense policy will reduce confusion for employees, their managers, and your finance staff during a time when everything is challenging enough already.
Here are some expense types, considerations, and tips to get you started on a remote employee expense policy:
New or expanded at-home spend categories
1. Internet, cellular plans, and utilities: Chances are, many of your employees have some sort of connectivity at home—be that broadband, cable or fiber optics, as well as a specific cellular plan with their carrier of choice. The plans and speeds they chose were based on availability, costs and family needs, not an eight-hour, work-from-home scenario.
- Will your organization reimburse a portion of the existing monthly plan?
- If that employee requires more bandwidth or a transition from a limited to an unlimited data plan, will you pay for that upgrade?
- If a plan change requires a semi-annual/annual commitment, will you continue to pay for the upgrade for the duration, even after those employees return to work?
- If the employee lives in a more remote area, or somewhere where Internet is spotty, unreliable or unavailable, will you supply or reimburse a cellular hot spot?
- An employee who is working from home will also use more electricity, gas, and water. Will your company pay a stipend or a percentage of this expense, as well?
2. Computer technology, peripherals and accessories: Working remotely requires the right mix of hardware and accessories—from laptops and printers to cameras, speakers, and headsets—in addition to those basic office supplies that, at the office, are a desk drawer away.
- Will you be supplying an “office in a box” or will employees be supplementing what they have with new purchases?
- What is the pre-approval process?
- Are you providing a spend allowance, or providing a standardized list of allowable purchases, brands and suppliers?
- What happens to the new purchases if, and when, employees return to their offices?
3. Office furniture: Some of your employees will already have a designated home office, while others will have to work from a bedroom, a barstool, or dining room table—a work environment that is not conducive to conducting business for weeks on end.
- Will you supply or reimburse the purchase of a desk, an office chair, a monitor stand or lamp?
- Will you provide a spend allowance or enable employees to order one kind of chair or one type of desk from a specific supplier?
- How will you accommodate different space accommodations (someone working from an efficiency apartment in Brooklyn versus someone working from a designated office in a four-bedroom home in Atlanta?)
4. Client and prospect gifts and entertainment: One of the biggest challenges for your salespeople and account managers is continually building relationships with customers and prospects at a time where face-to-face meetings are out of the question. So, they may want to get creative—have a virtual lunch meeting with an out-of-town customer, and have their favourite lunch delivered; send a pizza or toys to the customers’ kids, or dog biscuits for the pet they hear barking in the background.
Account managers may want to send all of their customers “quarantine survival kits,” or other small tokens to lift their customers’ spirits, add some levity and keep your company’s name top of mind.
It’s important to identify policy guidelines around these gift items, cost thresholds, regulatory issues, and any required pre-approvals upfront, so your employees stay connected to their customers, but also stay compliant during this unusual time.
Tips for implementing your work-from-home policy
Although, due to the rapid changes that go along with the pandemic, you may need to get an interim policy out quickly, do what you can to get buy-in from managers, approvers and the people who will have to communicate and enforce the policy before distribution.
- Form an ad hoc team of stakeholders and let them review and offer input into your policy.
- Find out if they’ve gotten questions on other types of expenses from their work-from-home employees that you may not have thought of and include policies on these.
- Communicate the new or updated policy clearly and regularly to managers and employees, so everyone is on board with the changes.
- Make it as easy as possible for employees to create and submit the expense reimbursement requests. Giving employees the opportunity to take pictures of the receipts and complete the request on their laptops or mobile devices will speed the process for them, simplify things for your approvers and make it easier for you to track these unexpected expenditures.
Finally, make sure you take a look at how this additional policy impacts any existing policies you have for staff who were remote workers long before COVID-19 remote worker situations began. Identify who these individuals are, and if you need to make any alterations to your existing policy going forward.
We live in unprecedented times. Take this as an opportunity to step back review the policies you have and adjust to position for what could be a very changed future. Today, you set the groundwork for the new world to come.
Learn more in our guide: Tips and Guidelines for Creating a Remote Employee Expense Policy