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The Hidden Cost of Working From Home, and Why Your Work Benefits Must Change

It's time to swap commuter benefits for home energy bills

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Five months have gone by and still millions of American workers are doing their jobs from home as a result of the pandemic. Even as states open up, it’s clear that this new reality will stick around. Companies like Facebook and Twitter among others have announced that working from home will continue indefinitely. While there are many benefits of working from home, such as wearing sweatpants, having location independence, and spending more time with our families, as months go by costs are accruing for all of us. In fact, according to CreditCards.com most of us  are already spending on average $108 more a month on expenses while working remotely. 

Changes to benefit packages and other company perks are slowly being put in place to make the transition for remote employees more comfortable. Workplaces have introduced stipends of up to $1,000 for equipment, promo codes to use food delivery apps as an alternative to catered lunches, and access to meditation platforms and other wellness services as office gyms are closed. Still, there is a huge opportunity in our new normal for companies to look beyond traditional perks like food and fitness and look to one of the biggest new burdens employees have had to take on in recent months of staying put, home energy. 

Since working from home, energy usage has skyrocketed, and has become one of the biggest new hidden factors of being a remote employee. This increased energy burden on individuals is not likely to shift any time soon with companies deciding to work from home permanently or long-term. Remaining home all the time with the lights on, endlessly charging and plugging into laptops, monitors, and other devices for 8 hours or more a day has put a strain on workers pockets. Critically, it is also putting a strain on the power grid and increasing each of our individual carbon footprints. As we use our residences in new ways, it’s crucial for workplaces to adapt employee benefits to our new normal.

For full-time remote employees, your air conditioning or heat, depending on the season, will be in use all or most of the day. Recent data pulled across the country shows a 10-15% increase in home electricity use is expected this summer as we consume more energy at home. While there are ways to lower your monthly electric bill while being inside all day; unplugging devices altogether, taking advantage of natural light, using LED light bulbs, and other energy-efficient devices, now is a time for workplaces to step in and help. 

Supporting employees in their new normal doesn’t have to require additional spend, it just requires a shift in thinking. For example, with one third of Americans currently working from home, commuting to and from the office has gone down significantly. As fewer people drive or take public transportation to work, companies can reallocate commuter benefits and start to look at how to subsidize utility bills as a new form of employee benefit that connects their workforce to cleaner, cheaper home energy. This is both an opportunity for companies who are committed to emissions goals and sustainability reporting to get creative with their approach to offset emissions, and an opportunity to empower employees.

It’s never been a more important time to develop benefits programs that are adapting with the current climate, and are good for the planet. Offsetting your home energy is easier, less expensive and more impactful for your employer than equipping physical workspaces with efficient lighting or fully compostable utensils. It’s time for companies to take your home electricity use as seriously as they used to take carbon offsets for corporate travel or transportation benefits. The workplaces that do will be the corporate sustainability leaders of tomorrow. 

Alexa Minerva is the Senior Director of Partnerships at Arcadia, a clean technology company and the nation’s largest residential community solar manager.To get in contact please reach out to [email protected]

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