If you’re working from home, here are some tips to stay productive and ensure your home office is optimized for working remotely.
Stephanie Silva didn’t have a proper home office set up before the coronavirus pandemic, so the transition to remote work from her Long Island, New York home over the past couple of months was “surprisingly expensive.”
During most of April, the HR assistant sat on the floor and worked from her personal laptop. But with the COVID-19 shutdown extending into May, she and her boyfriend invested in a more comfortable set up.
They ordered a desk from Wayfair, an office chair from Amazon, ink for the printer and other home office staples. In total, they spent more than $600.
“It all added up quickly,” Silva said. “I had no idea it would cost this much.”
Silva is far from the only person scrambling to piece together a home office in the stay-at-home era, and setting one up from scratch isn’t cheap.
In fact, most people (54%) didn’t have a remote work setup before the government moved to curb non-essential gatherings, according to a survey conducted by YouGov in partnership with USA TODAY and LinkedIn. Meanwhile, 74% of professionals age 18 to 74 said they’re now working from home.
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While remote work cuts down on the cost of commuting, home offices come with other sets of expenses.
People who are used to endlessly charging their laptops and other devices at the corporate office are now facing higher household electricity bills. Then, there’s the expense of office furniture and reliable Wi-Fi. You may even feel pushed to invest in a printer or extra monitors.
But do companies have to reimburse you for any of these?
“It’s tricky,” said Lara Shortz, a labor attorney at Michelman & Robinson. “But it largely depends on the state you live in.”
Several states such as California, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota have laws that require some sort of reimbursement for necessary work-related expenses. That means companies are more likely to cover the cost of hardware that you need to fulfill your job, like a computer or laptop, Shortz said.
Upgrades to your home internet typically wouldn’t qualify for reimbursement under state laws, Shortz added.
Nearly a third of those working from home (32%) have had their calls or video chats interrupted by Wi-Fi or technology challenges, the study with Linkedin and YouGov found. Some people are paying for more internet bandwidth to overcome these issues.
Johanna Appel, an elementary school teacher in Long Island, upgraded her home internet plan to accommodate an influx of Zoom calls with dozens of faculty members and students.
Her job provided her with a Chromebook laptop, though it wasn’t powerful enough, she said. She spent nearly $2,000 on a Dell HP desktop, a new set of headphones and a printer since the school closed its doors in mid-March.
“I had to do it for my sanity,” Appel said. “I think the money was worth being spent, but I don’t think I’ll get reimbursed at all.”
If you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct some of these expenses when you file your taxes. The IRS website says the home office deduction is available for both homeowners and renters.
Not everyone can afford a comfy work set up at home. Internet providers like AT&T and Comcast have offered incentives to ease the burden. And not everyone has space to fit a work desk. But experts have tips for using what you do have.
A quality pair of headphones is a simple way to help you focus on your tasks by reducing the noise you hear around you, according to Madeline Pratt, founder of the technology consulting agency Fearless in Training.
“With people having kids, dogs and partners at home, getting a really good headset situation is critical to be clear and focused on calls,” Pratt said.
You don’t necessarily need to buy a new desk in order to look professional on Zoom calls, said LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann. Just “avoid couches, beds and cozy chairs that put your posture in a more relaxed position,” Heitmann said.
These days, coworkers are understanding when it comes to occasional interruptions from kids or house pets. Still, finding a dedicated space to work that’s free from unnecessary distractions is essential.
“Try to find a place that is set apart from the rest of your family with a door,” Heitmann said. “And be sure to communicate with your family when you need some alone time.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.
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