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Worth It? The REAL Costs (and Benefits) of Remote Working

August 12, 2020

“'Work from home' to cost Japanese companies $12.1bn, study finds”

“The Hidden Expense Of Working At Home”

“Working from home costs employees more in everyday expenses, survey says”

These are newly emerged articles that point to the most costly aspect of transitioning to remote working. Like with all transitional phases, the tangible and intangible costs can be hard to swallow. Remote work is alluring with its flexible schedules and immediate cost-savings, but doing it long-term can mean different things. Does that mean it’s not worth the investment?

To invest is to take a financial risk in hopes of achieving profit. People invest in stocks, bonds, and even designer bags from Louis Vuitton and Chanel, where their valuation spiked 83% in the last decade. So why not remote work?

In this article, we'll break down the benefits and costs of remote working in three main aspects (personal, financial, and social) to help you in deciding whether to adopt remote work for yourself and your team and also make the decision worth it for the long haul.

Benefits:

  • Flexibility

One of the main benefits of remote work is flexibility; flexibility with when you work and where you work. When asked about the biggest benefit seen in working remotely, the flexible schedule was the top choice for many. The second choice was the ability to work from anywhere, which is still within the same category of freedom of choice.

(Source: Buffer)

Not having to limit yourself in these aspects can suit you in your working style and preferences. It doesn’t mean solely working from home (though most do), it just means you can work from anywhere. This makes travelling plans and emergency events much easier to slot in.

  • Comfort

Comfort covers a wide range of aspects: physical comfort, mental comfort etc. Having control over your comfort should be a given, and remote working allows full autonomy. No more conforming office clothes, working while maintaining good appearance, feeling too cold or hot with unchangeable building thermostats etc. You are no longer troubled by minor office discomforts and distractions, hence, achieve greater productivity.


With an increase in quality of life for everyone else, your team as a whole can also lessen instances of teammates being grumpy or frustrated from commutes gone poorly or loud typing from someone next to you. That’s a win, right?

  • New and Enhanced Skillset

There are soft skills that can be learned/enhanced with remote work, such as written communication, collaboration, time management, focus and adaptability. Teams learn how to work together effectively with the increase of self-directed work. Trust needs to be built, and respect both ways can benefit future communications and projects too.

Remote work also calls for quick and critical thinking (such as with a sudden tech crisis), which allows employees to think on their feet and enhance their knowledge of using technological solutions.

Costs:

  • Uncertainty

It can be a difficult transition to make for inexperienced employees and management. Remote working reduces your control of regular work routines, instant face-to-face communication, and career outcomes. In a time already of uncertainty, remote working can promote further stress and internal havoc.

  • Safety Hazards

The office is a guaranteed safe place for you to work outside your home, with the right equipment to prevent sudden hazards. Most offices are equipped with high security, hence, less prone to robbery or invasion of privacy. Wi-fi is protected, files are encrypted, and valuable information is safely locked up in the office. With remote working, where everything exists online and at home, confidentiality may be at risk.

  • Transitional Difficulties

Transitions call for learning curves. More efforts are to be given when adjusting, especially right now, to a new set of skills and tasks. Time zones between teammates can be a struggle when trying to schedule a meeting, and it takes more personal effort for everyone to quickly adjust so business can be back to usual.

Benefits:

  • Reduces Fight for Housing (and Offices)

When there is no need to live close to your office downtown, you can finally move to less costly regions. Demand for housing in metropolitan areas will reduce when people spread out across the city, and rural areas can further benefit from having more residents. This frees up some space and problems within denser cities, as well as issues of pollution.

Without the strain of expensive housing in the middle of New York City or London, employees can benefit from having bigger homes for lower costs. You need a home anyway, while permanent offices are starting to become optional (depending on your industry).

(Source: Statista)

Hong Kong is one of the top 10 places to do business, but it's also at the top for least affordable housing. When you work remotely, you can still access markets from top business places like Hong Kong and Singapore, without actually being there.

As an employer, moving workspace expenses from fixed to variable costs can help you run your business with less of a headache. Without being tied to a physical office on a long-term lease, it’s way easier to downsize or upsize the company without being concerned about extra space in the office going unused and hard-earned money going to waste.

  • Saves Commuting Time and Money

Do you know the costs of commuting to and from work each year? Considering gas, insurance, time, and the cost to health and environment, let's just say it's a lot.

Average car commuting costs in a few popular cities. (Source: ShieldGeo)

Without even considering the costs in your time and well-being, commuting by car takes away almost 15% of your annual income in many major cities. Car insurance alone costs an average of USD 1,500 per year, not to mention the cost of parking and possible parking tickets. You also lose an extra 80 hours of your work year to commuting. Imagine all that extra time and money that you could invest elsewhere, like a nice celebratory dinner, a staycation...

Yes, coffee factors hugely in your financial costs, most likely more if you’re a Millennial. On average, a whopping USD 2,008 is spent on coffee per annum. However, costs vary from country to country.

Hong Kong (and Singapore) made the top 10 cut, once again. (Source: Statista)

Making coffee at home is way cheaper than getting coffees from mainstream chains, and the taste probably wouldn’t differ as much. If you live in the UK and drink two cups a day, you could save up to USD 100 a month by switching to homebrew. Yearly, that’s a new iPhone 11 we’re talking about.


Lunch and all the miscellaneous costs in looking "presentable" will be minimized too when things are more casual outside of the office. With just a Zoom shirt to wash and cheaper homemade lunches to make, there's a lot to be saved in both money and effort.

Costs:

  • Housing and Utilities

Though you will be optimizing your rent when staying at home, electricity bills are likely to soar with lights, air conditioner and heating. Other expenses may be on printers, computers, the internet etc. According to research that covered over 3,500 remote workers worldwide, 80% of remote workers worldwide pay for their internet.

(Source: Buffer)

At the office, everything tends to be fully equipped since it’s cheaper to provide for many in one location. When working remotely, and from home, you’ll probably pocket most bills. And you might need to invest more into higher internet speeds. But with the amount you’ll be saving from commuting and food, it’s simply a conversion of costs from one aspect to another.

  • Technological Purchases (Online and Offline)

Remote work requires all files and data to be accessible online, hence a need for cloud-based software. All necessary software should be provided no matter the company size as the tech stack is necessary for most business functions. Examples of that include web design software, CRM tools, etc.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are still popular in many companies, with 67% of employees using personal devices at work.

Most people probably have a functional laptop of some sort already, and a phone. So as an employer trying to save as much on costs as possible, it may not be a priority to provide all employees with free electronics. However, if there's a need for electronics on the high end for more specialized tasks, or if a personal electronic device just isn't cutting it, it would be worth compensating employees if they have to purchase new devices.

According to Oxford Economics survey, 89% of companies provide some mobile stipends for phone expenses. This is also, of course, a necessary cost for employers to handle, especially if a lot of business is conducted over the phone (i.e. a sales-heavy organization).

If the alternative is just not getting any work done at all, then technology-related investments are a must. 

  • Absence of Office Facilities

Not every household needs a printer when the main office has one. But when everyone is working remotely, many office facilities become inaccessible. Does that mean more costs of getting a printer, a desk, and ergonomic seating?

Could be, but a simple booking of a coworking space can also solve these problems more cost-effectively. As a lot of things usually done in-person have moved online in recent months, you don't always need these facilities all the time anymore. But when they're needed, coworking spaces provide you with short-term workspaces and meeting rooms and are designed for max productivity.

Coworking spaces like this provides 3D printers as well. (Source: MakerHive)

If being relegated to work-from-home starts to bring more trouble than productivity to yourself or your team, then it's worth investing in flexible space solutions on a more regular basis. In addition to the many benefits of remote working, these spaces are worth their cost for the networking opportunities, professional environment, and market testing opportunities they bring.

(BOOQED offers company-wide credits for discounts on coworking space bookings in Hong Kong and Singapore as well! Drop us a note at marketing@booqed.com to learn more.)

Benefits:

  • More Social Time

When you're working remotely and flexibly, you get to spend more time with your family and friends. For working parents, this benefit is extra helpful because you can take care of your children whilst bringing home the bread.

  • Prevents Diseases

This reason alone should be enough to make a case for remote working. Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook have already implemented remote work policies against the spread of COVID-19.

Remote workers can work at home, and anywhere, even if they feel under the weather. Especially in work cultures where there is a mandate for the whole company to report to the office, you'll have people showing up to the office when they're sick, which at this point in time, should be discouraged. Not only can you rest without guilt when working from home, but you can also take care of your loved ones while staying productive. 

Costs:

Collaboration and loneliness are the top two biggest struggles to remote work. (Source: Buffer)

  • Isolation & Loneliness

For those who live alone, or are naturally-inclined to be homebodies, working remotely can take a toll on your relationships and sanity. Many friendships are made with colleagues at the office, or around social interactions with them after work. Without avenues that easily facilitate these, there can be a significant decrease in quality of life. Social skills may decrease, and anxiety/depression may arise.


Thankfully, technology allows for video calls and instant messaging, which helps many to communicate and bond during times of social distancing. Even social events, classes for upskilling, and counselling, so if it makes a significant difference in employee wellness, then employers should help them in covering these costs.

  • Collaboration Issues

There can fewer indications of progress when everything exists digitally and "invisibly". Messages may be misinterpreted, it becomes harder to track tasks and productivity, and the issue with time zone remains. When there are fewer face-to-face meetings, it can be a struggle to build and maintain trust in each other.


The good news is that there are plenty of apps to help with collaborating remotely, such as the ones listed on our online tools article.

Related: Essential Online Tools to Help Your Remote Team Transition

The tangible and intangible costs listed can be easily dealt with if people took the right measures. Who said you can’t enjoy the best of both work lives? Remote work can exist, and so can office life. Coworking space is the solution for saving costs while maintaining these remote working benefits. (BOOQED is a superb platform to book coworking spaces with, by the way, *wink*).

In response to Japanese companies' estimated reported billion-dollar loss to WFH transitions, the shocking number is not all that defines the situation. Large firms like NTT and KDDI are pushing for remote work since the government urged companies to ensure at least 70% of their workforce is working remotely. While 12.1 billion USD is a lot, it is largely due to Japan’s insufficient digitalization and a high number of their employees in service industries. And they're not alone here. We can expect similar numbers in most other countries making this shift on macro-level too.

That’s because remote working is a long-term strategy that can protect livelihoods and ensures business continuity from unexpected changes in the environment. And while many of us will be starting from a blank slate, it’s a move that better started later than never?

Japan's bustling rush hour scene. (Source: World Financial Review)

On both a personal and professional level, it’s worth remembering this lesson from Keith Cameron Smith, author of “The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class”:

“The longer you can stretch your thinking into the future, the richer you will become.”

If transitioning to new ways of doing things helps with getting better business returns and personal empowerment for everyone involved, why not take the plunge?‍


So, is remote working worth it despite its costs? It’s obvious by now (yes, it is).