Make Work From Home work: how to repurpose your office budget

working from home

Before coronavirus made working from home the norm, the office was the heart of your company culture. It’s where teams would meet, work, collaborate and socialise. A few months into remote working, companies are starting to feel the absence of all these things that your office used to provide. And with a mass return to the office out of sight for a while, keeping your team motivated, happy, and working well together at home is a top priority for your business. 

Here’s our advice on using what was your office budget to create an awesome WFH experience and keep your culture thriving.    

Why did you invest so much in your office in the first place? 

An office budget can be as simple as covering the costs of (absolutely crucial) tea and coffee, or you can use it more strategically as a culture tool. Companies who want to be known as a great place to work use their office budget to promote team wellbeing, develop their community, and make their business an all-round great place to work. A vibrant office culture will help you hold on to the best talent, boost productivity and collaboration, and make your business somewhere everyone wants to work.  

This is why weekly team breakfasts, Friday beers, celebration drinks, in-office yoga, and events are so popular. So what happens now that everyone is working from home? 

Where are we without the office? 

Although 77% people who work from home report higher productivity, doing it in a pandemic isn’t quite the same thing. Since the coronavirus outbreak, it’s been found that a third of workers struggle with their work-life balance, 25% have experienced loneliness, and nearly half of all UK adults have experienced a high level of anxiety in this time. Parents in your team will be trying to homeschool their kids, others will be caring for older relatives, and younger members of your team may be trying to stay sane in house shares. 

Everyone’s individual needs are more varied than ever, and achieving the same focus, motivation and wellbeing as your team had in the office requires just as much input from you as before. Companies that were remote pre-pandemic such as Buffer, Hotjar, and Gitlab have worked to fill in the role the office plays, and since March companies everywhere have adapted in their own ways. Here are three powerful ways you can recreate your office culture from afar through personal allowances: 

How to make your office budget do the work (remotely)

For details on how to make your team’s work from home budget go even further with tax-efficient mechanisms, see the explainer at the end of this post 😉   

Recreate the office working conditions at home

Normally, the office is for work and home is for, well, everything else. Suddenly working full time from home has added strain to home wifi and home office set-up. Providing a working from home budget to upgrade everyone’s home offices will help everyone find the comfort they need to work at their best. If they’ve been working on the sofa or from the kitchen table/chair, you should probably invest in upgrading to an ergonomic office chair, or if their zoom calls are crashing because everyone they live with is also working from home, boosting the wifi will make their working life a lot easier. And if caffeine and sugar was the way to everyone’s heart before, it probably is now too - topping up on coffee and snacks at home will help keep everyone energised and, more importantly, feel cared for. 

Support your remote team’s health and wellness 

You used to provide yoga classes in the office or cover part of the gym subscription, but with the office out of bounds and gyms closed for the foreseeable, what do you do? A personal wellbeing budget can help. If they’re busy caring for family members every day, a 20-minute meditation from their Calm subscription can help them take valuable time for themselves. Or if going to the gym is normally how they keep their mood and health in check, working up a sweat with an at home workout app like Aaptiv can help. 

Give credit (and gifts) where it’s due 

When someone in your team has a work anniversary, a birthday or anything else that deserves celebrating, in the days of the office you might have given them a gift or stayed behind for drinks to mark the occasion. And with everyone at home, you can still celebrate all of these events - it’ll just look a bit different. Sending people thoughtful gifts to mark any of these special events, and getting them to post a picture on a social slack channel, will show them and your wider team that you still care, and it’ll give them a little boost too. In place of Friday beers, having weekly wind-down drinks on Zoom can also help keep everyone feeling connected and supported.

What about tax?

Benefits of giving your team a working from home budget are clear, but doing it in a tax-efficient way can be a bit confusing. Here are the key things you need to know to give your team the home comforts they need, and keep your bank account happy while you’re at it. 

In general, rules on whether any money provided to employees are exempt from income tax and National Insurance Contributions (NIC) vary depending on the nature of their expenses, and whether these were taken in “performance of their duties” 

Employers need to ensure any money provided is done in a certain way, or you could get a surprise bill from HMRC at the end of the year - never fun.

Home Office Equipment

  • If home office equipment belong to the company, then you can still claim back VAT and don’t have to pay income tax with each purchase
  • Due to the pandemic, even if employees retain the equipment, HMRC has confirmed no benefit in kind tax will arise 
  • Office equipment shouldn’t be processed using employee reimbursement because a taxable benefit usually arises with income tax and NIC due. While there is a temporary exemption in place due to Coronavirus, you don’t want to take any chance if you can avoid it. 

Work From Home Allowance

  • You can provide up to £6/week (£26/month if you’re paid monthly) completely tax free if your team is working from home. 
  • The employer doesn’t need to justify the expenditure, and the employee doesn’t need to hold on to all their receipts. 
  • If an employee is able to prove additional expenditures due to working from home (such as increased utilities), these can be itemized and a tax exemption could be claimed on these extra charges. 

This is where a benefits provider like Ben helps out. By paying for any of these wellbeing or office expenses through Ben, you save your business money, provide a better employee experience, and save yourself hours of admin in the process too. Get in touch if you’d like to try a demo!    

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