How to navigate working from home amid the cost of living crisis

After two years of living in lockdowns, many workers no longer want to be stuck in the office, 9-5, five days a week.

However, the looming energy crisis and increased costs of living may threaten our ability to work from the comfort of our own spaces.

This is reflected in recent data from Uswitch, which has found that remote workers use 75% more gas per day than those that head to the office, and 25% more electricity. 

As bills continue to rise, the financial implications of working from home are going to become more evident.

‘The impact of the cost of living crisis when you work from home will, of course, vary from person to person, depending, for example, on how far and how often you have to commute to the office and how often you WFH,’ says Victoria McLean, CEO and founder of career consultancy City CV.

‘If you’re working from home a lot or all the time, the majority of your costs will come from using your heating now that the weather is getting colder and general energy usage to boil the kettle, have the radio on in the background while you work, using a laptop, having the lights on, etc.’

So what can we do to optimise working from home to ensure it remains a viable working option?

Save on bills

‘Turn off unnecessary heating timers and manually turn them on when needed. Make a hot drink when you want one as opposed to when it hits a certain time in the day,’ advises Evie Mendes from Servers.

‘Developing a mindful mindset ensures that you act on needs rather than routine and, in turn, only spend money when it’s needed.

‘Most WFH appliances hold an energy-saving setting. Activating this mode on devices such as laptops and phones can save up to 10% over the course of the year. This equates to £250. 

‘As the days get shorter, energy-saving LED light bulbs are a must. Using the eco settings on dishwashers and boilers all contribute to passively saving money whilst working from home.’

Evie also says that when taking any breaks, avoid leaving all your appliances on. 

‘Instead, put them to sleep. Doing so will save you up to £3.30 per week,’ she adds.

Flexible working

Victoria suggests adding up the costs of working from home vs being in the office, including things like travel and childcare, so you ‘have a true picture of your personal circumstances’.

‘If it looks like it would be cheaper for you to switch to working in the office, even just a few more days a week, talk to your employer about the prospect of coming into the office more and establish a hybrid working pattern going forward,’ she adds.

Work four days a week

If it’s possible, employers could implement a four-day working week.

Not only has this already proved to make staff more productive, but it will also mean one less day workers have to pay for childcare.

‘Compressed hours have the same effect,’ says Ally Fekaiki, an employee wellbeing expert and founder of Juno.

Alternative office spaces

‘WFH isn’t always cost-effective given rising energy bills,’ Ally says. ‘Subscriptions to co-working spaces local to individuals offer an affordable, flexible solution.’

Better benefits

‘Rather than spend budgets on socials that home workers might not need or want, companies could contribute to workers’ utility bills, lunch costs, or provide access to financial advisors – whatever makes a more tangible difference to individuals right now,’ suggests Ally.

Support

Victoria suggests talking to your employers about additional support available if you have no other option than to work from home full-time.

‘There is already some help available from employers, although it won’t cover the exponential rise in energy bills,’ she explains.

‘Under existing legislation, your employer can already either pay you up to £6 per week to cover additional costs from working from home, or this can be deducted from your taxable income. 

‘It’s also worth noting that if you had to work from home during the pandemic and you haven’t applied for tax relief for this time, it can still be backdated.’

Ask for a pay rise

Employers should be paying wages that meet the cost of living increases, explains Victoria.

‘When asking for a pay rise, you will often need to provide valid reasoning, such as your overall performance and achievements throughout the year,’ adds Tom Bourlet, a Marketing Manager for fizzbox.

‘But another reason that can be provided is the basic needs to be met, to ensure your bills are covered during the cost of living crisis. This could impact their decision and help to instigate them into increasing your pay.’

Mental health

Working from home is clearly very important for many employees’ mental health.

‘As the cost-of-living crisis continues, employees are facing increasing financial pressures,’ says Paula Allen, a global leader and senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks. ‘In turn, taking a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.

‘Energy, public transport, petrol and food is the highest it’s ever been in 13 years and while the obvious solution to ease financial worries would be to offer pay settlements in line with rising inflation rates, for many employers this is not possible and fails to address the root of mental health concerns for employees.’

Paula suggests that employers should consider support packages in this period, such as financial wellbeing support, including educating employees on these rising costs or providing perks such as discounted food schemes.

Lifestyle benefits like gym memberships and health insurance can also help protect employee mental health, she explains.

‘By promoting flexible working opportunities, employees can cut on commuting costs,’ Paula adds. 

‘In fact, in our recent Mental Health Index, we found that 31% of Britons report that flexibility is the most important action taken by their employer to support their mental health.

‘The best thing is to make sure that mental health and wellbeing are supported before the economic uncertainty or any other crisis. 

‘This means having mental health support and services in place and accessible, communicating these services, and providing the education that addresses stigma. 

‘For workplaces, it also means training managers on mental health in the workplace and their role in supporting it.

‘Managers should not be mental health counsellors for their employees, but they do have a role in a psychologically safe workplace and in stepping in when their employees need support.’

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