Remote working numbers were on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic. But during and since, they’ve skyrocketed.
This has led to conversations about who is responsible for providing things like broadband, heating, or office equipment.
Employees would expect these to be a standard part of what an employer provides in an office. So what happens if they are doing the same job but working from home?
One of the main debates is over something most people can’t work from home without. Whose responsibility is home broadband? Employer or employee?
The rise of home working
Working from home is no longer viewed as a fringe benefit only available to certain people. The overwhelming majority of people (some 99% in a recent survey) say they would like to have the option to work remotely, at least some of the time.
Employers are seeing the benefits too. A team that is less stressed and has a better work-life balance means a more productive and energetic team during working hours.
But the downside of working from home from the employee’s perspective is that it comes with certain costs. The internet bill is first and foremost among them because most people can’t work from home without it.
Who is legally responsible for home broadband?
Surprisingly, there’s no clear law governing who should be responsible for paying the cost of broadband for remote workers. Most laws simply lag too far behind the times.
What provisions individual employers choose to make is largely voluntary. According to YouGov, approximately 50% of the UK population (going up from 37% pre-pandemic) now works from home at least some of the time. Most of them get zero or very little support from their employers to do so.
Many employers have – to their credit – offered to pay some fair-sounding proportion of their remote workforce’s internet bill. It’s actually possible for employers to get some positive tax treatment for doing so (up to £6 per week per employee reimbursing internet costs).
The big questions relating to the support businesses provide remote workers usually revolve around:
- Private vs. professional use – almost every employee is already paying for private internet access at home. What then are the additional costs needed for work internet and what represents personal use?
- Level of home working – is someone working remotely every hour of every day they work? Or just a few hours or occasional days?
- Size of organisation – of course, smaller and growing organisations have less capability to pay the cost of home broadband and provide other support for remote workers even when they might wish to.
Examples of working from home support
Different organisations around the world currently provide a wide spectrum of levels of support for their remote working teams:
- “You buy it yourselves anyway” – somewhat ironically, the UK’s Care Quality Commission stopped covering home broadband for its 3000 predominantly home-working staff recently. The CQC argued that they didn’t need to pay for this anymore as most households did it anyway.
- Reasonable provisions – internet providers BT and Vodafone are, perhaps unsurprisingly, fairly sold on the whole remote working thing. They provide a range of work devices and laptops, one-off payments, and in the case of BT, free broadband to their remote workers.
- Talent-attracting – the flight booking website Skyscanner has attracted plaudits (and new talent) by regularly featuring highly on lists of employers who go the extra mile for remote working provisions.
Likely until the courts rule otherwise, most firms in the UK don’t and won’t go further than providing a work device and perhaps asking employees to answer a few questions to ensure basic health and safety concerns are covered (such as seating and desk space).
But while that’s the general state of play, it’s not the whole field. As companies like Skyscanner and the Swiss company that paid out of their own pockets for a fire escape to be fitted to an employee’s house for fire safety reasons show.
The benefits of providing broadband for remote workers
Remote working is on the rise. But employers in the UK are not currently legally required to cover any of the costs of allowing their teams to work from home. Research samples seem to show that around 80% of remote workers pay for their own internet connection with zero assistance.
However, for organisations, this means that the bar for going “above and beyond” in this area is currently at an all-time low.
There are also important productivity questions. Will your employee end up having to try to save money with a poor-quality connection? If you regularly need them to upload and download big files, that’s going to get annoying for you and them very quickly.
Whose responsibility is home broadband for remote workers? At time of writing, no one’s.
But those organisations able to add even small sweeteners to their remote working offering may be in a good position to attract the best talent and achieve full productivity for some time to come.
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