Corporate Overlords Try to Scare Us Back Into the Office With Figures on How Much WFH is Costing You

a neat work from home setup

As we watch gas prices tick higher and higher, commercial lessors and middle managers everywhere are anxious to get people back in chairs. Their chairs. Gross, old, shared-space, contains-the-farts-of-coworkers-past chairs. Nothing at all like the luxurious gaming chair your firm WFH stipend covered, though let’s be honest that one is harboring some ghost farts too.

There is no question that remote workers are saving on gas. According to AAA, the U.S. average for a gallon is creeping dangerously close to $5 with Georgia coming in lowest at $4.33 and California taking top spot at $6.37.

Everything costs more. And it will cost more tomorrow. We know this. But a recent Fortune article asks are we really saving money by working at home?

Despite many companies setting April return-to-office deadlines, for the past month, U.S. office occupancy has held steady at roughly 43%, according to Kastle’s Back to Work Barometer that takes into account rates in 10 major cities. Many employees are pushing back against heading into the office not because of rising COVID caseloads, but arguing that their commutes are too expensive. In fact, a recent report from Deloitte found nearly 40% of millennials and a third of Gen Zers report that remote work has helped them save money.

But is working from home really a savings game-changer for most workers?

The article goes on to say electricity costs in April were up 11% year over year according to the BLS Consumer Price Index and reminds us that it’s almost summer which means cranking the A/C for most of the country (duh). There’s a bit of good news though, forecasts anticipate milder temps for many parts of the U.S. this summer, residential customers are expected to use 2.9% less electricity than they did last summer. SUCK IT, climate activists. In total, Americans spent an average of $23 more on monthly electric and gas bills for the first four months of 2022 than we did in 2019. So what, that’s like a single avocado toast? Not bad.

The article also mentions internet. Did you know you have to pay for internet when you work from home? Internet that you were already paying for and that doesn’t charge you by the hour like AOL circa 1996? Well they want to remind you that you’re paying for internet anyway. Which you wouldn’t have to do if you made the long slog through traffic hell to show up at the office because there is internet you don’t pay for there:

Internet costs can also be factored into WFH expenses. On average, Americans spent about $120 a month on their Internet and cable bills in 2022 so far, according to Doxo’s data, about on par with what U.S. households spent pre-pandemic. That can vary as some workers opted to upgrade their internet connection during the pandemic—making that monthly cost continually higher too.

They do have a minor point about upgraded internet. Presumably most of you did that a whole two years ago when everyone first went WFH if you needed to.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, accounting firms — notoriously averse to remote work unless the client site counts as remote — rolled out various WFH stipends ranging from free monitors bummed from the firm to up to $500 to buy your own equipment (read: gaming chairs). Missing from the short list of Big 4 WFH perks are meal reimbursements, still a sore point for those who enjoyed firm-provided takeout in exchange for wasting their lives working late into the night. KPMG covered the issue in a report on telecommuting compensation [PDF] that’s an interesting historical read as it was published in March 2020 and written with hurried “we have no idea wtf is about to happen” language. So there are some perks to working from home, with some offices being more generous than others from what we’ve heard.

Far more important than $23 in electricity costs and renting a better router from your greedy internet provider though is the TIME one spends commuting. You don’t get paid for it but boy does it cost you, and not solely in wear, tear, and gas (that’s ‘tear’ as in /ter/ not ‘tear’ as in the wet kind that come from your eyes but those too, I suppose). Those of you who spent countless hours a week in the Office Space opening scene prior to March 2020 know what I mean.

via GIPHY

For some of us, not having to suffer with twice daily commute traffic is worth it no matter how the math works out. Even if internet cost $2.99 an hour it would be worth it. Even if you cranked the A/C and kept all your lights on 24/7 and never ate another free catered meal in your life it would be worth it. Mentally anyway. And for a group of people perpetually on the brink of burnout, every little bit of relief from rage-inducing scenarios is worth it.

The real cost of remote work versus the office isn’t a strictly mathematical one and in fairness to the Fortune article linked above they acknowledge as much. As firms start to gently encourage return to office their staff are going to have to consider the entire equation, not just the financial one. It’s a hard sell to convince people to trade cheaper electric bills for the commutes we left behind in 2020.

Guarantee you can continue to work remotely from your gaming chair with a fully remote, progressive firm! Accountingfly has you covered with many open fully remote accounting jobs. Just drop your resume and let someone else figure out the best remote opportunity for you based on your professional experience and your aversion to commercially leased buildings.

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12 Comments

  1. Do they think people who go to the office don’t run air conditioning or heating at home during the day, and come home to mold-infested saunas during the summer and frozen pipes during the winter?

    1. Right, they know they have no leg to stand on, so they’re just paying their bought media outlets and just flat out misinforming now…

    2. Yes. Most thermostats have a scheduling feature. You better believe that pre pandemic if my partner and I were at work our HVAC system was idling at a different temp than had we been home. An hour before the earliest person was scheduled to arrive it would bring the house back to our preferred settings. This actually isn’t as unusual as you make it sound. I’m surprised you’re completely unaware of it.

  2. I thought the same thing when I read that article! Working from home, my only cost increase is the electricity for my computer and monitor. (I didn’t need to upgrade my Internet, and we had to keep the a/c or heat on whether home or not so that pets didn’t freeze or bake.) I still spend use less electricity than 90% of my neighbors, per our electric utility.

    But the commute took 3 hours a day and cost $15 per day in tolls and gas (when. $3 per gallon). That’s three hours to relax and $15 saved every day I work from home.

    The fuzzy math of the corporate overlords can’t make WFH suck, despite their lamest attempts.

  3. Yeah, what a horrible take on the person who wrote that article. Not factoring in eating out with coworkers, car maintenance for putting on so many more miles, and so much more.

  4. Yeah I read that article. I thought it was pretty obvious someone paid a writer working from home to have a hot take on why it wasn’t beneficial to WFH, and they still didn’t try very hard to make it convincing, because people who WFH are lazy probably.

    That was snark.

    The truth is, me and my wife work remotely. My internet plan didn’t change at all, I always opt for the highest bandwidth plan and unlimited data. My energy bills did increase, but not by so much it offsets $90 a week in current gas prices for two cars going to and from two separate workplaces 5 to 6 days a week. $90 per week per car that is. Plus about $20 a day each for each day we don’t pack a lunch, which is about 3 days a week because you don’t always have time to because you have to leave early for your commute.

    Let’s not forget to factor in higher car insurance costs, and the fact that if you don’t have a newer car with new car replacement coverage if you get in an accident during your commute and your car is totaled your insurance company won’t pay what it costs to buy a like and kind replacement for the car because car prices are way up, and insurance companies refuse to value insured vehicles at what they currently cost. Your job won’t pay the difference either.

    Forget about the mental health cost to playing office politics all day, having creepy people say inappropriate things to your face they think are harmless or worse, and more likely if you’re a lady actually touching you in a way that feels uncomfortable (don’t rub people’s shoulders, or really anything, it’s not awesome). Or if you’re not a straight white male, all the gymnastics you have to put yourself through to fit in with the homogeneous “culture” the company sees as it’s greatest asset.

    Companies need to renegotiate their leases or convert their owned office space. Companies need to find ways for middle management to prove the worth of their existence when they can’t hover over people in person all day. And companies need to come to grips with the fact that people like to work from home because it’s comfortable. We’re not missing out on the ‘social’ aspects of work – we still hang out with the coworkers we like, and not on the company dime either (and saving the company of the expense of having to cool us with that ever so expensive AC even). Let it go, take the loss on your commercial real estate and move on.

  5. Working from does save money I been working from home since start of the pandemic people should have a choice I also turn down job offers that didn’t have a remote option I think working from home is great u can eat at home in not buy fast food in also burning
    gas hurts the climate I thinks it’s great I will continue to work remote forever jobs aren’t paying enough to come in the office

  6. If your job can be 100% remote it can easily be offshored to a cheaper labor market. If you agreed to an on-site job and now refuse to come back, I do hope you are fired. So many entitled children believe they can do whatever they want. Reality will soon give them the slap in the face they deserve

  7. While I’m fortunate to have a short commute, gas is $5.60/gal here. Also, I use dry cleaning for my work clothes. That’s a combined daily cost of ~$8.
    I also am less likely to eat out for lunch when at home. With difference in food costs, I’m saving up to $15/day.
    So far only back 3 days weekly but still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  8. My commute was 2 hours, unpaid, per day. Public transit was $100+ per month, private parking was $200+. Sure I’m running my AC a little more but I got a raise, two extra hours back every day, using my own toilet, brewing my own coffee, saving money eating healthier lunches, and don’t have to rent a parking spot downtown. Seems like the real issue is there’s a lot of empty obsolete sky scrapers downtown.

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