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Survey Reports that Remote Employees Forced Back to the Office is Costing a Fortune

28 Mar, 2024 Chriss Swaney

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Sarasota, FL ( -- Those returning to offices are paying a lot more these days to be there, according to a report by the videoconference company Owl Labs.  The report finds workers spend on average $51 per day when they go to the office.  

“There’s no question that working from the office is wildly more expensive today than it was pre-pandemic, said Robert Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.  

The survey by Owl Labs found that office workers spend $16 on lunch, $14 on commuting, $13 on breakfast and coffee and $8 on parking daily. Workers with pets also spend an average of $20 per day on pet care.

Full-time office workers are spending roughly $1,020 every month to report to the workplace, while hybrid workers spend an average of $408 per month on attendance.

So, it’s not surprising to Strauss that, when asked what perks would get hybrid employees to return in-person more often, the number one response was if their commuting costs were covered (38 percent), over other things like free food, child-care subsidies or a relaxed dress code.

The time and cost of commuting is one reason entrepreneur Sara Hargreaves of Scribe gives her employees special parking passes.  Some workers report their commutes can be two hours or longer as many workers moved further away from their jobs when the pandemic hit and remote work became the norm. 

But employers are now demanding that workers come back to the office.  Leading the charge is the Federal Government.  “They are pushing that all IRS workers come back into the office by May, ‘’ said Strauss.

In fact, members of Congress argue that the IRS isn’t setting a high enough standard for in-office work, and that constituents remain unable to get their tax questions answered by IRS employees.

Meanwhile, the federal employee  union that represents much of the IRS workforce says the agency is rolling back a key benefit that helps it recruit new employees and keep current ones on the job.

Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan) said that his office has seen a higher volume of constituent complaints with the IRS in recent years suggesting IRS staff were more effective at their jobs before the pandemic.

As the return-to-office battle has heated up in the past six months, there has been a marked increase in declarations that remote work is less productive. The study that has often been used to argue for the necessity of in-office work is a July 2023 working paper from researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, which  randomly assigned data-entry workers at a company in India to work either from home or in the office for eight weeks. The researchers determined that remote workers were 18 percent less productive than their in-person peers.

Although some workers are still operating under a hybrid system of  working at home for two days and in the office for the remaining week,  many CEOs are still demanding a total return to the old office cubicle.

Farmers Group CEO Raul Vargas, who recently took over the California-based company, reversed his predecessor’s policy of allowing most employees to work from home.

Employees at insurance giant Farmers Group who sold their houses and moved after they were told they would be allowed to remain remote last year are furious over their company’s requirement that they return to the office at least three days a week.

Vargas’ about-face on remote workers sparked a deluge of angry responses from employees, who took to the firm’s social media platform to complain.  “I sold my house and moved closer to my grandkids,’’ one claims division employee wrote on the message board.

Still, companies are clamoring for employees to don their button-downs and return to the workplace after isolation measures from the COVID-19 pandemic proved many folks can do their jobs just as well in sweatpants behind the computer screen.

About 66 percent of full-time workers now say they’re back in the office five days a week, a drastic jump from 41 percent last year, according to the Owl Labs report.  “The solution is the hybrid form of working, where employees can pace themselves between home and office work,’’ said Strauss.

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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