Ted Power, chief product officer, Emburse
Many Americans are now nearing the end of their second weeks of working from home. Routines have been established, working spaces have been set up, and often, Zoom calls have been interrupted by kids, cats or barking dogs.
Another part of working from home is what expenses employees are submitting for reimbursement. Many employers appreciate that their teams need support both to maximize their productivity and maintain morale.
To get a snapshot of what employers are reimbursing for their employees, we took a look at 1,000 expenses submitted during the past two weeks, which were tagged with “WFH.” More than a quarter of all expenses submitted were for lunch and other meals. As this is a perk that many employees enjoy while in the office, it’s clear that employers understand the need for a similar level of benefits needs to be maintained.
Equipping home offices to support a prolonged period of working from home were also very common. Almost a fifth of all expenses submitted were for external monitors, with much of the additional spend on other home office items, from laptop stands, desks and chairs, to keyboards, mice and cables.
Although most organizations are simply reimbursing for specific items, some organizations are opting to provide a daily or weekly stipend to cover food and other incidental expenses. While this can be done via an expense reimbursement, an easier way to approach this would be by issuing virtual pre-paid cards, which can be issued in real-time and then easily managed and reloaded from a central dashboard. The cards can also be restricted to certain types of vendors, if needed.
While pre-paid cards can be implemented on their own, independent of existing expense management systems, some companies are augmenting their existing systems with real-time expense management solutions that can be activated quickly to accommodate the significant increase in staff incurring and submitting reports due to ongoing work from home expenses. This enables them to more easily deploy and enforce remote work expense policies to simultaneously empower employees to be productive working remotely, as well as manage expenses and enforce policy compliance.
Top expense types
While most of these expenses are clearly key to employees’ ability to work from home, some employees' definitions of what classifies as essential may be a little more liberal. One employee submitted an expense not only for a coffee machine, but also a coffee grinder. Clearly even in a pandemic, coffee standards need to be maintained. Another employee submitted an expense for a $450 massaging machine, which also seems quite luxe.
Given that the overwhelming majority of WFH expenses are online purchases, it’s no surprise that Amazon takes almost 40% of the entire transaction volume, more than 10 times the volume of the next highest vendor. While more employees are using food delivery services, few transactions are being made directly with local restaurants, with chain brands such as Chipotle and Panera being far more popular. Employers may wish to recommend that employees who are reimbursed for meals consider only using local businesses where possible, to provide critical financial support.