Equipment Buying Guide for Remote Employees
Just because you don’t have office space costs for your remote workers doesn’t mean you should skimp on covering equipment costs such as computers, desks, chairs, and work phones.
Here is what you should consider when hiring a remote worker and what you should be responsible for as a remote employer.
What is the Status of Your Remote Worker?
A good place to start when deciding what equipment costs to covers for your remote employees is their employment status with you.
Many remote employees are contractors. It is typical for contractors, regardless of whether they work in an office or remote, to provide their own equipment.
If you do decide to provide equipment to remote contractors, it is important to realize they could be considered employees. While there are plenty of reasons to cover software and equipment to contractors, consider clearly outlining what equipment you will provide and stipulations for doing so. For assurance, run a contract by an attorney who specializes in employment law.
Making sure you are on the right side of the law will be cheaper in the long run.
Part and Full-Time Employees
If you consider your remote workers employees, you should consider covering the cost of the equipment your employees need.
While there is not an explicit obligation to cover equipment costs (and I’ll update if I see otherwise), it would be best to do so. You are still competing for talent with non-remote companies that cover equipment costs as a matter of course.
Equipment You Should Cover
Since you are hiring remote employees, you should assume they are all running their own “micro-offices.” Micro-offices often need the same equipment that typical offices do. Here’s what you should consider providing by default.
This should be a no-brainer. For a remote employee to be successful, they need a computer that is capable of doing the job. For some remote companies, like Buffer, that means providing a Macbook when hired.
To determine what kind of computer you should buy, you need to know what your remote employee will need in terms of horsepower. If they are a content producer, they probably don’t need a top of the line MacBook. Heck, they may even be comfortable with something as simple as a Chromebook.
But if you just hired a full-stack developer, assume you will have to purchase a high-end laptop or desktop to get the job done right. You should also consider what type of environment they would like to work in. Does your remote employee prefer Windows, OS X, or an obscure OS like Ubuntu? Is there a business reason they should or should not use a particular operating system?
You may also run into a remote employee that does not want to use a company computer. They may already be comfortable with their current set up. Unless there is a business reason not to, consider letting your remote employee use their own computer and offer to cover the cost of wear. At the very least, keep the option to obtain a company computer open to your employees. Some people are just stubborn until they aren’t.
While this may seem like an optional expenditure, I encourage you to think of this as a required cost. A dual-screen setup is optimal for people who work on computers all day long. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but you should know that productivity gains can go up 50% for tasks such copying and pasting text. Additionally, monitors are cheap. If you are buying your team a thousand-dollar computer, sending them an extra screen for ~$150 shouldn’t be much of an issue — especially with the productivity gains factored in.
While a scanner or printer feels totally old school, the need for one will arise at the most random times. Don’t make your remote employees go to the public library just to scan and print a document or contract. Sam Glover of Lawyerist recommends the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. While its price tag is a little steep, it’s readily apparent based on the review and subsequent comments that this is the scanner your remote employees should own.
Pens, Pencils, Notebooks, and Post-Its
Although you’re hiring employees who likely already have digital solutions to taking notes, making sure they have basic office supplies is reasonable. Taking a step away from the screen and jotting random ideas on pen and paper can help facilitate creativity. It is also recommended to take notes by hand to increase retention.
Optional Equipment You Should Cover
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some equipment costs you should consider covering to make your remote employees’ lives easier.
Not everyone who works remotely is a nomad. Consider covering the cost of a new desk for your remote employees. Make sure it has enough space to account for dual-monitors and note-taking. And while this is not necessary, consider a desk that your remote employees can easily break down and move.
Since your remote employees don’t have to see “co-workers” in the traditional sense, it may seem superfluous to make sure they have nameplates. But I have found that a nameplate adds a sense of professionalism to a remote employee’s workspace. I know when I was provided a nameplate by a previous company I worked for remotely, it classed up my workspace immensely. Here’s a picture to prove it:
A nameplate also serves as a subtle signal to roommates, significant others, friends, and family that a particular area is designated for work — regardless of whether or not you are currently sitting down and working in that area.
Assume that your remote employees are being bombarded by distractions, whether they are working out of a coffee shop or at home. Offer your remote employees a chance to be alleviated from the distraction and stress with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
If your remote employee is expected to be doing online customer service or do other work that requires a lot of time on the phone, provide them with a company phone. If your remote employee’s work doesn’t require much phone communication, consider offering it as a perk.
Pay for Internet
While it is almost guaranteed your employees already pay for Internet, consider paying for all or a portion of their Internet costs. Of course, this can be quite expensive depending on where they are located. That said, you alleviate any concern that your remote employee will be unable to work due to a cash crunch that leads to a late payment on an Internet bill.
How to Pay for Equipment
Unlike typical office spaces, you can’t just order office supplies in bulk and pass it out. Supplying remote employees with the right equipment will take some operational savvy and a touch of trust. Here are a few ideas to work off of when providing equipment to your remote employees.
Offer a Stipend
Offer a quarterly or yearly stipend for office supplies. I suggest divvying it up into two categories:
- A required equipment stipend. This includes your remote employee’s computer, monitors, and other necessities to get their job done.
- A casual supplies stipend. This will cover the cost of pens, pencils, and additional technology that would be nice to have, but may not be required.
With this approach, you have put a ceiling on your equipment costs. Additionally, you have granted your remote workers the freedom to choose what they want to get the job done. Since managing remote employees requires an unparalleled degree of trust, it shouldn’t be much of a leap to trust them to stay within the stipend.
Create a Predetermined List of Equipment
This is likely the simplest way to go about sending equipment to your remote employees. Create a list of equipment options that your remote employees can choose from. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple spreadsheet will do. This allows you to keep costs under control, simplify operations, and create technology restraints if your remote business cannot work with a certain platform.
If you would like to put the onus on your remote employee to get the equipment they need, consider offering a reimbursement program. This will require a lot of trust. Outlining reasonable guidelines will be useful in making sure outrageous purchases are not made under the assumption you will cover them. And from an operational standpoint, someone will need to be able to take the time to approve receipts and purchases.
Offer a Wear and Tear Program
If you want to alleviate yourself as much as possible from obtaining and sending equipment, consider adopting a wear and tear program. Gather up the details of your remote employee’s current technology stack. (To gather this information from remote employees easily, include a questionnaire that asks about their setup during training and onboarding). From there, calculate how much you should offer each employee and make it a quarterly or yearly payout.
While you will save some money by not having a physical office, it is important to remember that you need to provide for your remote employees. Providing the right equipment for your employees, regardless of the operational hurdles, is essential to recruiting talent and retaining employees.