Returning to the office: We weigh up the costs and benefits

Two young businesspeople in white collared shirts sitting at desk with papers discussing hybrid work models.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve felt pretty chuffed to be in a position to work from home on and off during the last two years of pandemic-induced uncertainty. From a health perspective, being able to reduce potential exposure to Covid has been very reassuring. 

But the time spent working from home has also felt revolutionary from a personal standpoint. Replacing my daily commute with an extra hour of freedom means chores can be efficiently squeezed in throughout the week, freeing up brainspace and more time for leisure – not to mention the five star home work lunches and what appears to be an overall boost to my savings account.

It’s been a dream in these respects, but cabin fever has also become one of my few work companions, and I’m getting the itch to work alongside humans in a physical sense once again.

Recent data shows 1 in 5 workers may continue working from home moving forward (compared to just 1 in 20 prior to the pandemic). But as PwC Australia’s recent research on work culture has identified, there’s significant desire among employees for hybrid work, with flexible days working in the office and remotely.

So, as Mozo prepares to transition to this kind of hybrid model, I thought I’d reflect on some of the costs and benefits (monetary and otherwise) I’m expecting will be associated with the shift.

Potential benefits of returning to work in the office

  • Human interaction and collaboration: Having casual conversations with coworkers may not float everybody’s boat, but as a social creature I do enjoy the adhoc chat. Beyond that side of things, being in the same room as your team or various departments can make collaboration on projects and other meetings more engaging (hello all you camera-off Zoom folk).
  • Use of office equipment: This is for anyone wearing a dent in their home office desk chair or running out of crockery after two years of smashing mugs accidentally. It can be nice using professional equipment, especially high quality office chairs you haven’t had to pay for – I’ve missed you, lumbar support. But remember, you might be able to claim your working from home office set-up as a tax deduction (although, claims for larger one-off expenses usually need to be spread over a number of financial years).
  • More defined work and life zones: Sick of spying work notes and laptop cords while you try to unwind? Same. If you live in a small city apartment like me, it can be hard to escape your work ‘stuff’, which often makes it harder to switch off from your work day mentality. Hopefully, a hybrid work situation where some equipment can live at the office makes this delineation a little clearer, both physically and mentally.
  • Reduced home utility bills: If your energy bills have spiked lately, it could be related to you being ever present in your home, charging electronics, using lights and boiling your trusty kettle. Mozo research from the early days of lockdown found on average, energy bills went up by $527 every 6 months while Australian families were working and studying from home. While some portion of utilities can be claimed on tax if you’re working from home, this can often be hard to accurately calculate and may not cover everything. So, it’ll be interesting to see if the bills diminish alongside hours spent in offices.
  • Incidental exercise: This is a little one (and might just be a me thing), but I miss that little home-to-train, train-to-office and back again stroll. In all fairness I now have more time for a morning or arvo workout, but I still feel like a lounge lizard some days without the requisite travel.
  • Work breakfast (including Nutella): You hear me right: in the days of yore my office provided a solid selection of breakfast bites, including Nutella. I know I could buy it at home, but it feels somehow more special as a work perk.

Costs to consider when returning to work in the office

  • Spending (dollars & time) on the commute: Unless you’re able to walk or cycle to your office, getting there ain’t free! It comes with the cost of time spent on public transportation or sitting in your car, alongside the cash you fork out on those modes of transport. For me, some very quick maths shows a 5 day per-week train commute (for the roughly 230 working days in a year, considering public holidays and annual leave) costs around $1,683.60 annually. Nothing to sniff at!
  • Lunch & other incidental spending: While you can do this cheaply and I often try to bring leftovers for office lunches, I find I just end up spending a lot more dough on food when I’m in the office. It’s all about those days where you had nothing feasible in the fridge to bring to work so you forked out $15 for a feed in the city, or you just felt like two coffees from the conveniently located cafe near the office. These aren’t huge or evil spending habits, but they do add up – so I plan to keep a close eye on them.
  • Clothes and (maybe) makeup: My professional wardrobe has taken a hit these last few years while I’ve prioritised trackies and comfy socks, so a refresh of clothes other than loungewear is definitely on the cards again. There’s also the question of makeup – do I care anymore and am I expected to hide my dark undereye circles with goo when I’m in the office? I’m steering towards no, but if the mood arises, that’s another expense and time expenditure to consider.
  • Less daily flexibility (primarily for guinea pigs): Even with a hybrid work model, you can likely expect to lose a little of that in-between time you get while working from home, when you’re able to check-in on loved ones and household issues. For me, it’s been a fab time to pamper my two guinea pigs by throwing them regular treats. I guess some prior treat-delivery planning will be necessary on office days.

If you’re keen to keep an eye on your spending as you shift back into a work environment outside your living room, check out these handy budgeting and savings apps. And if you’ve got savings goals in mind, make sure you’re making the most out of your cash by investigating the high interest earning savings accounts below.

Compare high interest savings accounts - last updated 4 March 2024

Search promoted savings accounts below or do a full Mozo database search. Advertiser disclosure
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    Bonus variable rate is available for the first four months.

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^See information about the Mozo Experts Choice Savings Account Awards

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