They might not have commuting expenses to cover or an office provided by you. But your remote team members still incur a few expenses while working from home.
Enter the work from home stipend.
What is a work from home stipend?
A work from-home stipend (also called a remote work stipend) is an allowance employers give their remote team members in addition to their salary to help them work more comfortably and productively. Like other stipends, it's given at fixed intervals — typically monthly, quarterly, or annually.
There are two main ways employees use work from home stipends:
- To cover ongoing expenses related to remote work
- To access general perks an on-site job would offer
The amount of stipend varies based on the company. Normally, it's somewhere between $1,000 annually and $250 per month.
Here's an example:
We've already prepared a comprehensive employer's guide to work from home stipends. To learn how to set them up and see a few examples, check it out here.
Our 10 favorite ways to spend a remote work stipend:
The concept of stipends is pretty simple.
- Set the amount and frequency.
- Disburse it through payroll using stipend software.
- Remote employees spend it on things they need for a productive work environment.
Ambiguous. We know. That's part of the beauty of stipends — how they're used is entirely up to them (within reasonable limits, of course).
OK...so what can employees actually use it for?
We're glad you asked. If you want to make specific recommendations or give your team some creative ideas, here's a few great places to start:
1. Home office essentials
Perhaps the most obvious use for a work from home stipend is to cover the cost of the core items your employees don't have at home (or might need to replace/upgrade).
- A desk and chair
- Laptop or desktop monitor
- Computer accessories (e.g. wireless keyboard, mouse)
- Printer and ink cartridges
- High-quality lighting
- Headset or microphone for video conferencing
- Office supplies (e.g. pens, notebooks, planners)
Some of these items you may provide to all your new employees — for example, a company laptop. In those cases, they may still use the allowance to purchase anything they want to personalize it with, like a laptop case.
The best thing about offering a stipend (as opposed to outright providing these items) is that employees can choose what they want and purchase them from their favorite retailers.
2. Ergonomic furniture
Every home office setup has a desk and chair. Notice we didn't say, "a good desk and chair."
Nearly half of people make do with what they have lying around, and that can be less than optimal for their health and productivity. A study of 856 remote workers from Nulab found that those who used a proper desk and chair were considerably more productive than those who didn't.
Ergonomic furniture is specialized equipment designed to support the human body properly. Here are a few examples of home office furniture your employees can buy with their home office allowance:
- Adjustable standing desk
- Ergonomic office chair
- Anti-fatigue mat for standing desks
- Footrest or ergonomic footstool
- Lumbar support cushion or back pillow
Standing desks, in particular, are a game-changer for productivity employee health. They've been linked to reduced neck/back pain associated with sitting, increased focus and energy levels, and even lower risks of heart disease and obesity.
3. A coworking membership
Unless you're eating at restaurants, out with friends, working out at a gym, or shopping, remote working might translate to "never leaving the house." If that's the case, a change of scenery is all you need to stay engaged.
Coworking spaces provide the variety and social interaction remote employees need to keep them happy, healthy, and productive.
But basic ones start at $200-$300, and most will cost $500+. That's expensive for employees, but if you don't have a nearby office your employees can go to, you're already saving far more than this on overhead expenses.
In fact, plenty remote companies offer a separate stipend/reimbursement program specifically for coworking memberships, which employees can elect to be a part of. If that isn't you, your team can still use their remote stipend to cover some or all of the monthly membership.
4. Cell phone and internet bills
Unlike other kinds of stipends, those for phone and internet costs is unique in the sense that they aren't considered taxable income. So, they don't count towards your employees' federal, Social Security, and Medicare taxes.
5. Digital tools
You can get pretty far with free tools and software platforms. But there are some you probably want a professional subscription to.
- A project management platform like Trello, Asana, or Notion
- AI tools (the $20/month version of ChatGPT is absolutely killer for research)
- Chrome plugins for sales prospecting, research, automations, and task management
- Design software like Canva or Adobe Creative Suite
- Automation tools — a Zoom plugin for automated notetaking, for instance
- Productivity apps that help team members plan
Most of these programs are fairly inexpensive, but it's nice to know that if your employees need a premium feature for one of them, they can buy it without having to think about it too much.
6. A solid webcam and mic setup
You don't need to be a podcaster to have one. If you live in and out of virtual meetings, this is an absolute must.
Laggy video and audio quality are flat-out ugly, distracting, and...well...amateur. Whether you're meeting with clients, prospects, and partners or screen recording products and demos, looking professional is the key to getting others to take you seriously.
There are high-end options out there, but you can get a high-def webcam and USB mic setup for less than $100. And your team can use their remote work stipends to cover the cost.
7. Laptop stand
For remote employees who constantly work from a laptop instead of a monitor, a laptop stand saves their necks and backs from the inevitable pain and discomfort that comes with hours of staring, hunched over, at a screen.
Laptop stands come with the added benefit of creating more desk space, so your employees can set up a second monitor if they want.
They're fairly inexpensive, too. You can pick one up for around $20-30, which means your employee's home office stipend will definitely cover the cost.
8. Plants, art, and other room accessories
Environment has a lot to do with productivity. And that goes for all your employees, inside and outside the office (people personalize their desks at work, don't they?).
New research from Harvard Business Review found a strong connection between contact with nature in workplace settings and attitude/job performance.
The reason is simple: plants, the sound of running water, and other outdoor elements can help reduce stress, increase focus and creativity, and can sometimes even improve your room's air quality.
It goes far beyond nature, though. The ability to foster a deep, emotional connection to a personal space is what makes all the difference.
Here are a few other ideas:
- Artwork, like wall decorations, paintings, or a tapestry
- Window shades to block out the sun at certain points of the day
- Soundproofing or white noise equipment to minimize outside distractions
- A diffuser or air purifier
- A comfy rug to make the space feel warm and inviting
9. Under-the-desk treadmills and ellipticals
Tiny treadmills and ellipticals have been gaining popularity as a new way to get additional movement while avoiding prolonged periods of sitting in a desk chair, which has been linked to a host of serious health problems.
As the name suggests, under-the-desk treadmills are designed to fit underneath a standing desk. They only reach speeds of ~5 mph, but that's all you need to get the blood flowing (plus, any faster would make it tough to focus on work).
Ellipticals are quite similar. They fit under any desk, and your remote workers can use them while standing or sitting.
Like many of the other things on this list, you can find a good one for $50-$100. That's what makes it perfect for a remote work allowance.
10. Anything your in-office team has!
Depending on the employee perks you offer your in-office team members, you may want to give your at-home workers more than just a cool remote work setup.
Anything your employees can use to boost their mental health, improve their work-life balance, or invest in their personal development is fair game for a work from home stipend.
- Health and wellness items like yoga mats, meditation apps, noise-canceling headphones
- Gym memberships or workout classes (virtual ones included)
- Learning courses, books, or online classes that align with their career goals
- Monthly or quarterly subscriptions to products/services they really enjoy (like meal kits, coffee deliveries, or wine of the month clubs)
- Charitable donations to organizations they care about
- Food delivery app purchases (e.g., if your physical offices get free catered lunches)
The options are endless. What's most important is your remote work stipend is an inclusive benefit.
Additional considerations for work from home stipends
Just like money paid to your employees for anything, there are plenty of concerns when it comes to work from home stipends.
- Accounting and tax compliance (how will you manage taxable vs. non-taxable items?)
- Budgeting and eligibility
- Enrollment and participation
- Defining eligible expenses
- Stipends vs. reimbursements (lump sum of cash vs. proof of purchase)
Maybe it goes without saying...but the answer is pretty straightforward: do it with stipend software.