Do companies supply a computer and phone for remote work?

You are doing company work on company time, shouldn’t they give you everything to build a remote office?

Was there a coffee machine in that Fedex box?

I probably hear this question at least once a week on average coming from current remote workers who think they are receiving a bum deal, office-trapped professionals looking for a better life and my parent, who can’t remember what they ask me from week to week.

In the dozen years or so that I have been working remotely as a professional in the tech industry, I have seen a few trends build over time. One of these is how managers and CEOs of companies employing a partial or fully remote workforce view their valuable distant employees. There was a time when remote workers (work from home, telecommute, telework, nomad, etc) were thought of as satellite offices sprinkled around the country and the world. When hired you would find a pile of Fedex boxes on your doorstep containing every office contraption short of a watercooler. You were expected to recreate their office in your house.

My wife experienced this as a remote editor for a large publisher. Within a few days of her bondage in the virtual slave galley that is publishing (if you have never worked in publishing and want to know why this is an accurate analogy, go to your nearest dive bar, find the most permanent alcoholic denizen swaying on a barstool at the far end and ask them. If it is just beer they are drinking, they worked in magazines/periodicals. If they are downing a beer and a bump then they were an editor for a newspaper or an expensive daily B2B newsletter–but I digress), she received the following:

  1. Fax/printer/scanner combo (yes, that’s how far behind publishers are)
  2. Cheap LCD screen that was as dim and fuzzy as a bootlegged VHS porno
  3. Basic Dell desktop (note that this wasn’t a laptop as that would encourage her to get up from her chair that the chain on her leg was attached to)
  4. A halfway decent high-backed office chair (with an iron ring for the manacle)
  5. An office-like phone requiring a 2nd hardline (paid for by the publisher)
  6. A wired headset (so she could type frantically while the publisher barked at her over the office-like phone)

This was over ten years ago, but wasn’t all that unusual for the time (except for the chair, which was really odd). Remote employers were still steeped in the brick and mortar office mentality and thought that every non-office employee should have the same setup as their cubicle-trapped counterparts.

Her experience wasn’t unique. At one point in my remote employment career I, myself, was issued a company VOIP phone, a good wireless headset and a standard-issue hand-me-down laptop.

If you are hired to work remotely today, don’t expect too much.

Thanks for… nothin’

It is becoming increasingly rare for companies to pay for any of your remote work requirements and expenses. Most companies assume that you own a computer, have an internet connection (now considered just another utility) and a cell phone plan that covers all your calls under the same rate.

With years of experience with the sharp end of company IT budgets that are squeezed so tight they’d be diamonds if they were coal, this isn’t such a bad thing. It’s usually been the case that the computer at home was superior to the passed-around desktop at work or the signed-out nondescript laptop you had to beg to take out of the office.

The good news is that, finally, you get to set up your work environment exactly as you like. No more begging to the IT Director for a MacBook Pro or to the Facilities Manager for a chair that doesn’t cut off the circulation to your legs. Standing desk? No problem. Work from the couch? No problem.

And while you are doing the mental calculations on what this is worth to you, consider that in many cases, you might make more money working from home than doing the same job in a depressingly gray cubicle.

Do you work remotely now? Let me know what your experience is in the comments.

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And if you do land a work from home job and they send you a desk chair with an iron-ring around the base, resign immediately.