What hardware should you provide to remote workers?

Human Resources

It's normal that employees in traditional, co-located companies are receiving proper hardware and devices on their first day of work. For many, that's a personal laptop, PC or thin client. They usually receive a fixed place to sit (even though that's getting out of fashion), peripherals, a proper screen and sometimes some extras and company swag.

For remote employees, with shipping and delays in-between, it's best to plan these things beforehand. But what should you provide in the first place?

Desktop vs. Laptop

The answer for most companies here is clearly laptop. Providing a laptop allows the remote employee to flexibly work from anywhere, without being bound to a single place. Especially if there is a possibility that remote employees have to travel, a laptop is required.

For some professions, for example 3D artists, data scientists and game developers, a desktop is required because of the needed computational power and upgrade-ability. In this case, it can be a good idea to:

  • Provide a proper desktop setup and a light notebook for travels and flexible work (e.g. Chromebook, Lenovo Yoga, Macbook Air, Surface Go).
  • Provide a more powerful notebook, possibly with the ability to use cloud services or terminals (e.g. Paperspace Core)
  • If possible, provide a way to remotely connect to a powerful machine at a HQ

It is not recommended to provide a desktop-only and require work from there, as it can limit the employee when it comes to working from a co-working space with coworkers, or travelling to a retreat.

Are you supposed to pay for the home office?

A big question for companies is whether or not the company is supposed to pay for home office furniture or not.

On one side, it's the obligation of the employer to create a reasonable working environment, doesn't matter whether the employee is remote or not. Working without a desk and a proper chair is not a reasonable working environment. In most local offices, new desks and chairs have to be purchased too, so it should be the case for remotee employees to.

On the other hand, when a company purchases a desk for their office, it does not belong to the employee. It can be argued that every potential remote employee should be prepared for remote working – in terms of working environment, discipline and organization. There's almost always a place to work from, and if someone prefers to work from a desk and office chair (as opposed to the couch or a local café), they should make sure that they own that.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. It makes sense for a remote company to make sure an employee can work at their most productive state. That sometimes means that a co-working membership should be purchased, or that a new desk and chair should be paid for. It's not your job as a company to purchase $1,000s worth of furniture, but if a employee needs it, it can be good to contribute towards a high-quality chair and a proper desk.

A stipend for hardware and renewals

So, what's the easy way out? Every employee will likely have some different needs: Some of them will have a spec'd out home office, but are in need of a new screen or mouse. Some others may be able to acquire a cheap macbook, but don't have a desk or chair.

You should have an idea of what employees need to be productive. Do they need a Mac specifically, or is any OS okay? Do they need a company phone for testing? What about a graphic tablet?

Based on that, a good idea is also to make a annual (or semi-annual, ...) stipend for hardware available to all employees. Most commonly, this is around $3,000 to $5,000 on hire, and $500 to $1,000 every year to acquire new hardware, or update the existing one. The sizes of these stipends can vary, depending on your industry, but should cover initial purchase of hardware + peripherals + extras and then attribute to wear and tear with every following stipend.

With this setup, the responsibility is on the side of the employee and it's fair for everyone.

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