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Energy costs are going up for home workers – so should agencies foot the bill?

Should agencies help out staff with the rising cost of heat and electricity?

Agencies across the industry are reimagining what work looks like. Will remote workers return? Can team cultures survive long-distance relationships? And will agency bosses keep their promises? In the wake of the pandemic, we explore the different ways agencies are evolving to meet the needs of staff and clients in a changed world.

If, like most of the marketing and advertising workforce, you’ve been logging on from home these past 15 months, you may have noticed your energy costs rising.

While many workers enjoyed savings related to working at home – such as forgoing the daily commute – remote working comes with its own financial burden.

Estimates in the US suggest that domestic energy use may have risen between 10% and 20% during last year’s shift to home working, representing a cost increase of $40-50. And in the UK, researchers at Nottingham Trent University suggested costs could increase by as much as £28 a month.

Energy costs for those working from home are likely to only get worse, with Britain’s energy regulator set to remove a price cap in October, increasing the energy bills of 15 million households by 12% overnight.

As workers pay more for energy even as their employers, with offices closed, pay less, the idea that bosses should chip in has been debated throughout the pandemic.

National Energy Action, a British fuel poverty charity, has even called for legislation to make a work from home allowance mandatory. But few businesses have gone out of their way to help out employees manage higher energy costs.

Clean switch

One agency that is trying to alleviate the issue is Hallam, an independent digital agency based in Nottingham.

Jake Third, managing director at Hallam, tells The Drum it’s working with Big Clean Switch, an energy supplier comparison platform that helps consumers find sustainable energy providers, to get staff discounts on their heating and electricity. The platform is also a client of the agency.

Hallam staff have access to a bespoke page on Big Clean Switch, and a £30 fixed discount. The switching service helps them make savings by pointing them towards cheaper providers of green energy. Third says: ”Our team has adapted brilliantly to the pressures of working from home over the last 18 months. It’s great to be able to give something back – and help the environment too.”

For Hallam, this is just one element in a wider program intended to make the agency more sustainable – not just in its direct business activities, but its indirect carbon footprint, too.

”We're trying to balance purpose with profit,” he explains. Inspired by the B-Corp movement, Third says Hallam rewrote its ’articles of association’ – part of its core legal documents as a company – to include sustainability and ethical treatment of staff as core business goals, alongside providing value to shareholders.

”It means that the object of our agency, the objective reason that we exist in law, is now to balance three things: our people that we employ, the planet, and profitability. So we don't exist just to make profit anymore. We exist to have a positive impact on all the stakeholders that we've come across.

”We’ve got a goal of becoming carbon neutral next year, and then becoming carbon negative the year after that.”

Why not just give everyone a raise?

This all begs the question: if staff are worried about living costs going up, why don’t agencies simply bump up their pay?

For one, a flat raise across the board by an employer would be taxable like the rest of your paycheck, meaning it'd be harder to put it towards energy bills. And, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development notes, bespoke pay rises matched to employees’ specific energy costs would mean changes to individual employment contracts. Even for businesses with sizable HR capacity, that’s a lot of hassle.

”I wish I could just sign off a 20% pay rise for all of our employees all at once,” says Third. Hallam's switching solution, he says, is an example of ”pragmatism meets idealism.”

(Incidentally, Hallam staff are getting a raise, though Third tells The Drum that this isn't related to energy costs.)

The simpler option would be for workers to sign up for a working-from-home tax relief, which can get you money back for your internet, gas, electricity and water bills. Staff can claim up to £6 a week, if they were told to work from home by their bosses.

There’s a similar situation in Ireland, where employers can offset a certain amount of energy costs tax-free, or workers can claim tax relief on 10% of electricity and heating costs, plus 30% of broadband costs.

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