Straight and simple, going into the office is expensive. Let’s assume the average worker drives 15 miles one way to work every day, totaling 30 miles a day in the car. If we assume gas costs $2.50 per gallon and your average car gets 25 miles to the gallon, that’s about $3.00 per day for gas. Then we must add wear and tear costs on the vehicle, which we can assume is about $.10 per mile. That equates to another $3.00 in vehicle costs per day, for total vehicle costs per week of about $30.
Next, let’s estimate that the average worker eats out for lunch 3 times per week when they go into the office, compared to 1 time when they work from home. If we assume an ordered lunch costs $13, compared to a homemade lunch at $4, that’s $18 per week in extra food costs.
While some companies pay for employee parking, many don’t. We can say the average parking pass costs $200 month, or $50 per week.
Doing the math, the average worker incurs pays about $100 in costs per week just from working at the office as opposed to working from home. Spread out over the year, that’s almost $5,000 in expenses that could be invested, put towards a house, a car, or a child’s education.
Those are just the explicit, accounting costs. If we include the implicit, or economic costs, the total goes up substantially. Let’s assume preparing for work (shower, making lunch) and commuting to the office takes 90 minutes in the morning, and 45 min to pack up and drive home at the end of the day. That’s 2 hrs per day, 10 hours per week that if they weren’t spent going to and from the office, could be spent sleeping, spending time with one’s family, pursuing a hobby, general leisure time, or working on a side venture. In other words, each of those 10 hours carry an opportunity cost.
Opportunity cost can be thought of as the value of a forgone activity, or next best alternative (in this case, let’s assume the foregone activity is ‘leisure’ in general). While everyone values leisure time a bit differently, I think most people value leisure time equally, if not more than work time. Thus, let’s say that someone earning $30/hour also values their leisure time at $30/hour. Looping back to the opportunity costs, we can estimate that every hour spent preparing & commuting to work bears an implicit or opportunity cost of $30. Now, maybe some people receive value and enjoyment from the commute to and from work, as they take the time to listen to music or a podcast, or call a friend. In that case, if we want a conservative estimate, let’s say the implicit cost is really closer to $25 (although bad traffic can easily spoil the enjoyment of a commute). Multiplying $25 by 10 hours we get $250 in implicit or opportunity costs per week.
Putting it all together, we get a very conservative estimate of an average weekly economic cost (explicit + implicit) of ~$350. Expanding that for the entire year we get total economic costs of about $17,000 just to work at the office, which, not to mention, may also carry emotional and psychological costs of having your boss micromanaging you and monitoring your work progress an unhealthy amount.
In sum, one can see why it will be tough to convince employees, especially those who can do their job well from home, to return to the office. Maybe in the end it will involve a compromise, or hybrid model that involves working from home 2–3 days a week. In such a scenario, the next problem would be figuring how teams can efficiently rent office space that will only be occupied about half the days in a working week.