The real cost of returning to office

The real cost of returning to office
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The convenience and absolute joy of getting out of bed at 8:50am to attend 9am Zoom meetings at your dining table, dressed in an office shirt and sport shorts, is sadly coming to an end.

In a recent announcement made by Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force, working from home will no longer be the default mode (sigh!). Instead, a hybrid version that encourages a mix of working from home and office will be. 

From April 5, 2021, 75 per cent of the employees can return to the office at any one time, on the condition that safe distancing guidelines are met. In addition, restrictions to the amount of time employees are allowed in the office and mandatory split-team arrangements are also lifted.

So, if you are one of the many who have received a royal decree from your human resources department to march back into the office soon, this article’s for you. 

From the cost of transport to meals, hygiene and other essential items, this is how much (more) you can expect to spend when working from the office.

For the purpose of the calculations involved, they will be based on Denyse and Esther. Both are working professionals in their 30s, stay near Hougang MRT and work at the Central Business District (Outram MRT). They are required to be physically in the office thrice a week.

1. Transport

The one thing that you’ve saved the most on when working from home, is now back to cost you. Depending on where you stay and transport of choice, heading back into the office can set you back anything from $0.92 to over $50 a day. 

Denyse and Esther stay in the same block near Hougang MRT and work at the Central Business District (Outram MRT), here’s how much transport will cost them.

Denyse’s trip to the office requires a bus ride (2 stops) followed by a train ride (11 stops).

Type of public transport Price per trip
Bus $0.92
Train $0.72 (distance-based fare)
Anxiety, from being in close proximity with dozens of strangers and rushing to work
Total price for one-way $1.64
Total price for two-way $3.28
Approximate price per week $9.84

Esther travels to and from work using ride-hailing apps like Grab, Gojek, taxi and car sharing services like Car Club and BlueSG. 

Type of private transport Average price per trip* Average price per day* Frequency per week Price per week*
Grab, Gojek or taxi $13.50 $27.00 2 $54.00
Car Club or BlueSG Car Club: $13BlueSG: $9.9Average: $11.45 $22.90 1 $22.90
Total $76.90      

*Fares listed are approximate and indicative of off-peak timing.

2. Food and drink

Unless you are working for a big corporation that provides buffet lunches, all-day snacks and drinks free of charge, keeping your tummy satiated when at work can be pretty expensive.

Denyse is health-conscious and would choose a salad or grain bowl over economic rice any day. Apart from lunch, she drinks traditional coffee every morning and indulges in a mandatory snack at 4pm daily — because life is hard and starving is not a diet plan.

To celebrate surviving a work week, Denyse dines out with her colleagues at a cafe or restaurant every Friday.

Type of food or drink Shop Average price per portion Quantity per week Price per week
Lunch Daily Cut $12 2 $24
Lunch Cafe or restaurant $25 1 $25
Traditional coffee Nearby coffee shop $1.50 3 $4.50
Snack Random bakery or snack shop $3 3 $9
Total  $62.50      

Esther doesn’t have a strict diet and prefers to just get something quick at the nearby coffee shop. She gets her daily coffee fix and snacks from the office pantry, but will purchase her own coffee and snack once a week.

Similar to Denyse, Esther dines out with her colleagues every Friday.

Type of food or drink Shop Average price per portion Quantity per week Price per week
Lunch Nearby coffee shop $5.00 2 $10.00
Lunch Cafe or restaurant $25.00 1 $25.00
Latte Cafe $6.00 1 $6.00
Snack Random bakery or snack shop $3.00 1 $3.00
Total  $44.00      

Make your money work harder for you by charging your lunches, drinks and snacks on the right card to earn points, air miles or even cashback that can help fund your next lunch outing. 

ALSO READ: The real cost of working from home may surprise you

3. Hygiene items

Safe distancing measures aside, there are some hygiene items that you should bring along to keep yourself safe when out.

Denyse and Esther alternate between wearing disposable and reusable masks (to help prevent maskne), sanitise their hands thrice a day and use antibacterial wipes to disinfect their workstations, hands and surfaces regularly.

Type of hygiene item Brand or shop Quantity per day Price per day Quantity per week Price per week
Disposable masks OEM, Qoo10 2 $4.90 for 50 pieces, $0.20 per day 2 $0.40
Reusable mask Government issued 1 Free 1 Free
Antibacterial detergent TOP, Redmart 20ml $4.35 for 1.6L, $0.06 10ml $0.06
Hand sanitiser Dettol, Watsons 3ml* x 3 = 9ml $3.95 for 50ml, $0.71 per day 27ml $2.13
Antibacterial wipes Watsons 4 sheets $2.50 for 30 sheets, $0.33 per day 12 sheets $0.99 
Total $3.58        

*Fun fact: To sanitise your hands well, it is recommended that you apply at least three ml per use.

4. Essential items

You can’t exactly bring your entire house to the office, but you can definitely get some items to make the long hours a little easier to bear. 

We are keeping things simple and only listing the essentials that almost everyone would need when working in an office environment. 

As Denyse and Esther just started their new jobs and have not returned to office since Circuit Breaker, they will need to purchase these essential items.

Type of essential item Brand or shop Price
Jacket Uniqlo $59.90
Tumbler OEM, Shopee $10.98
Back support pillow with seat cushion Joseph & Casey, Qoo10 $19.90
Total $90.78  

Conclusion: How much does it really cost to return to office? 

Category Denyse Esther
Transport $9.84 $76.90
Food and drink $62.50 $44.00
Hygiene items $3.58 $3.58
Essential items (one-time purchase) $90.78 $90.78
Total price per week (three times) $166.70 $215.26
Total price per month (12 times) $394.46 $588.70

Are the numbers what you were expecting?

Heading back to the office thrice a week will set you back close to $400/month—and if you splurge a little, around $600/month.

That’s approximately the cost of a fancy one-night staycation at Andaz Singapore or a two-night stay at Fairmont Singapore when you use your $100 SingaporeRediscovers Vouchers. 

Based on the calculations above, it is clear that transport, food and drinks are the biggest expenses. Lucky for us, they are also the same ones that can be cut back on rather easily. 

Wondering how else you can lower your expenses? Well, you can start by charging them on the right credit card. Each eligible transaction could earn you up to 10 per cent in cashback, which can be used to offset your monthly bill. Apply for one with us today and you could take home exclusive cash or prizes!* 

*Rewards may change at any time. Terms and conditions apply.

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