Those who work full-time in the office instead of from home this winter can save up to €85 on energy bills per week, according to calculations based on office workers' behaviour and electricity consumption.
By working in the office every day in January, an employee in the UK would save about £50 (almost €60) per week in energy costs, as it results in 75% less gas consumption and 25% less electricity consumption every day, according to calculations made by the price comparison website Uswitch.
In Belgium, the effect of full-time office work compared to working from home would be very similar: an average family that heats and cooks on natural gas pays €3,791.10 per year, according to the most recent figures from energy regulator VREG. The most 'most expensive' months would be the winter ones: December (17.1% of total consumption), January (18.4%) and February (15.3%).
Factoring in 75% less consumption at current price levels, people could save €85 a week if they choose to work in the office full-time. For the whole month of January, this would mean that the gas bill could be reduced from almost €700 for those who work entirely from home to 'just' €360 for people who work in the office as much as possible.
'The most logical move'
"Now that electricity and gas prices are so high, it is obvious that people are looking for solutions," Simon November of consumer protection organisation Test-Achats told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"If you can spend eight hours a day at the office in the winter, so you do not have to heat your home, the decision is made very quickly for many. Therefore, it is to be expected that more employees will work in the office next winter."
From a financial point of view, November calls it "the most logical move," but added that it is not necessarily the most practical or logistically obvious for everyone. "You must therefore consider whether making the journey is worth it."
As the gas prices for the winter months are not yet fixed, however, the calculations could differ. Additionally, the calculations are based on the consumption of an average family in Belgium. To achieve maximum savings, all family members should be out of the house during the winter.
Obviously, the advantage for single people would be smaller in absolute figures, but they too can achieve significant savings by not having to heat their homes during the day.
November of Test-Achats added that he also expects people to consider their bills when doing other activities. "It is not just heating and electricity in the office, but people may also think about taking a hot shower at the gym, so they do not have to take one at home. With these kinds of prices, every little bit helps."
Flemish employers' organisation Voka also expects more people in the office this winter, according to spokesperson Eric Laureys, who added that most companies are ready for that. "Employers encourage employees to work wherever they want, and anyone who wants to come and work full-time in the office this winter is welcome."
"When they can save so much by working in the office, they certainly will," he told the newspaper. "We also saw more people during the hot summer days. Although that likely had more to do with the fresh air conditioning than with financial considerations.”
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However, as many companies have only taken into account a limited occupancy since the Covid-19 pandemic, questions are rising about if companies can handle the expected "massive return" to the office.
Voka is not expecting any problems in that area. "Most companies nowadays assume an occupation rate of up to 80% of their staff. That seems sufficient to me. Despite the high energy prices, not everyone will return to the office at the same time."
However, the rising prices are of course also a problem for companies, specifically energy-intensive ones like those in the chemical sector, Laureys added.
"They are already downsizing their production because prices are rising too high, which is why we are asking the government to grant very targeted support to companies that are most affected by the high energy prices," he said, adding that similar measures are already in force in Germany and France.
"But here, the government is just waiting to see which way the wind blows, and that creates an uneven playing field.”