As gas prices continue to climb post-pandemic, remote workers across the country ask why bosses are so eager to return to the office.
On paper, our concerted efforts to return to the COVID “before-times” have been a success. Schools are back in session, restaurants and bars are busier than ever, and unfortunately plane tickets are back up to their pre-pandemic prices. We’ve been practically begging to get back to normal for two years straight, but there’s one pre-COVID practice that’s a little more divisive; whether or not to return to the physical office.
Getting back to work
The arguments on both sides are fierce, and the consensus appears to be that there is none. Employers eager to get back in their cubicles cite increased opportunities for collaboration while others lament a loss in productivity at the hands of remote work.
Employees' arguments are often less work-centric. The opportunity for “increased collaboration” pales in comparison to extra family time, flexibility in their schedules, and more time to focus on their well-being. With less time on the road, many feel they have even more bandwidth for productivity. Reduced stress means increased focus, and happy employees are better fit to produce high quality work.
Unprecedented times… again
One of the biggest pain points in the struggle to stay home are the exorbitant gas prices that accompanied the removal of COVID-19 precautions. The Census Bureau reports that in 2019 the average one-way commute time increased to 27.6 minutes, a 10.4% increase from 2006’s 25. AAA reports the contrast between the 2019 average gas price of $2.61 with the staggering $3.92 average we sit at right now. California, as per usual, ranks at the top of the list with an average of $6.33 while Georgia sits at the bottom with a still painful $3.23. With both the cost of gas and living continuing to grow disproportionate to wages, many just can’t take the extra hit to their bank account.
Remote on the market
Increasingly, remote options are becoming a non-negotiable for those looking for new jobs. Afterall, if remote options exist why not take advantage of them? With one in five workers reporting serious considerations towards leaving their current job, accommodating the desire to stay remote is becoming essential for employers looking to attract competitive applicants.
The sentiment doesn’t end with the office workers, either. One student at the University of California San Diego expressed that, “with school, internships, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, it just seems impossible to balance driving to and from work”. She continues to describe that, “the gas and time aren’t worth it, especially when I can get the same job done in the library between classes”.
Whether you’re a college intern or a fortune 500 executive, remote work provides a freedom that many feel is essential in our current economic climate. With all the most popular job-hunting sites offering filters for hybrid work, it looks like the people have spoken and remote options are what they want.
The bottom line
Despite our best efforts, there will never be a point where we completely return to the way we worked pre-pandemic. Driving to and from the office 5 days a week is just not sustainable for the millions of workers that have grown to rely on the extra time and money saved by staying home. The battle between hybrid, remote, and in-person modalities will continue to be a hot-button topic and a huge point of contention as long as gas prices remain high and wages remain low.