Watch CBS News

Rising gas prices are making remote work even more attractive

Gas prices rise as workers return to office
Gas prices hit record highs as more Americans return to the office 03:46

Record high gas prices are the latest deterrent for millions of U.S. employees to return to the office as they  face costlier commutes.

Fuel costs jumped more than 20% in early March, pushing prices up a whopping 50% from a year ago, according to GasBuddy. Across the country, the national average for a gallon of gas is currently $4.19, according to AAA. Prices at the pump have surged as overall inflation soars to its highest level in 40 years, adding to the financial strain, and as employers summon people back after more than two years of toiling from home during the pandemic.

"The sanctions placed on Russia have resulted in much higher gas prices and higher gas prices mean people are less willing to spend money to commute to work," said Matt Becker, former White House Liaison to the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush and current owner of national staffing agency Pridestaff. "With gas prices still above $4 per gallon, remote work is a very attractive solution to this issue and a large factor for job seekers weighing the benefits of employment opportunities."

Ravin Jesuthasan, a workplace expert with consulting firm Mercer, said some of his corporate clients have recently put the brakes on recalling workers back to the office because of concerns over soaring gas costs.

"We are seeing many organizations start to take a step back in light of a very dramatic and rampant spike in gas prices," Jesuthasan told CBS MoneyWatch. "Many companies were looking at returning to the office coming out of the decline of the Omicron wave, but now they have pushed pause. They're saying, 'Actually, let's wait and see how this plays out. Let's wait for gas prices to start to subside and let's not rush back to the office at this point.'"

Even as companies recall workers, some people are reconsidering how often they commute to the office because of the extra costs incurred at the pump. Phillip Barton, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based financial adviser, said that while he likes working from the office, he's cut back on the number of days per week he spends driving the 70 miles from his home to financial services company Northwestern Mutual.

Uber adding surcharge amid record high gas prices 00:21

"Given the option, I would rather go into the office and be surrounded by my peers. But that said, going forward I will probably limit that and only go in on Mondays and Fridays. The rest of the time, I'll stay at home so I save on expenses," he told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Indeed, going into the office is now 1.6 times more expensive for Barton compared to a only few weeks earlier. He used to spend about $85 a week driving to the office every day. But that has jumped to about $140 a week, which is why he has decided to start staying home three days a week. 

"That was the catalyst that made me take more seriously the option to stay home, which my employer offered," he said. 

The gas price surge is leading some to call for those who can work remotely to stay home. One expert said workers who can do their jobs remotely should be allowed to do so by their employers.

"Employers would be wise to allow flexibility when employees have well-rooted concerns about the rising price of energy," Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told CBS MoneyWatch. "People who can work from home should do so, in order to reduce national gasoline consumption and reduce the impact on people who cannot work from home."

Rising demand for gas as Americans restart their usual routines, combined with economic sanctions on Russia and a U.S. ban on Russian oil and gas imports, are contributing to record gas prices. On April 4, the national gas price average was $4.19 a gallon, according to AAA. 

Prior to the recent surge, the record had been $4.10 a gallon in 2008, just before the financial crisis. But that spike proved temporary, and prices quickly fell in the ensuing recession. This time around, however, there's little relief in sight. Higher gas prices and rising broader inflation could mean elevated costs for the rest of the year

MoneyWatch: How Russia affects global energy market 05:16

Before gas prices spiked, ride-share company Lyft, had announced a "fully flexible workplace" that allows employees to work from home as much as they want. While Lyft's corporate policy was developed without regard to gas prices, it undoubtedly eases the burden of higher costs on employees.

As of this month, language-learning company Duolingo is requiring its workers to spend three days per week in the office. It is not reconsidering its policy in light of rising gas prices, a company spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch, noting that few employees drive long distances to the companies' offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in New York City. 

"In our Pittsburgh HQ, most employees live within a walk, bike ride or short drive from the office. In our NYC office, no one drives," the spokesperson said in a statement. 

Job roles also play into companies' broader re-examinations of when and where work gets done. 

"Companies are figuring out what is the optimal location for the work you do. For a researcher whose work involves them sitting at a laptop, that's work that can be done anywhere, and companies are giving that person the flexibility to work at their local Starbucks," Mercer's Jesuthasan said. 

It's a different story for factory workers or others who perform physical labor, with high fuel costs even leading some to quit their jobs to search for work closer to home. 

J.B. Brown, CEO of BCI Solutions, a metal foundry in Bremen, Indiana, told Reuters that 14 workers, making up 7% of the company's workforce, have quit in the past two weeks, largely because of rising gas prices in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some used to carpool with colleagues who quit, and others simply can't afford to drive to work anymore at their current rates of pay.

"When gas goes up, people want to work closer to home," Brown told Reuters. 

Pridestaff's Becker said companies that go fully remote will find they have a leg up in recruiting talent over those that don't. 

"Businesses that fail to oblige their future workforce with the resources and assistance they need are at risk of dwindling their workforce pipeline," he said. "More than salary and paid time off, this new wave of job-seekers care more about health benefits that allow them to maintain their mental, and ultimately financial, well-being."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.