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Record gas prices make some remote workers reluctant to return to the office: NPR

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Average gasoline prices have topped $4 nationwide, prompting some remote workers to wonder if they really need to return to the office.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images


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Average gasoline prices have topped $4 nationwide, prompting some remote workers to wonder if they really need to return to the office.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Amna Nadeem is excited to start her job as a software engineer at Google. She completed an internship with the company last fall – remotely.

But from mid-April, the 22-year-old graduate will be in the office at least three days a week. So gas prices, which have soared to $6 a gallon in California, are very important to her.

As she searches for housing near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets, she plans to pay more to live closer to her work, to save on fuel and travel.

“It’s definitely something I have to consider,” she says.

In Washington, DC, as Stephanie Nguyen stuffs $45 worth of gas into her compact SUV, she says she’s glad to finally be in person at her law office, a job she started during the pandemic, but not so happy with the cost of travel. Remotely until two weeks ago, she now has to refuel weekly instead of monthly.

“It’s basically four times what I had to pay,” Nguyen says.

President Biden wants workers to come back in person

Across the country, workers who have been home for two years are being called back to their offices, some on a hybrid schedule and others full-time. President Biden promised the vast majority of federal workers would return in person and urged others to do so as well.

“It’s time for America to get back to work and fill our great inner cities with people again,” he said in his State of the Union address.

But amid soaring gas prices, some are asking: Really? Now?

Gas prices everywhere have soared, with the national average for a gallon of regular fuel at $4,325 on Monday, according to AAA. But companies from Wells Fargo to Microsoft to Ford say their back-to-office plans, which have been repeatedly delayed due to COVID-19, are progressing as planned.

Job seekers want remote opportunities without traveling

Outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, Mathew Michanie is looking for a job, having recently been laid off from his job as a business analyst. Before the pandemic, he drove an hour, each way, to and from work, something he never wants to do again.

“I like spending time with my children here, instead of spending time in traffic,” he says. “I love being able to chat with my wife between meetings if possible.”

In his job search, he prioritizes fully remote opportunities over hybrid positions and will not consider anything that requires him to be in the office every day. As the sole breadwinner for his family, $4 worth of gas cemented that for him.

“I feel like everything is going up…you go to the grocery store, the costs are all going up. Gasoline is just one of many things, another straw on the camel’s back,” he says .

High gas prices, in addition to rising prices at the grocery store and elsewhere, are prompting workers to cut costs where they can, including not commuting.

Andrea Hsu/NPR


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Andrea Hsu/NPR


High gas prices, in addition to rising prices at the grocery store and elsewhere, are prompting workers to cut costs where they can, including not commuting.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

A few companies offer gas cards to reduce travel costs

In New Braunfels, Texas, Greg Perkins worried about his employees as he watched gas prices steadily rise. Perkins is the owner and president of Oakridge Bellows, which makes expansion joints for pipes, including those used in power plants.

“Most people — they can’t absorb unexpected costs like that,” he says, including his two dozen employees who typically drive 20 to 40 minutes to get to work.

When gas recently hit $4 in Texas, he decided to give his employees $50 gas cards to help them get around. He hopes other companies will do something similar.

“It really doesn’t impact your bottom line the way you think it does,” he says, pointing to the morale boost it brings. “You need to take care of your employees so they care about taking care of the customers.”

As for whether he’ll do a second round of gas cards, Perkins says he’s taking things a few weeks at a time.

“We hope world events will resolve themselves,” he said. “[Gas] can stay high, but hopefully not as high as it is now.”

On Monday, average gasoline prices fell a hair’s breadth from a week ago when, according to AAA, they hit an all-time high of $4.331 a gallon.