Inflation and High Gas Prices Combine to Drive Remote Work


When gas prices go up, people stay home. In the past, most workers didn’t have a choice when it came to work. They had to suck it up and pay for the commute. What has changed? Most companies have had to adapt to a hybrid work-from-home strategy to survive the COVID 19 pandemic. And now that the economics of hybrid work or working remotely have become compelling too, there may be no turning back.

CNN Business reports that the Consumer Price Index has risen by 8.3% in the 12 months ending in April. And missteps by the government has lead to a response that was too slow by some accounts. Many economists predict this level of inflation will be with us for a long time.

What happens when you combine high inflation and many more opportunities to work from home? People will choose to work from home. Many people even moved away from cities to more comfortable surroundings, adding even more reasons to stay remote.

Some companies are trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Elon Musk has told his staff at SpaceX and Tesla that they must be in the office at least 40 hours per week or face termination. A risky proposition given Forbes data that 97% of employees don’t want to return to the office full-time. Will this lead to more resignations in favor of flexible work opportunities?

Other companies in favor of similar directives, such as Netflix and Goldman Sachs, have been keen to get their workforce back to their desks, citing a need for people to get together in person.

These companies appear to be the exception and not the rule. As the majority of companies surveyed are either adopting hybrid or fully remote arrangements.

Will the pendulum swing back?

While the inertia of doing things the way we always did it is strong, the power of habits may be stronger. A new habit is formed in an average of 66 days. According to Healthline.com, it can take from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. If the pandemic had lasted only a few months, or maybe even just a year, then the new habits we’ve all formed may have been weak enough to swing back.

But it didn’t last only a few months or even a year. It’s been over two years and we’re still not fully able to occupy those cubicles. You may have heard that old habits die hard, and this new habit of video conferences, virtual meetings and working from home are now an old habit. Psychology Today says that our behaviors are in our memory systems too, making it hard to change.

In search of a better work life

Since it appears working virtually is here to stay, what can be done to make it better? Many technologies had to ramp up very quickly to address the need for online meetings and the management of teams spread around the country and the world.

What we saw was a scaling up of existing virtual meeting system capacity, but not much innovation to make it better. We expect a new generation of tools and options to appear in the next 18 months and we already see companies like Facebook (Meta) start and then trash new entries into the consumer space – opting to focus on business applications instead.

Innovation is getting ready to surprise us and create whole new ways of managing our communications and solving what we all hate about virtual meetings and video calls.

The next wave

It’s time to re-imagine video conferencing solutions and alternatives to telephones.