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Remote work can ease gas-cost strain by Samuel McLelland Special to the Democrat-Gazette | May 16, 2022 at 4:48 a.m.

Gas prices are up and morale is down. Gas prices are rising as a direct result of a few things: Russia's war on Ukraine, inflation, and the lack of energy diversification. This is raw capitalism playing out in the marketplace. Morale is down as most Arkansawyers figure that they have to just suck it up and figure out how to get by on $4 gas until global leaders figure out energy supplies and domestic leaders get inflation under control.

But that isn't completely true. There is something we, ordinary Arkansawyers, can do to ease the burden of rising gas prices: Work from home.

Do you remember March and April of 2020? It was scary. Hospitals in New York were overwhelmed, we didn't completely understand how covid-19 worked, and people were scrambling to make ends meet. Some of us were also disinfecting our groceries. Wild times.

But if you drove anywhere during that time, you may also remember how empty the roads were, how little you spent on gas, and maybe you remember how crude oil prices went negative on the stock exchange due to the lack of demand. I personally remember traveling from downtown to west Little Rock on Interstate 630 at 5:30 one afternoon and it taking me eight minutes, without speeding.

Why was that possible? Because so many people were working from their homes and weren't on the roads for rush hour.

It's time we got back to a little more work from home, at least for the short term. Working from home removes the daily need to commute to work by car. Removing that commute helps lessen the effect gas prices are having on people's pocketbook.

Here's why: Not commuting to work means less miles driven, less gas consumed, less money spent on gas in a given week, and less spending on gas eases the burden of sky-high gas prices.

But what about folks who can't work from home? I hear you, but not all hope is lost. If more people worked from home, then fewer people would be on the road for mundane travel and lessen the amount of traffic. Less traffic means you don't waste gas by sitting in stand-still traffic or going 20 mph due to congestion on the roads (similar to how I was able to get from downtown to west Little Rock in eight minutes). Although that benefit is kind of indirect, it would likely help.

But there's a more direct benefit that helps non-remote workers and remote-able workers.

If more people worked from home, not just in Arkansas but all over the country, then that would lower the overall demand for gas. Lower demand for gas could help lower crude oil prices (like we saw in 2020 with negative prices). Lower crude oil prices would translate to lower prices at the pump, or at least keep them from going any higher, which helps everyone weather this storm.

Now, you can probably already feel the criticism coming from your boss: "But what about productivity? We're more productive in the office. Sorry, Charlie."

Sure, that is a real concern; can't have people goofing off at home. But they can't deny that for six or so months in 2020, you and your fellow employees kept that business afloat by working from home. That's a fact, Jack. And when the winter storm happened in February, I am sure you didn't get a "snow day," but were instead asked to work remotely. Why can't you work from home on a beautiful day when gas is $4 a gallon?

Productivity is important, but it's not everything. Putting productivity above people can be disastrous for a business' longevity. Why? Well, because happy employees tend to make better employees, and better employees tend to make a better business.

Some may argue that happiness can't be bought. Certainly true. But how much happier would you be if you were able to pay for day care, or continue to save for a house, or make ends meet each month despite inflation, without having to stress yourself out over a $500-a-month gas bill? You aren't asking for a company paid vacation, you're asking for some help to keep up a basic standard of living.

We all get it: These are strange and tough times. We're all just trying to do our best. But it's time we stop kidding ourselves and begin to look at what we can do to help ease all the burdens we face, especially now. And a big burden right now for many folks is gas prices. Working from home is a way to combat its effect on our wallets, and we need to seriously consider it once again.

Samuel McLelland is a lifelong Arkansawyer, graduate of Emory Law School, and practicing attorney in Little Rock. The views in this article are his alone.

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