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Do business leaders truly value workers? Then don't make them return to the office.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/11/2022 Jamie Hodari
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Gas prices recently reached a 14-year high. In response, taxpayers have demanded everything from tax credits to price caps. But you know what they definitely haven’t demanded? The return of long commutes. 

In the past two years, survey after survey has found that employees do not want to go back to the office full time. Those surveys have also found that if forced to go back, a significant percentage of workers would be inclined to quit

Even when gas prices are low, commute times have been shown to correlate with anxiety, depression, obesity, low job satisfaction, environmental degradation, and decreased time with family and friends. © Nam Y. Huh/AP Even when gas prices are low, commute times have been shown to correlate with anxiety, depression, obesity, low job satisfaction, environmental degradation, and decreased time with family and friends.

For most people, the primary reason isn’t that they can’t stand the office or that they love their living room. It’s that they hate commuting.

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Workers hate to commute

This bears repeating. People absolutely hate commuting. There’s a cost to going back to an office that requires a long commute, and it’s not one many are willing to pay. 

Even when gas prices are low, commute times have been shown to correlate with anxiety, depression, obesity, low job satisfaction, environmental degradation and decreased time with family and friends.

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It’s worth mentioning that this is not the work of one very productive researcher who hates cars. Studies about the negative impacts of commuting have been reproduced for decades in country after country. 

And when gas prices spike, commuting gets expensive. Recent research estimates that 90% of Americans commute to work by car, and the median annual cost of that before the pandemic, when gas prices were low, was $2,782.

For Americans living in suburbs and rural areas, transportation costs them more each year on average than food

To state the obvious, we need food. Opting out of food would have dire consequences.  But we should be able to opt out of commuting, if we wanted to. 

The cost of asking people to return to their pre-pandemic commute is simply too high. Rather than pressure employees to go back to their pre-pandemic commute or incentivize them with tax credits, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed, company executives would do well to evaluate how they can best support hybrid work models, leveraging many of the platforms and solutions already in place. 

Companies have options

The conversation around the return to the office has focused, more than it should, on vocalizing why working from home is not ideal. But work from anywhere does not equal working from home; it means giving employees the choice of where to work. 

The vast majority of employees want to be in the office at least a few days a week. And pretty much all of them don’t want to commute. It seems like an impossible paradox to solve, but it’s not. 

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In the past decade, networks of workplaces, like Industrious or WeWork, have arisen that make it easy for a company to put several smaller offices on the map across a metro area. 

This almost always saves the company money in the form of lower rent, but what people rarely talk about is how much it saves their employees. Flexible workspaces can help reduce the average miles people need to commute to reach the office, which can help significantly reduce gas consumption. 

In some cities, having a workplace closer to home means that people could commute by bike, walking or public transportation. 

Hybrid work models can help eliminate thousands of miles a year driven back and forth to company headquarters. Fewer miles commuting translates into less tanks filled with gas, which itself translates into thousands of dollars saved a year, not to mention the environmental impact and the productivity gains.

American workers are feeling the pinch, and companies can help alleviate that by giving them the opportunity to choose where to work from – the tools and platforms are already in place. 

Jamie Hodari is co-founder and CEO of Industrious, a flexible workplace provider.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Do business leaders truly value workers? Then don't make them return to the office.

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