May 22, 2020 - Energy & Environment

How the post-coronavirus shift to remote work could impact oil demand

Illustration of oil spewing out from a pump in the shape of a question mark
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that the company is planning to shift the majority of its workforce to be able to work remotely in the next 5 to 10 years.

The state of play: It's the latest sign that remote work could become a permanent fixture of the post-pandemic landscape for substantial numbers of people whose jobs enable that luxury. That, in turn, is among the things that may act as a drag on long-term oil demand if many large employers go the same route.

  • Twitter and Square, both run by Jack Dorsey, announced last week that people could work from home indefinitely if they wanted to.

But, but, but: Gaming out whether the coronavirus pandemic, which has sharply reduced oil consumption, is a blip or inflection point is really hard.

  • Demand is already coming back significantly since last month when it was down by roughly 30%.

What they're saying, via S&P Global Platts: BP chief economist Spencer Dale points out that while people are traveling less, the crisis could boost consumption in other ways.

  • From their piece on his interview with IHS Markit: "Dale said it...remains unclear whether social behavior changes post-pandemic might mitigate any slide in oil intensity from less travel."
  • "More home deliveries of food and goods in addition to greater private car use to avoid public transport could push demand in the other direction," he said.

The big picture: Overall, Dale sees the pace and degree of economic recovery having a vastly larger effect on future oil demand than new travel patterns.

Go deeper: Coronavirus leaves experts pondering if the planet already hit peak oil demand

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