Justin Ryan Horton has two jobs. When he’s not working 24-hour shifts as a firefighter, he’s working as an administrative assistant for a local community college from his home in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Firefighting isn’t a work-from-home kind of job, so when the community college position gave him the choice to clock in remotely, he took it.

The coronavirus pandemic upended what working looks like for millions of people all around the world. While many jobs can only be done in person, swaths of employers shuttered their physical doors and moved their workplaces increasingly online.

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Workers have since begun to return to the office in waves and navigating that transition is an ongoing and significant hurdle for employers and employees alike. Many workers simply can’t fathom a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, changing how companies approach their staffing needs.

Retaining employees who don’t want to work in person is an issue for companies, but relatively few employers (13 per cent) have introduced new incentives that would make employees more satisfied with it, according to a new survey by the University of Chicago.

It found more than half (55 per cent) of hybrid workers said increased pay would encourage them to work in person more often, while incentives such as commuter benefits, in-office childcare, free food and social gatherings could also increase worker satisfaction with returning to the office.

The survey also noted roughly 75 per cent of human resources professionals said retaining employees who don’t want to work in the office is a problem, including 19 per cent who said it’s a major problem. Just a third of HR professionals said employees at their workplaces are extremely or very happy about returning to the workplace.

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Flexibility is key, particularly in giving employees agency for scheduling their work, says Bill Castellano, a professor at Rutgers University, noting the flexibility of remote working arrangements could be duplicated in physical offices with the right policies, such as having flexible start times.

The number of people working remotely has fallen significantly since the peak of pandemic. According to a Pew Research Center survey published in March, a third (35 per cent) of workers with jobs that can be completed remotely were working from home all of the time. That’s down from 43 per cent in January 2022 and 55 per cent in October 2020, but much higher than pre-pandemic levels (seven per cent).

This coincides with dwindling work-from-home options from employers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73 per cent of private sector employers had little to no telework in mid-2022, up from 60 per cent a year earlier.

“I would think this trend downward will continue, but I don’t think it’s going to go down to zero [or] where we were pre-pandemic,” says Castellano, adding he believes the hybrid model will grow in popularity.

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