The structure of the American workforce is changing. The pandemic had many Americans waltzing between their jobs and home offices, but since normalcy began to return, a majority of workers given the option to stay home are choosing to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.

In a survey of more than 10,000 U.S. adults, “COVID-19 Pandemic Continues To Reshape Work In America” 59% of workers who are able to perform their jobs from home are doing so all or most of the time, only a 12%reduction from October 2020.Despite being a new experience for 57% of remote workers, most (60%) say it’s something they’d like to continue.

In the promotional products industry, Ronald Robinson, director of vendor relations with American Solutions for Business in Glenwood, Minnesota, says most of the distributor’s staff, when given the choice, opted to work from home. “We do have some staff members returning, but only a handful,” he says. Before the pandemic, Robinson says the ASB team occupied five buildings and having remote staff allowed them to consolidate to two.

Mike Fey, MAS, president and CEO of supplier Fey Promo, in Edgerton, Minnesota, conveyed a similar sentiment. He says the company has seen “a spike in more full-time remote workers,” with the hiring of more full-time staff members for non-production roles than in-office staff in the last two years.Fey also notes there are team members now who would not have considered the position if the company did not offer a remote work arrangement.

Hunter Johnson, sales manager for Lehi, Utah, supplier C-SLIDE, says his company has adopted more of a hybrid structure. “For individuals where there is an option, we now support a hybrid work environment where [employees] can come into the office when it is necessary, but finish from home when things are under control and running smoothly.” He adds, “We used to be entirely in the office, but now we have multiple employees who work entirely from home.”

More than six in 10 (64%) of survey respondents said it’s easier for them to maintain work-life balance, and 44% feel working from home has made it easier for them to complete tasks and manage deadlines. On the other side of this “ease”are the employers, which Robinson and Fey say are being challenged to quickly grasp and apply new tools and systems, while also managing augmenting cyber security concerns and correcting day-to-day technology snags.

Fey says that having a larger remote staff has required more work on Fey Promo’s behalf, which include acquiring more resources for its IT department, adapting existing in-person meeting rooms for an enhanced user experience when remote conferencing, and resolving occasional glitches.“With transition to remote, there are additional costs borne by the employer from things like monthly interest, having more computer systems and travel to corporate,” he says, explaining that Fey Promo is in the process of installing a backup generator to maintain computer systems during a power outage. “It was having so many remote team members that led us to making this decision,” he says.

Although figures have fallen since the height of the pandemic, workers are now driven more by convenience than health and safety concerns. Of the 59% primarily at-home workers identified in the survey, most (61%) say it’s because they choose to work from home, while 38% say it’s because their workplace is currently unavailable. Over three-fourths (76%) also said the choice is a matter or preference—up 16% from 2020. Fewer remote workers are concerned with corona virus exposure—42% this year compared to 57% in 2020—and more (17%) have reported relocating as another reason for remaining remote, up 8% from 2020.

Robinson says that employees generally like having the ability to decide where they want to work, instead of being told, with childcare as another big appeal. “It does allow many employees with young children to spend more time at home with their children and save money at the same time without having daycare,” he says. Robinson adds, “I think many people are looking for places to work which allow them the option to work remotely.”

A downside identified in the survey, however, is that most (60%) remote workers feel less connected to their coworkers now, nodding to an ongoing focus area for businesses with remote workers. Fey says Fey Promo has seen the greatest success with a hybrid work schedule.

“Culturally, it takes additional effort to ensure we are including remote team members on various things and programs that are done at corporate,” he says. “We have also experienced some existing team members reluctant to embrace remote work, team members remote.”

Robinson agrees that a hybrid format is a good way for companies to bring together employees, from time to time, who are both in-office and remote.

With remote work becoming the norm for some non-production roles, Fey says that some positions are needed in-person and this can’t be compromised. He’s observed this scenario causing confusion for some candidates, who assume that all work can be done remotely and have trouble understanding the reasoning. Robinson says that American Solutions for Business has seen improvements from both a sales and efficiency standpoint, but Fey says that despite is best efforts, he continues to notice that some processes don’t happen as effectively with remote staff when compared to in-office.

“We still see a benefit to having meetings in person, and being in the office as well allows us to better coordinate things with the other departments, but we understand that a work-life balance is important and we attempt to support employee choices 100%,” Johnson says, sharing a similar sentiment. “Workplace culture has shifted to appreciate monthly meetings and holiday parties more, as those are times when we can get the largest chunk of the office together to celebrate our achievements.”