Even as pandemic restrictions ease and more people return to the office, flexible and remote jobs are more popular than ever.
New research from CareerBuilder found that jobs allowing employees to work from home full or part-time saw seven times more applications than in-person roles last month. The jobs span industries and experience levels: Tax manager, Spanish tutor and therapist were among the most popular positions.
"People are not going to return to work the way they have in the past," Kristin Kelley, chief marketing officer at CareerBuilder, says. "Flexibility is the new norm and expectation from employees — we're going to see this trend continue in the months ahead."
CNBC Make It spoke with Kelley about the factors driving this surge in flexible job applications and how companies should respond.
People don't want to return to the office full-time
As coronavirus cases continue their steep decline throughout the United States, several companies including TIAA, American Express and Twitter have announced amended return-to-office dates for March.
Yet most Americans working from home would continue doing so if given the option. According to a Pew Research survey of 5,889 workers in January, 61% of people working remotely said they're not going into their office because they don't want to, citing better work-life balance and productivity.
Some people would rather quit than commute anytime soon: A recent Morning Consult poll of 400 workers found that nearly 50% of people would consider leaving their jobs if their employer asked them to come to the office before they felt safe.
It's no coincidence, then, that we're seeing a spike in remote and flexible job applications at the same time more companies are returning to the office.
"After two years of working from home, employers want to put Covid-19 behind them," Kelley says. "But that doesn't mean employees want to go back to working in an office full-time again."
Flexible jobs can lead to better career opportunities
The continued demand for remote and hybrid jobs is also coming from workers in service industries who are quitting their jobs in search of higher wages and flexible schedules.
In January, the service sector lost the most jobs (274,000), led by the leisure and hospitality business, which cut 154,000 positions, according to the ADP National Employment Report. While hiring rebounded slightly last month (leisure and hospitality added 179,000 new jobs), employment in this sector is still far below pre-pandemic levels.
"People working in retail, hotels or restaurants are realizing that their skills — customer service, communication, time management — transfer across different industries and are more in-demand than ever in this tight labor market," Kelley says.
According to CareerBuilder, customer service representative, administrative assistant and sales representative are some of the most in-demand flexible jobs among candidates. "Jobseekers feel more empowered to search for opportunities outside the industry they've worked in for years," Kelley adds.
What companies can do
To better attract and retain talent, Kelley says companies need to focus more on employee engagement and less on over-the-top job offers.
"A signing bonus or additional vacation time might get people in the door, but how are you communicating with employees and meeting their needs after they're hired?" she explains.
Employee engagement can include mentorship programs, virtual team lunches or "stay interviews," among other initiatives. "Now is the time for companies to be much more hands-on, communicative and creative about connecting with their employees," Kelley says. "They are still in the driver's seat, and I don't see that changing for a long time."
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter