Skip to contents
Economy

What’s Working: People say they want to work from home, but they’re returning to the office in droves

Plus: Get your foot in the door at United Airlines, an estimated 101,000 Coloradans will lose unemployment benefits on Sept. 4 and other pandemic jobs news.

Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine is unloaded from a United Airlines plane. (Handout)
  • Credibility:

As large swaths of the office-worker community went remote during COVID and showed that it could work, many want to keep it that way, including folks who took the latest What’s Working survey on working from home. Most respondents did at one time or another during the pandemic (73.7%) and still do (63.2%).  

Increased productivity was key, said Linda Chadwick-Wirth, who mentioned she’s “Uninterrupted by desk ‘drive-bys.’” Burt Rutherford mentioned a biggie: “I don’t have to deal with office politics.” 

Plus there were comments like “No commute,” and “open-office collaboration setups drove me to distraction.”

But working from home may not be as widespread as one would think.

In July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of people teleworking due to COVID declined to 13.2% of all workers ages 16 and older. That compares to a high of 35.4% in May 2020. Numbers are also down for the manager and professional worker population, which dropped to 24.6% in July, down from 41.1% in January and 57.4% in May 2020, according to a Bloomberg News report

Even tech companies are changing their approach. Google made headlines this week because it may lower the salaries of employees who choose to work from home permanently after moving to a less expensive community during COVID.  A “company pay calculator” seen by a Reuters reporter would lower wages 10% or more, while some employees interviewed said it’s more like 25%. 

The same story mentions that Facebook and Twitter already cut pay of employees who moved to less expensive areas, though Reddit and Zillow switched to “location-agnostic pay models.”

Whether workers truly are more productive at home or the office seems to remain debatable. Even in the What’s Working survey, at least one person, an employer, said “production is up in some areas, but not all.” 

And Roger Ludlow pointed out that while he’s more productive, working from home “keeps me from using my long-term experience to help train new employees.”

Another person mentioned an unfortunate extreme of being too productive: “I find that WFH often provides companies longer hours or coverage than on-site positions do, at least for the skills that I bring.”


HELP US: Do you have to balance a job and affordable child care? The Colorado Sun is reporting on access to affordable and high-quality child care, including for teachers, emergency responders and health care employees who work unusual hours. Help my colleague Shannon Najmabadi and by filling out this week’s question. Thanks!


So you want to fly?

Even with the delta variant causing concern about being in close quarters with strangers, airports and flights are jammed if you ask nearly anyone who has flown recently. 

According to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of travelers screened daily nationwide has been inching up in the past two months, with nearly triple the number of people flying this month compared to the same time last year — and it’s only off 15 to 20% from 2019. 

Some of the recent travel delays have been blamed on labor shortages, though U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, isn’t having any of that. She asked the six major airlines last month why there is a labor shortage when $63 billion in aid was provided to prevent it. 

Some explanations? There was an existing pilot shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s worse, as airlines must retrain out-of-work pilots but find the flight simulator sessions are backlogged, CNBC reported.

Airlines are also short on ground crews and other workers who help keep planes humming and flights moving. Even with the aid, several airlines had furloughs and layoffs between relief plans and have continued to restructure during COVID.

Just last month, United Airlines told the state that after examining the COVID impact, it would lay off 454 workers in Colorado and exit from its in-house catering service. United plans to outsource the operation to Gate Gourmet, which agreed to hire the airline’s workers in good standing, subject to an interview.

Speaking of United, they’re hiring

United, which has a major hub in Denver, still needs a lot of help. It is hosting a job fair on Tuesday. It has 400 openings right now — including for pilots.

“We are hiring based upon business needs, which is tied to United’s growth in Denver,” United spokesman Russell Carlton said in an email. “Right now, we’re operating more than 90% of our domestic schedule compared to 2019. At nearly 500 departures a day currently (a mark we hit in 2019), Denver is one of United’s fastest growing hubs.”

A United Airlines 787 at Denver International Airport. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Carlton added that United is buying 270 more aircraft, the “largest order in our company’s history.” That also translates to as many as 3,000 more union jobs in Denver, where the company currently employs 6,400 around the airport.

A look at the openings includes entry level jobs that start at $15.03 an hour as a customer service representative or ramp service/baggage handler, and an assistant manager at its flight training center (pays between $62,000 – $91,000). 

“Most of these jobs include entry-level opportunities for people directly out of high school and college. The combined wages and benefits of customer service and ramp service employees at the top of their pay scale in 2019 totaled more than $90,000,” he said.

Other jobs don’t share salary ranges as required by state law (tsk tsk) but according to the company, it’ll also be hiring for technical roles, flight attendants and pilots at the job fair.

Big perk (besides medical benefits and vacation): Free flights anywhere in the world on standby. United’s even tossing in a 20% discount on a future flight for job fair attendees. 

>> United’s job fair, Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the United Club at Empower Field at Mile High, 1701 Bryant St. in Denver. >> DETAILS

>> BONUS: Denver Health will also be hiring at United’s job fair as part of their involvement with Colorado Inclusive Economy. >> JOBS

>> Another job fair: The NoCo Manufacturing Job Fair is more than a month away on Sept. 23 in Loveland. You can sign up now to get a list of job openings. >> DETAILS 

Federal unemployment: 3 weeks left

As federal unemployment benefits wind down — the last day is three weeks from today — the number of new unemployment claims is … rising, especially for the gig worker benefit called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

First-time PUA claims grew 26% for the week ended Aug. 7 and were already up 20% the week prior. Overall, total initial claims grew 8.6% last week from the week before, according to new weekly data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

There were also about 14,000 more people collecting continued unemployment on July 31, compared with earlier in the month. 

The ups and downs week by week are not unusual and they tend to bounce around, Ryan Gedney, CDLE’s senior economist, said in an email. 

“General long-term trend is downward,” Gedney said. “Weekly amounts paid out for regular UI have held fairly steady, ranging between $19 million and $23 million over the past 10 weeks. The uptick in PUA initial claims could potentially be driven by the approaching expiration of the program, however, that is only speculation.”

CDLE estimates 101,000 people will lose all benefits after Sept. 4. But for those who are on regular state unemployment — an estimated 34,000 — they’ll just lose the $300 weekly federal supplement.

Getting the Jumpstart incentive

Attention unemployed workers who returned to work between mid-May and late-June: If you haven’t started getting the Colorado Jumpstart incentive, you’re probably out of luck.

“Most participants should have received their first payment by now, but they may not have met the final eligibility milestone yet,” said Jessica Hudgins Smith, press secretary for the division of unemployment insurance.

This, again, is the $1,200 to $1,600 bonus payment for unemployed Coloradans who returned to work between May 16 and June 26. Payments began in mid-July.

But YOU HAD TO OPT IN! This was noted several times not only in this column but also on CDLE’s site.

(If you opted into Jumpstart and haven’t been paid but had the foresight to get a screenshot of opt-in confirmation, email me.)

There are exceptions. One fellow who got a job in the second week of June appears to be still in the eligibility determination process. And, Smith said, “for the same reason, it is possible final Jumpstart payments may be issued into September.”

The Colorado Jumpstart program paid $1,200 to $1,600 to unemployed Colordans who found a job and went back to work between May 16 to June 26. But you had to opt in. In one’s MyUI+ account, unemployed users can check their Jumpstart opt-in status under “Deduction & Payments.” (Provided by Colorado Department of Labor and Employment)

You can verify your opt-in preference in your MyUI+ account. Just look for the “Jumpstart” item under the “Deduction & Payments” section. Issued payments will show up under “Payment History.”

As of Aug. 13, 18,227 people had been paid $22.7 million. About 400 to 500 people who opted in to the program were flagged as fraud. There’s also another 1,300 people who opted into the program but didn’t meet the eligibility requirements, she said. 


Wow, time flies. The What’s Working column turned one earlier this week. It was meant to be temporary, but folks seem to still read it. And so, it’ll continue as long as there’s something to write about. It should be pretty busy as federal unemployment winds down. What is going to happen to the 100,000+ people who will lose benefits? Share your story by emailing me at tamara@coloradosun.com. Have a good week everyone! ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

MORE: Read stories on Colorado jobs and unemployment


We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.