Mayor Eric Adams continues to insist that municipal office employees work in person as the city continues its economic recovery — but he signaled for the first time that he may allow a limited amount of remote work once the pandemic ends.

“I'm trying to fill up office buildings,” Adams told reporters Wednesday following a breakfast hosted by the civic and real estate group Association for a Better New York. “And I'm telling JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, I'm telling all of them, ‘Listen, I need your people back in the office so we can build the ecosystem.’ How does that look – that city employees are home while I'm telling everyone else it's time to get back to work?”

But, he later added, “There's going to come a time, we may say that, you know, one day a week, we may do some type of different version. We know that post-COVID is a different environment.”

The mayor’s emphasis on in-person work — and his concession that a remote option may one day be a possibility — comes amid an ongoing clash with municipal workers who say the city’s inflexibility is driving many of them to quit. Since last September, most city employees have been working in person, although a small number have been granted accommodation requests to work from home.

Bolstering their argument is the fact that attrition levels in the city’s workforce have been abnormally high, according to the Independent Budget Office. In early May, the IBO counted 282,000 full-time employees, a 6% drop compared to pre-pandemic days, when the city’s workforce stood at over 300,000.

As an example of the depth of losses, the New York Post recently reported on staffing shortages at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, or HPD. The New York Housing Conference, an advocacy group, found that one division in HPD that is charged with approving affordable housing projects had 24% fewer staff compared to what is allowed under the budget — 341 vs. 448.

The fight by city workers for a remote option has only intensified as more employers relax their return-to-office policy and as City Hall approaches negotiations with District Council 37, the largest municipal union in New York. In December, Henry Garrido, the head of the union, said a teleworking policy for city workers was “long overdue.” The union, which is currently soliciting input from workers, plans to stage a rally for a new contract later this month.

The shrinking workforce has put pressure on city agency leaders and managers who are charged with retaining talent and maintaining morale as well as delivering critical services.

During a Wednesday morning Zoom meeting with agency commissioners, Frank Carone, the mayor’s chief of staff, reiterated the mayor’s message. But he also acknowledged the difficulty of asking all employees to return to the office.

“Now, we know that is somewhat of a sticky directive,” Carone said, according to a recording of the meeting provided to Gothamist. “Because some employees either got used to working from home or are seeing alternatives in the marketplace with hybrid formulas.”

A recent survey by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, found that nearly 80% of 160 major Manhattan-based employers said they anticipated moving toward a permanent hybrid model.

First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo, who was also present at the meeting, thanked the commissioners and those in the Zoom meeting for their work.

“This is a tough situation in some cases,” she said.

She added: “There might have been accommodations in the last administration but this is a new mayor, a new day, and we're going to get our city back.”