After getting a taste for the flexibility offered by remote work, 73% of employees don’t want to get back to full-time office life, says the 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index. Yet 67% desire more face-to-face time with their teams. A hybrid workplace that combines in-person and remote work is the solution.

Companies must figure out how to offer hybrid work now, or they risk suffering brain drain as employees look for greener pastures. This risk is very real: Microsoft found that more than 40% of the workforce is considering making a job switch this year, which is a significantly higher percentage than previous years.

My experience running a hybrid company for more than two decades has taught me that there’s a lot of strategy involved in orchestrating a well-functioning hybrid workplace with a healthy, productive and engaging culture. You can’t just announce that employees may continue working from home some of the time.

According to recent research by McKinsey, 90% of organizations plan to go hybrid, yet very few have even begun crafting or communicating a detailed plan. As a result, employee anxiety is on the rise. Going hybrid by default is a recipe for dysfunction and disaster.

Companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines any longer. The time is now to put together a thorough hybrid strategy that incorporates human resources policies, technology upgrades and processes for training employees and leaders on how to successfully operate and collaborate within a hybrid setting.

Get started by addressing these seven topics.

What is your future of work vision?

Clarity of vision is the first step in going hybrid by design. You need to define what needs to change and why, what are the top challenges and what is the re-imagined vision for the hybrid workforce. Then, use this vision to align leadership and teams as you put together a detailed roadmap.

To help clarify your vision, answer these questions:

  • How will people collaborate if they’re not in the office at the same time?
  • Can each job be performed on-site, remotely, or a mix?
  • Can employees live anywhere? Or do they need to be in proximity to a physical office?
  • Will your talent strategy include freelance or gig workers?
  • How will you maintain your culture in a hybrid setting? How does it need to evolve?
  • How will being hybrid help or hinder your operating model?

How will you foster virtual leadership?

Effective leadership requires influencing people and inspiring good work. If your leaders are used to consistent face-to-face time, it can be difficult knowing how to transition these skills to the virtual world. Some training may be required, especially in the soft skills around relationship-building.

Relationship building happens naturally in an office but takes extra effort when you’re remote. The key is to be intentional. Leaders need to ask questions about what employees are working on, what inspires them, and how they’re feeling. They should carve out time for non-work conversations and encourage employees to do the same with one another.

Although leaders may think they’ve been doing this all throughout the pandemic, research suggests otherwise: The latest Microsoft Work Trend Index found that leaders report stronger work relationships and better overall well-being than their employees do.

What work can effectively be done remotely?

Some employee groups will have little need to gather physically, while others may need to get together in person regularly. Answer the following questions for each team to determine the right mix:

  • How critical is face-to-face interaction for the desired customer or stakeholder experience?
  • Does the work itself require direct contact or can it be accomplished virtually?
  • Do team members work independently, or do they rely on frequent collaboration?
  • Does the team require a high level of management oversight?
  • Does the team have access to the technology they need to do their jobs virtually?

What are your real estate needs?

Shifting your workforce to a hybrid model will change the amount and type of real estate you need. Once you have an idea of who will be working in the office, how often, and what work they will be accomplishing there, you can determine your new real estate requirements.

The most successful hybrid workplaces give employees flexibility to work from anywhere, engage leaders who are capable of virtually building relationships and inspiring great work, invest in the proper business tools and digitize as many processes and procedures as possible. ”
— Larry English, President & Co-founder Centric Consulting share twitter

Most hybrid organizations will choose to accomplish more collaboration-focused work on site and save heads-down, deep-thinking work for home. Thus, most companies will likely need to increase their collaboration (“we”) space and decrease their individual desk (“me”) space. Since real estate changes can’t always happen that quickly, it’s also important to have an interim strategy so employees don’t simply return to their old desks in the meantime.

What are your technology requirements?

In a hybrid workplace, employees need to be able to do their jobs well from anywhere. Companies must invest in the productivity, collaboration and core business applications to enable this. These tools should not only enable your future of work vision but also help you overcome an office-centric culture by allowing easy digital communication and relationship-building. And be sure to provide training so employees can leverage the tools to their fullest extent.

How will you enable your organization to work asynchronously?

In a hybrid model, employees won’t always be working simultaneously. To allow for asynchronous work, you must streamline and modernize day-to-day operations. You should digitize every process possible and make sure people can easily access the information they need when they need it. The goal is to remove manual handcuffs tying people to the office.

How will you translate your culture to the virtual world?

Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently said “Work is no longer just a place.” In other words, going hybrid means your culture no longer lives at the office.

You must figure out how to live your cultural norms in a virtual setting and communicate your culture at every stage of the talent lifecycle, starting with onboarding. How can your onboarding process be digitized? How will you ensure new hires feel connected to the company and its mission as well as their fellow teammates? How will you develop your leaders and employees to thrive in a virtual/hybrid way of operating?

An often-neglected consideration: How will your culture extend to the at-home work environment? If your remote workers are slouching on the bed or couch and staring at a small screen, they’re not going to have a great experience. Productivity and well-being will suffer. Encouraging a more comfortable, productive environment may require employee education on proper ergonomics and investment in stipends for employees to upgrade their at-home workstations.

The most successful hybrid workplaces give employees flexibility to work from anywhere, engage leaders who are capable of virtually building relationships and inspiring great work, invest in the proper business tools and digitize as many processes and procedures as possible. Above all, a great hybrid workplace offers a great culture for employees, whether they log in from home, from the office or a mix.