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This article was contributed by Tim Rowley, CTO and COO at PeopleCaddie.

If you’re still thinking about when, or even if, the working world will return to a pre-pandemic “normal,” you’re wasting valuable time. All signs point to the rise of a new professional paradigm that meets employees in the middle, incorporating remote work and greater flexibility into traditional models. The most forward-thinking companies are already thinking in terms of how best to support employees’ work-life balance. The future of hybrid work has arrived.

In fact, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, recently told CNBC that her research found that 56% of U.S. workers have a job that can be done at least partially remotely. Still, what does this mean for employers? What does hybrid work look like — or, more aptly, what should hybrid work look like in order for companies to create the most productive work environments and attract the best talent?

The answers will depend on the industry, the company and, to some extent, the expectations of employees. But for any business leaders to begin painting a clearer picture of hybrid work within their own organization, the best place to start is by thinking critically about the following questions:

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How will the evolution of technology impact hybrid work?

In the past two years alone, we have witnessed massive wholesale changes in the way we employ technology to accommodate out-of-the-office employees. But the future of hybrid work isn’t just about landing on the next iteration of Slack or Zoom. Embracing this new paradigm means thinking not only about tech advancements that improve productivity, but also those that help support or enhance the increased flexibility workers are seeking in their lives. For example: simpler, better integrated communication that is, at the same time, more mindful of employees’ time and off-premise privacy.

How does a company support a hybrid work model?

Today, we have a better understanding of the downside of “hustle culture” and the risks of burnout in the workplace, which is why employers should welcome the benefits of hybrid work. (Did you know that employees who are offered a remote option tend to be more productive?) Still, synching workers’ schedules for meetings and collaborative project work, creating opportunities for unplanned but serendipitous professional interactions, and finding ways to foster social engagement useful in building productive and enduring working relationships under this new model are valid concerns for most companies. Tech solutions and smarter scheduling offer some simple strategies to keep the lines of communication open and ensure that employees are operating with integrity. Just remember: Employers who hope to inspire (and retain) high-quality workers need to think less in terms of all access, all the time and more about optimizing a designated overlap in employees’ schedules.

What are some ways to make the workplace more flexible for employees without sacrificing productivity?

This may trigger some managers, but it must be said: start scaling back meetings. Too many conference-room gatherings and Zoom calls, frankly, aren’t worth the time suck and mental shift demanded from front-line employees. When possible, reduce the number of meetings overall, ensure invitees are only those workers who are mission-critical and limit meetings to a consolidated block of time each day. Make them shorter. Institute no-meet Fridays. Building in the flexibility for employees to work from home at least one day a week or get home early for family dinners and kids’ activities goes a long way toward worker satisfaction and retention.

How can hybrid models impact diversity initiatives?

Remote and hybrid work help democratize the workplace in ways that may go unseen by the average employer. Workers with children at home, employees with disabilities and people who don’t have a car or are priced out of neighborhoods near the office benefit greatly from this new paradigm. And remote work opens up the employee pool to those not just outside the company’s neighborhood, but workers across the world. That opens the doors to new perspectives and lived experiences that make for a richer, better-equipped workforce. New AI-based tech solutions can track the speaking time for women and voices with an accent in remote meetings. Hybrid work doesn’t merely accommodate equal representation – it supports diversity across a company.

Given the flexibility that employees seek, could contract work be a legitimate solution in an uncertain labor market?

Absolutely. Most larger companies already outsource certain streams of their business or employ freelancers to provide specialized services. It shouldn’t be a leap for organizations to begin considering contract employees for at least a percentage of a workforce long believed to be strictly the domain of permanent staff. Whether a food distributor is in need of on-call IT consultation or an accounting firm has to temporarily beef up its seasonal staff, contractors working remotely or on site offer employees unmatched flexibility.

As we begin to think of hybrid work as a more permanent fixture across industries, it’s important that business leaders avoid latching their mindsets to antiquated models.  Hybrid work may vary by department or within a team. It will require establishing clear guidelines for when, and how often, employees are expected in the office or available to communicate remotely. But the new paradigm is here. Employers who recognize that hybrid work is the future of work – and then plan accordingly – will have the best chance to attract and retain the best employees available.

Tim Rowley is CTO and COO at PeopleCaddie.

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