The age of hybrid work schedules has arrived. Businesses that are not addressing and planning for this evolution in work models will get left behind – by their employees.

There’s no going back to the way things were. So much has changed since early 2020 when employers scrambled to send everyone home with a laptop and an internet allowance to assure business continuity – the success of remote work was essential for the survival of the global economy.

Everyone was rooting for the remote worker, and companies were rewarded with outstanding productivity and engagement results. Remote work really worked, according to 83% of employers.

But now, as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and restrictions wane, it’s time to figure out how we proceed. What should the future of work look like?

Employees don’t want to go back to the old commute without a purpose, and studies have proven there are great benefits for employers when employees are given at least some choices in how, where, and when they work.

The only question to ask is, ‘how do we do hybrid work right?’

Start by recognising that different situations require different solutions. There are times when face-to-face conversations with coworkers are essential. But with most office jobs, there are many tasks and projects which can be done remotely. Sometimes a quiet space away from the office is a better option for tasks that require high concentration and less distraction.

In-office time should have a purpose. It should be about collaboration, face-to-face meetings, and opportunities to socialise and network.

To that end, employers must ensure employees have what they need to do their jobs efficiently no matter where they are. This requires good equipment and collaboration tools and well-managed schedules so that when someone arrives at an office, time is not wasted looking for a place to sit or meet. Use space management tools to coordinate workspaces efficiently.

Take a comprehensive view when building schedules. Getting the schedule right for hybrid working does require some foresight. It can be more difficult to maintain culture when different groups of people are working different days (or hours.) Additionally, offering flexible working hours can also create additional complexity for the organization.

“You’ll need to be thinking about what the hour pools look like,” warns Todd Brook, chief solutions officer for Engagement Multiplier. “Who will be collaborating with who and when? You want to be sure there is some overlap to ensure employees can have some face time together. Employees need to feel a part of something, and you’ll want to limit the risk of isolation.”

Hybrid working and flexible hours can get in the way of collaboration for roles that are highly dependent upon others. Bearing that in mind, and building overlap in schedules – whether in-office or in terms of employees’ routine availability – is important. Hours and locations should be predictable. Teammates need clarity on each other’s schedules and availability. Managers should ensure that schedules overlap to facilitate collaboration – taking into consideration teams that share accountabilities and dependencies. In addition to improving operations, this also builds trust and accountability between employees and their manager, as well as between teams.

“Hybrid working and flexible scheduling is not an excuse to change your hours each day, or randomly lock down your time,” noted Brook. “It has to be more intentional. This is an expectation you will need to set.”

It’s also useful to work with leaders and determine whether there are any non-negotiable periods during which people need to be available, such as weekly meetings, or during specific events, such as an IT deployment or particularly busy times for your business.

Focus on the results rather than where people are and when they work. Your best talent may need a two-hour window each afternoon to attend to family but puts in very productive hours in the evening. Many workers are more productive or creative during non-traditional work hours. Remember that employees are individuals who work differently and have different needs to achieve top performance.

Flexible work can be a good solution with benefits for everyone – with a few guidelines.

Managers must set clear expectations for response times, how, when, and where communications occur, what to do when something isn’t working, and performance metrics.

Performance metrics should focus on reaching goals, completing work, and achieving outcomes – rather than measuring the amount of time a person was logged on or other measures of activity, such as number of phone calls. You want both leaders and employees focused on delivering work and results that are meaningful to the business.

Be inclusive of in-person and virtual attendees of team meetings. It can be awkward, but sometimes hybrid meetings are unavoidable. Even with the best planning, there will be people who can’t attend in person – either due to a conflict or the budget can’t cover travel for folks who don’t live locally.

These hybrid meetings can easily result in disengagement for virtual attendees. Address this challenge by being inclusive from the start. Introduce everyone in the room and attending virtually. Make sure to engage those who are virtual during discussions. Set times for the meeting to start and stop and for any breaks in the middle.

Don’t keep virtual meeting attendees connected while people in the room partake in a catered lunch.

Put everyone on the same playing field by having attendees submit questions virtually, including people in the room. If a meeting has many attendees and will last more than an hour, schedule breakouts where attendees can meet in small groups – in person and virtually – to collaborate on a topic and network.

Assess and adjust. Leaders must understand that change is difficult and takes time. The human brain is always more comfortable with the status quo – even if things aren’t working well. Be patient and communicate clearly and frequently with the team about changes so there are few surprises.

Survey teams monthly using a short survey check-in to assess and benchmark how things are going. Assess and adjust your hybrid work strategy based on feedback. Frequent assessments will enable you to make incremental improvements that build on employee feedback and not only result in a better work environment, but also make clear to employees their role in making hybrid working successful for everyone.