Illustration by Mike Domina

1. Don’t overestimate the degree of change.
After 9/11, many forecasters said that you won’t see people in tall buildings in New York City ever again. Of course, people returned to New York quickly. As human beings, we’re not prone to change.

We expect that most companies will see a return to the office, but remote work — an accelerating trend prior to COVID — is being amplified by COVID. We will definitely see more people work from home.

2. Accept that remote work works.
Studies for years have shown that remote knowledge workers are as productive and engaged, if not more so, as they are in the office.

Now, because most office workers have had to do it, there is wider recognition that remote work works.

3. But most people don’t want to do it full time.
Studies also show that most people who want to work from home want to do it a few days a week, not full time.

We think you’re going to see a hybrid model emerge, where most companies allow some people to work remotely full time, others two to three days a week.

4. Set expectations thoughtfully.
One size doesn’t fit all. Some roles require significant face-to-face communication and collaboration. Others, less so. For the right job, the ability to live and work from wherever you want will increase. 

But for most people, companies will want employees to come in every so often — maybe weekly or monthly for team meetings and collaboration purposes — to keep people connected to the culture.

5. Keep your talent.
If a company insists on most people coming into the office most of the time when it isn’t necessary, it will hurt its competitiveness in the labor market.

CEOs have to provide a more flexible work environment than before. Being rigid isn’t going to be possible from a competitiveness standpoint.

6. Invest in remote tech and training.
A lot of companies’ first reaction was, “Boy, I’m going to save a lot of money on real estate.” That is an opportunity. We expect most large companies to reduce their real estate footprints.

But it’s not a free lunch. People working from home will need help and training with their technology. Companies will have to invest in these to maintain productivity and engagement.

7. Tend to mental health and culture.
When we talk to CEOs, the thing that scares them most about remote work is losing their culture and employee social cohesion. Companies will have to double down on programs to engage remote workers so they feel connected to the company and other employees, both socially and culturally.

8. Have a reopening plan.
Your plan will likely be phased, and everyone who has thought about this realizes you’ll have to start with volunteers. You can’t force people to come back and expect them to stay. Stress safety, and remember things like elevators and commuting. Your employees will be afraid of things like that for a while.