The pandemic has forced companies to adopt remote work to protect employee health. Soon, corporate leaders learned, often surprisingly, that working remotely also provided significant benefits. Many organizations have experienced employee engagement, productivity and a strong sense of belonging. These benefits occurred even when the transition to remote work was not focused on improving the employee experience.

But the impact of the past year and a half as well as the best route toward a more hybrid world of work varies across organizations. Over the past six months, I’ve spoken with dozens of SAP customers about different approaches, and read several hundred articles and studies on remote and hybrid work. Based on this experience, here are 6 insights to keep in mind as companies plan their return to the office.

  1. Hybrid work is a cultural value.

The shift to remote work has challenged the old notions of work itself. This included a common cultural belief that employees must be in an office to do a good job. Employees question where their leaders stand now as it affects their career and life choices. A good hybrid business strategy begins with clearly defined cultural beliefs about the value, purpose and importance that the company places on employees visiting offices.

2. Employee listening is important for mixed work.

One of the biggest changes to work in the 21st century is the transition to hybrid work. No one knows where to turn or what is the best way to do it. Companies and employees have to jointly figure this out as they move forward. Thus, the best hybrid work strategies have a strong focus on constantly listening to employees and adopting strategies and tactics over time.

3. Working remotely does not mean working from anywhere at any time.

Effective hybrid work cultures describe when employees are expected to work and not work. On the employee side, remote workers should provide clarity about when they will be available for meetings and requests. On the part of the company, employees should feel comfortable turning off their computers and phones from time to time and being unplugged from work.

4. In-person meetings are an important part of co-working.

What we saw in 2021 was no ordinary remote work. It was physical separation. Regular in-person meetings are essential to high-performance mixed work cultures. An important part of a hybrid strategy is deciding when and why people are expected to come together and investment in meeting the space and travel costs needed to support individual meetings. Companies should not ask people to stay together without a clear goal of coming together.

5. Talent management is more important and valuable in hybrid organizations.

Remote workers are more productive and engaged than office workers when they are well managed. But the opposite is also true. On-site work environments are more tolerant of leaders with poor management skills. Perhaps because employees have more clues to guess what their boss is thinking. In contrast, remote workers require constant communication about goals, how their contributions will be evaluated, and clarity about more intended activities to help them advance in their careers.

6. Use the right technology the right way (including in offices).

Companies have had the technology to support remote work for more than a decade. But it took a pandemic for them to use it. Before 2020, companies were extensively using modern technology like video conferencing and online work spaces. Instead, they relied heavily on a form of collaboration technology first developed in the 18th century: office buildings. Office buildings provide value by creating co-working spaces where people can interact in person. Like any technology, they have strengths and weaknesses.

There are also two other things we can be sure of. First, hybrid associations will be more common. We don’t “go back to normal” and neither should we. With unprecedented levels of passenger traffic there is no point in going back to the past. Second, this change gives us a rare opportunity to reconsider the nature of work. An opportunity to make the world what we want instead of accepting it as it is. Hold it with both hands.