Flexible work arrangements may be one of the pandemic-driven changes that will endure for businesses for years to come. Many companies have realized their employees can be just as productive working remotely. And many employees have their sights set on working from home at least part of the time for the long term.

Research shows that when considering their career options, more than half of professionals are interested in fully remote positions at companies based in a different city or state than they live in. Also, companies are pulling multiple levers to attract skilled candidates, which includes offering remote options and evaluating candidates outside of their office’s geography.

So, how do you navigate the flexible work options of your workers, and how do you ensure you’re hiring and managing teams appropriately as your company looks to the future?

Robert Half has unique insights that can help you answer those questions. As a global talent solutions firm, we work with companies of all sizes on their recruitment, hiring and workforce planning efforts. Here are five lessons learned during the pandemic that can help inform your company’s plans for the future:

1. Reopening offices requires significant changes

When you return to work in the office, it’s not just a matter of unlocking the doors and letting everyone back in. You need a strategy that encompasses governmental guidelines as well as some of your own that you consider crucial to safeguarding the health of your employees, visitors, customers and vendors.

Along with careful consideration of new safety protocols, your plan for returning to work at the office should include addressing your employees’ concerns. Think about the actual experience of going back to work and how you can make that as positive as possible. For example, you may want to consider offering employer-provided childcare, if possible. That's on the wish list of workers we surveyed about returning to the office.

Also address the emotional state of your team members. Being unsure what to expect when they go back to the office while also being worried about their health can be overwhelming.

Be clear about the specific steps the company is taking to promote worker health and safety and that these things are top priorities for the business. Consider a welcoming message from leadership, but don’t stop there: Transparent, continuous communication is as essential as a strong corporate culture.

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2. A hybrid workforce brings new challenges

While many managers have gained experience managing fully remote employees, the challenges are different when it comes to overseeing hybrid teams. Directing the projects of people working both in an office and at home requires strong coordination skills, creative thinking and a willingness to adapt and pivot.

Here are three tips for managing a dispersed workforce that’s split between the office and remote locations:

  • Help everyone stay connected. During video calls, update off-site team members on key takeaways from meetings held at the office that could impact their projects. Another idea could be to continue with all-virtual team meetings. Also, keep a pulse on whether technology is helping or hindering your workers. Ask them which tools — and which features of those solutions — are helping them communicate and collaborate most effectively.
  • Don’t stop remote nonwork conversations. Encourage in-office and remote workers to interact with each other as people, not just teammates. Throughout the pandemic, many organizations and their workers have used communication tools like Zoom and Slack to share stories, play games, have informal chats and engage in fun team-building exercises. Consider embracing or expanding this practice to enhance the human connection between all your team members.
  • Be vigilant for signs of disconnection. Don’t overlook the fact that some remote workers may start to feel left out if they’re not physically returning to the office. Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind. Look for red flags signaling that remote workers are struggling, such as missed deadlines, lack of communication or decreased interest in assignments.

3. It's become a fiercely competitive hiring market

The demand for skilled talent is high in many markets and industries. In the current hiring market, managers are struggling to fill vacancies while skilled candidates are often fielding multiple job offers.

Employers open to hiring remote workers have more recruiting choices because they essentially remove geographic barriers to talent. You can engage job candidates from across the globe as easily as those living near your office. This provides an opportunity to hire people with valuable skills for immediate and future business needs.

The shortage of skilled professionals is not only leading to increased competition for top talent; it's driving up salaries.

Consult the latest Robert Half Salary Guide to see if you are offering competitive pay levels.

4. You can get help with hiring

Not only is the hiring process challenging in this job market, but it's time-consuming, too. Once you’ve vetted resumes, you’re looking at a series of initial phone interviews, video or in-person interviews for your top choices, skills testing, reference checks and other steps.

Meanwhile, you’re slammed with juggling the management and technological challenges that accompany leading a remote or hybrid team.

A talent solutions firm like Robert Half can do the heavy lifting. We give you quick access to highly skilled professionals you might not find on your own. We can effectively evaluate candidates' experience and skills. We’re able to handle most of the details of the hiring process for you. And we can help with onboarding.

5. Your retention programs will be tested

With the ongoing economic trend called the Great Resignation, you can be assured workers are rethinking their careers and considering a change. Here are some retention tips you might find useful:

  • Be flexible. Allow a wide degree of latitude in working hours and deadlines. Our recent survey found that the ability to set their own office hours topped employees' return-to-office wish list.
  • Focus on employee wellness. Consider amplifying wellness offerings if you haven’t already. Offering webinars on topics such as stress management and mind-body relaxation is one idea.
  • Be attuned to workers’ preferences. Many professionals are looking for their employers to help with commuting expenses and offer a more relaxed dress code when returning to the office.
  • Pay your top performers well. Even in times of relatively high unemployment, if you aren’t meeting or exceeding what other companies pay for similar work, you risk losing your most valued employees.
  • Stay agile when managing teams. Directing the projects of people working both in an office and at home requires strong coordination skills, creative thinking and a willingness to adapt and pivot.
  • Manage your resources. With hiring for contract positions on the increase, you also have to excel at maintaining a blend of full-time and contract positions.

Heading back to work is different for everyone

The timeline and process for employees returning to the office varies by company. Perhaps the best gift you can give is to make it clear you don’t expect them to return to work on-site until they’re ready. That should help boost their morale — as well as their loyalty.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time like no other, and its effect on workers will be lasting. So, even as things continue to improve, don’t stop expressing your appreciation for everything your team is doing to stay productive and contribute to the company’s bottom line. After all, it’s your dedicated employees who will ultimately get your business positioned to succeed in the future.