That’s the million-dollar question everyone wants to know. From CEO’s to HR Executives, companies are brainstorming best practices for bringing employees back into a hybrid work environment. Or at least that was the consensus from Protocol’s Redesigning the 9-5 panel, where Jen Grant, CEO of Appify, Danielle Brown, Chief People Officer at Gusto, and Javier Soltero, Google VP of Workspace discussed the return to office and their thoughts around how to facilitate a successful transition into a hybrid working environment.

 Here are the three key takeaways from the conversation:

1.             Nothing is certain.

Although most people seem to think the answer to the future of work is a hybrid model, none of us seem to know if that’s actually true. Everyone has a different perspective on the return to the office, and even with open discussions and employee surveys, it’s hard to gauge what that return will look like and how to best structure it to accommodate everyone’s needs. Do employers require vaccinations? Do they still provide a fully remote option? Then there’s employee satisfaction. Do employees feel that it makes sense to come into the office two days a week? Or do they think they will be more productive being back in the office full time? The truth is that no one is exactly sure yet – and that’s okay.

2.             It’s not about the work. 

The past year has taught us that people can truly work from anywhere and still be productive. Therefore, the conversation about hybrid work is less about the work itself and more about the people and culture. It’s about what is missed when we’re all in our own individual remote work environments. Things like the ability to foster team building, junior employees having access to mentorship and real time learnings from senior employees, or even something as simple as encouragement and motivation are lost when we are not collaborating in-person. 

3.             Flexibility is the way going forward.

As employees try to figure out how to organize their lives in a hybrid model, the most important thing for employers to remember is to remain flexible. The return to office should not become a return to pre-pandemic norms. After over a year of remote work, people have adapted to working in their pajamas, moved away to different cities, and even built elaborate home offices. The shift to hybrid work after working from home for so long may be slow, and employers will have to be receptive to that. Those who were once eager to return to the office might become reluctant after a few weeks of resuming their commute, and those who committed to coming in for 3 days a week may realize that might have to change when they consider that they now must factor in doctor’s appointments, school drop-offs, and life in general into an in-office schedule again. In this return to office shift, everyone has different needs and expectations, and employers will have to meet people where they’re at to facilitate a successful hybrid work transition.

The answer to the future of work question isn’t obvious. There is no one-size-fits-all response, and there’s no clear solution. The shift to remote work caused by the pandemic required a lot of adaptation and adjustments and the same will be true of the return to office in post-pandemic life. It will take time to find a solution that is agile and responsive to all employees, and employers need to be willing to let that evolve and unfold over time.