Last year’s speedy and expedient transition to remote work was impressive. This year, post-Labor Day return-to-normal plans were quickly scuttled by the Covid-19 delta variant as it roared across unvaccinated areas of the U.S.

Now companies are struggling with not just when it will be safe to return to the office but with how to create long-term workforce and workplace plans, says Madhu Chamarty, chief executive officer and co-founder of BeyondHQ.

Get a demo of the SaaS that lets you run unlimited talent and real estate analyses while saving time and money. Click here.

“Five, 10 years down the road, it is quite likely that the triggers for hybrid work will remain in play,” said Chamarty, whose San Francisco Bay-area company offers a cloud-based workforce and workplace planning platform for distributed teams.

“As a [chief human resource officer] or head of real estate or even the CEO, you have to fundamentally embrace the fact that work is being redefined,” he said. “The organizations that recognize that and put it in a longer-term planning mindset will win out versus folks that say, we just have to figure out how to bring people back to the office [safely] and then everything can go back to normal.”

Chamarty says companies should accept hybrid work — which allows employees to work both at the office and from a remote location — as the new normal, notably because it will help companies retain top performers, expand the available talent pool and afford more flexible real-estate options.

Here Chamarty offers tips on how to move forward in uncertain times. The conversation  has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Remote Report: How have company leaders adapted to the challenges of the pandemic?

Madhu Chamarty: HR and real estate tend to be the organizational shepherds for the footprint, culture and productivity conversations. They went from that role pre-pandemic to essentially being first responders for the organization because it was almost literally life and death on some of the choices that they made in the last 18 months.

They’re not just managers of cost anymore. They are drivers of productivity, business values [and] top-line growth, depending on what hybrid plan you decide to go with.

RR: How can companies make long-term plans for their workforce and workplace strategies?

MC: List the questions you have to answer across all operational aspects of a company and discuss what the answer to each of those questions is. You need to understand all of the possible implications of having people in multiple parts of the country [when], historically, you just had them in one office. I think lots of HR leaders haven’t had to deal with such a broader optimization problem. [You’ll] need multiple vendors to help with all of the questions, corporate buy-in, and [for the] CEO to recognize that it’s not just about making sure that productivity is high [but also] to ensure that DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] goals are met as a result of this, etc., etc.

Interested in evolving your workplace strategies? Click here to read “Old Way v. New Way in Workforce Planning: Digitizing Location Selection for Strategic Decision Making.”

RR: What does long-term strategic planning look like for talent management when you can hire people who can work from anywhere?

MC: There is this feeling … that we’ve opened up the talent pool across the country and the world. [Companies may think], “We will be able to hire faster, grow faster … and therefore location is irrelevant.” But, on the flip side, [a recruiter will] tell you it’s harder for them. If you give them the guidance that [workers can be located] anywhere, they are basically stuck with needing to put equal amount of effort in all directions, versus saying to them, these are the markets that have the fastest time to fill or these are the markets where you don’t have to compete with the large tech giants, or these are the markets where you have really good entry-level talent.

Work from anywhere [also] has implications on company expenses. Are you going to allow people to expense their travel from HQ to the location no matter where they are? And what if they keep moving around? What does it mean for time zone and productivity, company culture, etc.?