Companies across the nation are dealing with perpetual Covid whiplash as they pivot to react to the threat posed by the Delta and Lambda variants and, further, grapple with the existential question of whether to reopen, postpone opening, or re-close the office. There's no playbook on how the return to the office should be done -- we're just adjusting to our shared reality.

The future of work holds many unknowns, and many organizations look to other companies like Google, Facebook, or Apple for inspiration and direction.

However, for startups, the path forward isn't nearly as clear, as startups typically don't have the depth of resources held by the Googles of the world. What Google and the other big names in tech offer are a menu of what smaller organizations should think about.

Below are the four core considerations startups need to contemplate in reimagining the workplace:

1. Prioritize equity

A big part of the puzzle is, how do you create an equitable experience for each employee in the hybrid workplace? Putting equity at the center will be key in this new way of working, as the worlds of in-person and over-video-teleconferencing collide. Equity at the center is humanizing the experience by looking at the full employee life cycle -- recruiting, onboarding, engagement, progression, and retention. That's thinking about staff meetings, collaboration opportunities, time zones, meeting etiquette, etc.

We are effectively in a social experiment on trust, and it has fundamentally altered how we work. We have to change how we operate, particularly when it comes to hiring, managing, collaborating, engaging, and communicating, while keeping equity at the center -- otherwise remote bias can creep in. 

That means to actively have inclusive practices like being mindful of meeting times and time zones -- caregivers may have pickups and drop-offs that conflict with meeting times. Or when you share information, it'll be important to ensure that the communication cascade makes it to the full team and not select members. This can be accomplished by sharing messages in multiple channels, like over Slack, email, and in the company newsletter. 

2. Don't wait, iterate

For many startups, they moved from 100 percent of staff in-office to 100 percent remote. Now many companies are looking at the hybrid model -- a mix of remote, fully in-office, and in-between. The hybrid model presents complexities we've never seen.

Designing a hybrid solution requires ongoing attention to ensure that there are minimal workforce disruptions. It calls for iteration and managing the balance of meeting employees where they are and the core business needs. Return-to-work plans shouldn't be too rigid; more emphasis on experimentation and tinkering is better to rightsize what works for your company.

3. Center on safety

With the Delta and Lambda variants on the rise and the many unknowns associated with the spread, organizational plans should center on employee safety, and that requires following the latest guidance from federal, state, and local health advisories.

Then there's determining your return-to-office protocol -- will only the vaccinated be permitted to return or will vaccines be required of all staff? There are many considerations, and legal questions to boot.

Staff may be anxious about returning to the office and want to be assured of their safety, while leaders are in the precarious position of having to make what they think is the right call. For instance, Google is requiring those who are returning to the office to be vaccinated, and other companies are strongly encouraging staff to get vaccinated and are forgoing mandates.

4. Communicate the change

For many of the staff returning to the office, there may be a lot of uncertainty as well as apprehension. Managing the change curve and expectations requires giving as much clarity as soon as one can. Communication is everything.

Further, it's important to have a pulse on what your staff are feeling so you understand their needs and expectations for returning to the office. Use those insights to craft what the return should look like. By incorporating employee sentiment balanced against health and business needs, a solution can be formed that is rightsize for your organization.