Another article on office-to-remote-to-hybrid working models? Yes -- well, sort of. We've all read reams about the clumsy juggling act that seeks to define the new "digital normal," and most of us have opinions about whether remote work is sustainable.

On the one hand, you have fierce advocates like Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, who cheekily tweeted just last week that cushy execs simply don't get why the average worker wants to stay home (something to do with corner offices versus cubicles and benefit disparities). At the same time, towering publications like Harvard Business Review are shining a light on the benefits of working in the office.

Meanwhile, everyone's watching the big players to see how they're going to handle it. Like Microsoft, which is leaving remote work approval to managers. (More specifically, schedules that are more than 50 percent remote need manager sign-off.)

Why is that revelatory? It's not. Other tech giants, like Apple, have done similar things, understanding that different people work best in different circumstances. For Microsoft, however, the remote work juggernaut is particularly difficult, as the company leans heavily on Microsoft Teams for revenue. How can you hawk a remote work tool while pushing in-office attendance for your own people?

But as Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for modern work at Microsoft, hinted, it's an opportunity to model hybrid work for other companies. "Design your physical space for the people who aren't there," he emphasized.

And so, in-office conference rooms are changing, turning into what some have called the "United Nations" layout: triangle or truncated semicircular conference tables in place of the stale old rectangular tables that often left in-office teams talking to themselves instead of anyone onscreen. The new arrangement encourages equal engagement among all meeting participants -- in-office and remote.

CEOs, struggling to know how to balance hybrid working models, can use this to their advantage. Instead of assuming an "all or none" policy is a must, they can find a way for hybrid models to work -- accommodating employees who function better in the office and prefer in-person interaction and those who would rather stay home.

The key is to allow both without creating an imbalance or a sense of favoritism. How? By thinking, as Microsoft has, about how hybrid engagement is possible on an even playing field. It starts with small changes -- like conference room layouts -- and moves to other elements of the employee experience.

Here are a few questions to guide you as you build out your new "work from anywhere" policy:

  • Are there key parts of the employee experience (e.g., onboarding, training, meetings, collaboration, team activities) that inherently exclude or disadvantage either in-office or remote workers?
  • If a specific activity is necessarily held in-person, are there ways to balance this with other activities that are virtual (or vice versa)?
  • Do your employees, both in-office and remote, have what they need to work efficiently and effectively?
  • Are there specific tasks or jobs that absolutely cannot be done remotely? If so, do you have clear justification?

Ultimately, the key to making hybrid models work is equal engagement -- something Microsoft is spending considerable time thinking about. As we continue to explore this new digital norm, I recommend keeping an eye on what Spataro is doing -- his work will be instructive for CEOs in every industry, not just in tech.