With the pandemic waning, many companies are asking people to  return to the office. Sadly, there is no reason the pandemic can't come surging back should a new more virulent and deadly variant of Covid-19 emerge and spread. Now that skilled workers have the upper hand in the employer-employee conversation, office work will be different from what it was in 2019.

Companies must attract and retain world-class talent to win new customers and keep them buying. Therefore, business leaders must structure work in a way that accommodates talent. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "In their constant quest for new talent, [business leaders] will ... empower [employees] who demand the schedule and location of their choice."

Here are four ways that leading technology companies are creating the future of work.

1. Recruit from anywhere.

With real estate prices setting records, companies risk losing out on talent if they insist that their employees commute to the office five days a week. Tech companies have figured out that they must compete for talent living anywhere.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told the Journal that he wants to make peoples' work and personal lives more fulfilling. Even GM is seeing that light. Its head of talent, Kyle Lagunas -- who lives and works out of Massachusetts and does not plan a move to Detroit -- is hiring in Austin and other non-Detroit locations.

Business leaders must offer the most talented people the pay and benefits they need and a work environment that allows them to learn, be productive, and balance professional and family obligations. To make sure those new hires fit with their culture, interviewers should ask recruits "What kind of culture would you like to work in?"

2. Work asynchronously.

Team members in different time zones are going asynchronous to boost their productivity and lower their stress.

A case in point is Slack Technologies -- now owned by Salesforce. As the Journal noted, Slack employees set and communicate their "core hours" -- when they are available to meet with others -- and "focus time" -- hours that they dedicate to individual work.

Is this approach effective? During its first "Async Week," Salesforce let 20,000 of its nearly 70,000 employees cancel regular meetings to make more time for individual work. Seventy-two percent of participants surveyed said this made them more productive and 70 percent said it reduced their stress, according to the Journal.

Business leaders who do not use this approach should consider adopting it. That's because it will make talented people more productive, less stressed out, and less likely to leave your company for one that does allow them to work asynchronously.

3. Cut back on meetings.

I recently sat in uninterrupted video conferences from 9:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. While I am sure readers can cite even more egregious examples, that is enough to make me realize that too many business leaders do not respect their workers' time. 

If leaders do not practice what Twitter calls better meeting hygiene, their talent may bolt for companies that do. Here are four questions to ask yourself before demanding that people attend a meeting:

  • Do you have a clear, deeply-considered, and efficient meeting agenda?
  • Do the people you invite need to make decisions in the meeting?
  • Would workers who cannot attend the meeting learn what they need from watching a recording of the meeting?
  • Could the meeting be replaced by an email, memo, or video?

If the answers to the first two questions is yes, then you need a meeting. If you answer no to the first two question or yes to the last two, you should consider canceling the meeting and replacing it with an email, memo, or video.  

4. Gather in person for bonding and health.

People feel better if they know their co-workers and engage in healthy habits. Perhaps companies can save money on office space and achieve both aims in new ways.

How so? They could use hotels, coffee shops, or executives' backyards to hold in-person meetings where project teams can get to know each other better, do up-front project planning, and engage in wellness exercises. For example, Salesforce is planning to host 10,000 employees at a retreat near Santa Cruz to train and bond with colleagues, hike, and take yoga and cooking classes, wrote the Journal.

Business leaders who limit in-person gatherings to such purposes -- while providing office space for those who want to commute periodically -- may be able to boost employee engagement while lowering their office space costs.

Above all, business leaders who want to create the future of work must take a page from the companies described above by being far more flexible about how they attract talent and keep it engaged and productive.