By: Dr. Michael Horowitz

This article originally appeared on

The pandemic launched many employers onto a journey marked by constant negotiation between public health and safety, employee needs and desires, business expectations and endless rounds of breathless commentary about whatever the new “new normal” appeared to be. The change, trepidation and uncertainty took its toll.

Now that the public health risks have become clearer and many organizations are fully back in the office, the conversation around remote work has shifted to one of employee retention and recruitment in a low unemployment economy. This is why today, about one-third of U.S. workers who can work from home do so all the time, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Our organization has fully embraced a distributed work environment, and together we have adopted several guiding principles to help partner institutions, staff and leaders move forward in a productive way. These guideposts include the following:

Lesson 1: Talent First

One of the most remarkable aspects of shifting to a distributed workforce model is the newfound ability to draw talent from anywhere. Even five years ago, this reality would have seemed impossible for an organization of almost any size. The great news is that the allure of distributed work lies on both sides of the ledger: The organization is liberated from prior geographical constraints, and employees can embrace opportunities they desire and enjoy a more attractive lifestyle—often in smaller, culturally appealing and less expensive markets.

We’ve learned that great teachers, great leaders and great thinkers can be found in every corner of the country. Ask any hiring manager about the battle for talent. It is real, it is here and it is brutal. Top talent in any sector wants the agency to select their preferred working style and overall environment. Our teams and students are already reaping the benefits of this talent.

Lesson 2: Intention Is Everything

This guidepost can be applied broadly and liberally across most industries and endeavors, but it is particularly true when setting a team up for success. One of the central challenges of a distributed workforce is that there are no laurels to rest on and no standard operating procedures to fall back to. We must be thoughtful and specific about critical elements of our organizations, such as culture, tools and outcomes.

Culture may seem like a squishy term, but there are many concrete elements that define it. Translating and naming those elements for your distributed team can help demystify what expectations are and what success looks like. Are you a “camera on” organization? Do you have virtual drop-in office hours? When and how often do you get together as a team? What are your channels of communication? Is there an organization-wide standard, or do individual teams define their own engagement priorities? What may have been able to just materialize in a traditional in-office setting may now require thoughtful consideration and team buy-in.

The tools of the modern workforce include a growing array of apps, platforms and portals all vying for our attention (and budgets). However, the adage preferred by our chief information officer is “People need to learn about what they have.” Identifying which tools employees have access to, how metrics are analyzed, and the wheels and gears of doing the work efficiently is an ongoing priority.

Defining outcomes through metrics, accountability and strategic direction is what determines success or failure for any organization. At The Community Solution, our standards are uniformly high across all our teams, regardless of how often they meet in person. Clearly defined outcomes mean clearly defined wins, and wins are what propel teams and organizations forward.

Lesson 3: Embrace What’s Next

Because none of us truly know what work will look like in 25 or even five years, strategic planning has become more difficult. However, there are a few things we know and a few predictions we can confidently make:

• Collaboration is key. Leaders who try to change their organizations by edict will only create more problems than they solve.

• A generational shift is happening. It is projected that by 2029, Millennials will represent the majority of the American workforce. This is monumental. Millennials have greater facility with a digital work environment than Baby Boomers and have less emotional attachment to the traditional office setting. Their numbers alone will shift the tides of work.

• Office space doesn’t dictate work. Notwithstanding the challenges facing large cities, filling underutilized office space cannot be the rationale for returning to the office 9-to-5. The world of work is evolving, and the genie of distributed work is out of the bottle.

While we have found success with our distributed workforce, we’re a long way from having the ink dry on our approach. We continue to find new solutions that work and many that don’t. The solutions we embrace will be unique to our teams, goals and culture.

Distributed work has immense potential. Talent is everywhere, and organizations have the means to harness it and move forward leveraging new tools and technology. America is at the beginning of a yearslong transformation of how it understands the basic tenets of work. This period may be uncomfortable, but the only way out is through.