Whether you’re an advocate of working remotely or prefer the structure of working in an office, the rollout of return-to-work plans following the pandemic has been met with varying degrees of optimism, uncertainty, excitement and apprehension.

So, how will employers large and small, hybrid and in person, embrace the return to work? The stakes are high. The economy is rapidly recovering from pandemic depths, workforce talent is in high demand and the job market is hot. This means that employee satisfaction is critical and can ultimately be the difference between retention and turnover — which can be costly. A recent report found that it costs employers an average of $4,129 and takes approximately 42 days to fill an open position.

To ensure a smooth transition, regardless of whether an employer chooses to remain remote, move to hybrid or return in-person work, unifying teams and building a positive culture to meet employee needs is critical.  Sending a company-wide memo or simply scheduling an all-hands meeting is no longer enough. Workers have come to expect more support, trust and autonomy from their employers, along with better communication and an open dialogue around needs on both ends.

Now more than ever, it’s important to focus on people, their professional development and the overall team dynamic for a business to grow and thrive in a post-pandemic world. Leaders must empower their employees and communicate a vision of growth, and companies that don’t get it right will be left behind. But how do we create meaningful engagement, and how do we leverage training and development for a diverse demographic working across remote and hybrid teams? Here are four key components to consider when building a roadmap to reintegration.

Better Together: Ensuring a Smooth Transition

Companies should approach bringing teams back into the office very carefully, recognizing that a tremendous amount of disruption has occurred this past year. Employers can’t turn a blind eye to what’s become the new normal over the past 15 months — from the flexibility of remote work and the technological advancements that enable virtual meetings to the proliferation of online collaboration platforms and liberation from long commutes, the new workforce simply looks different. By embracing change management and investing in teams through reconnection, leaders can give their staff the opportunity to not only grow as a team, but also align with the company’s vision, culture and new considerations in the workplace.

What was once a forced engagement, corporate training, team building and employee retreats have gotten a facelift through the pandemic. The focus is moving toward creating a tailored experience that cultivates a more open and inclusive work culture — a safe space where true connectivity can flourish.

Training: Enriching the Workforce

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many training and development initiatives were rinsed and repeated over time regardless of the employees’ unique needs and skill sets. The new era in employee training, however, is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The new normal requires businesses to meet employees where they are and invest in them with an awareness of their needs. The next generation of training curriculum will utilize experiential learning to expand and enrich career growth and train future leaders.

The pandemic has led to an increased demand for creative training programs that bring in hands-on coaching across diverse work environments. Employers must continue to develop talent and retain key team members in order to strengthen organizational capabilities, but also step outside the traditional training programs to educate on new soft skills that have emerged after living through a global pandemic, such as the ability to lead through change and stay resilient through adversity.

There are also skills that will need to be retrained: for instance, the art of feedback. Providing impactful feedback is an essential act in developing relationships, communicating productively and elevating performance. Other areas including collaboration and nurturing creativity will also need a boost, and will require dedicated strategies for in-person, remote and hybrid work environments.

Team Building: Instilling Meaningful Bonds

Gone are the days of icebreakers and trust falls. Companies need to engage meaningfully, and it’s important that staff come together and rebuild through training programs in order to re-engage and re-energize their team members, some of whom may have never met each other in person, having been hired during quarantine. Team building establishes the trust that is critical for a team to thrive, especially in a remote or hybrid setting when employees and employers can’t physically be in the same room to know the work is getting done.

Another nuance to consider is the difference between team building and team bonding. Team building is establishing the relationships across team members that unite the group for a common cause. Team bonding is the next level to team building. It creates a sense of camaraderie that drives individuals to want to achieve more, the value of which can modify and change behaviors with lasting results.

Retreats: Inspiring Creativity Together

Just as tradeshows and conferences will look different in a post-COVID world, when it comes to culture building, retreats held in hotel conference rooms will give way to specialized outdoor settings and inspirational destinations. This will provide teams with the opportunity to step outside the boundaries of their office or come together in person in a new environment to develop relationships as a group.

It’s when teams break out of their normal routine and relate on a personal level that creativity and communication can flourish. That’s when teams grow. This growth will continue, and trust will deepen even more, as people go back to their work-ready homes and headquarters.

As we look ahead, businesses are learning that regardless of the work environment, the effort to connect and unify employees leads to higher engagement and increased profits. Business growth depends on creating a sense of inclusivity and connectivity that reaches beyond the boundaries of the office walls or virtual desks. To survive and thrive in the new normal, companies need to invest in developing their people and create a sense of common purpose.