Three office models to consider for your company’s 2021 return to work

While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t in our rearview mirror just yet, the good news is that the early stages of vaccine administration have commenced. Pair that progress with the fact that social distancing and wearing masks have become second nature, and you’ll find that now is the time (if you haven’t done so already) to map out your organization’s return to the office.

As you begin to think about what work looks like in a post-COVID world, you’ll need to develop a real estate strategy that balances your business’ unique needs with employee safety, well-being, and preferences. Here are three office models to evaluate to help you get started:

1. Work 1.0 - Back in the office for 40 hours a week

For some, the easiest solution is to revert back to the old way of doing things. There’s a reason so many commuted to the office for so long, after all. Having a presence in the office does wonders for culture, chance collisions, and collaboration. It also provides a great avenue for helping employees unlock their creative potential.

Though it may feel safe to return to the office in places where the viral spread has been mostly mitigated, lockdown restrictions aren’t exactly predictable as infection rates continue to fluctuate in many other parts of the world. There’s also this pesky fact: Some employees don’t want to go back to the office full-time.

2. No office necessary - Completely remote

After so many were forced to embrace remote work at the onset of the pandemic, some believe that working from home will be the new normal.

Allowing employees to permanently work from home makes way for flexibility in how, where, and when one works. It also reduces workspace costs and some of the risk associated with viral spread between employees. However, there is hesitation about this model as it limits human connection and requires more self-discipline and trust in one another. Many believe this model comes with a hefty trade-off.

3. Flexibility is key - Hybrid models tailored to you

Some employees like working from home and don’t want to go to the office full-time. But they also miss social interaction—a lot—and want the option to head into an office. Taken together, many signs point to a hybrid approach being the best way forward. Team members come to the office for a few days of the week and work elsewhere for the rest of the time. You get the productivity gains and cost savings that come with remote work and the team-building and improved morale benefits that come with in-person work.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are a few elements of hybrid work to examine as you calculate what model is going to work for you:

  1. Reduced occupancy at headquarters: Maintain social distancing and keep your team safe by having fewer employees work out of the office at any single point in time, with everyone else working remotely.

  2. Hub-and-spoke: In this decentralized model, a central “hub” office is set up for important meetings in a city and smaller “spokes” are scattered around it in the suburbs for the day-to-day. Employees get the community they crave without having to hop on public transportation when they work near home.

  3. Hot desking: Gone are the years of having one assigned desk. Operating with a reduced in-office occupancy, employees can book a desk in the office only when they need it. This way, you can cut the square footage you may have once needed and keep track of what areas need to be sanitized.

  4. Work shifts: Stagger employee hours, both in the office and from home, with shifts. For example, one half of a team works in the office from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., with the other half working from home. Then from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. they switch. You'll easily meet social distancing requirements and grant more flexibility.

  5. Offices solely for meeting spaces: Employees work from home for the most part (and mostly on independent work) and head into an office for socially-distanced meetings and other events. Virtual calls just aren’t a panacea.

  6. Voluntary returns: Your people work the way they prefer. Only those who choose to come back to the office do so, with everyone else working from wherever they’d like.

Best practices to embrace along the way

Regardless of how and when you determine to call your team back into the office, their safety and well-being must be your top priority. Ensure employee mental and physical health remains uncompromised by your new setup by adopting the few tips for going back below:

  1. Survey your employees: Uncover areas of concern and in need of improvement or attention, and take proactive steps to address them directly. Ask the questions that you want answered -- it’s fairly simple, yet incredibly effective.

  2. Follow CDC and other relevant guidelines: Create a safe working environment by reviewing credible published research, data, and protocols. It’s also important to revisit these resources as new findings are being discovered every day.

  3. Respect personal preferences: Accept that while some may elect to work from home more of the time, others may prefer to be able to go to an office setting to work more closely with their teammates...and everything in between. Your workspace solution will need to be flexible to efficiently fulfill these varied wishes.

While so many were forced to abruptly shift to remote work until further notice, we find comfort in knowing we can ease into returning to the office with a much smoother transition. Take your time, weigh your options, be patient, and make thoughtful decisions. And remember, if there’s ever a time to reinvent the proverbial wheel that is your organization’s real estate strategy, this is it.