4 important return-to-office guidelines for firms
With some forethought and the right tools, you’ll be able to make your employees’ return to the office a smooth one for your firm.
After several years of remote work, client-facing firms are returning to the office. If you work at a consulting agency, law office, or accounting firm, you’re probably hard at work developing or improving your plans to bring your employees back onsite.
Adopting a new model of work is a huge undertaking—especially for office leaders like yourself who shoulder much of the responsibility. The good news is, by following these four return-to-office guidelines, you can lead your firm’s transition back to the office like a pro.
1. Choose the best model of work for your firm
The first important return-to-office decision your firm will need to make is which model of work it’ll adopt moving forward. That could be a five-day office week or a hybrid work model. If you choose hybrid, you’ll need to decide which type of schedule will be best for your firm. Here are some questions to consider when deciding the right model:
- How many people can your office(s) accommodate? If you aren’t able to accommodate all of your employees at once, then a schedule-based hybrid work model may be a good fit for your company. In this type of setup, employees have set schedules, so you’ll know how many folks to expect each day. This will ensure you don’t reach your office’s capacity and help you plan out your amenities, such as the number of client-facing meeting rooms you need to prepare each day.
- How much flexibility will employees have when choosing when they work onsite? To maximize flexibility, an activity-based hybrid work model may be right for your firm. In this model, the type of work an employee has to do determines their office schedules. For example, you might set the expectation that they need to be onsite for team events or to host client meetings. The downside of this model is that it’s harder to predict when folks are in the office.
- Will your employees benefit from in-person meetings? If so, a five-day office week or schedule-based hybrid model is best. These models of work provide predictability in when folks will be onsite, making it easier for employees to find time to work together in person.
Pro tip: Ask your employees about their working preferences. Including employees in this way will help better understand how folks feel about heading back to the office and how you can create a space they look forward to working from each week.`
2. Take inventory of your office space and furniture
Like many other firms, yours has probably undergone some change since you were last fully in the office. You may have new employees, a different headcount, a new model of work, or even a different office. If so, your old office setup may not work for your employees moving forward.
Taking inventory of your space and furniture will help you determine how to change up your office before reopening. Here’s what to take stock of at each of your locations:
- Desks: Compare this number to your current number of employees. If your firm plans to adopt a hybrid work model, the employee-to-desk ratio should be 1.5 or 2:1. If it plans to return to a traditional five-day office week, you should plan to have a 1:1 ratio.
- Meeting rooms: Like desks, you should take into consideration your firm’s current number of employees. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to have one meeting room for every dozen employees onsite. If your firm plans to host clients onsite on a regular basis, you may want to increase the number of meeting rooms since you’ll need to accommodate more people. If you’re short on meeting rooms, consider converting other types of space (like the ones listed below) into areas where folks can meet.
- Heads-down spaces: This type of space is typically located in a quiet area of the office and can include a lounge area, a couch, or a meeting pod. Five quiet spaces per 100 employees is a good place to start, but deciding the right number for your space will depend on the purpose of your office and your employees’ working preferences.
- Informal meeting spaces: This type of space is usually reserved for employees to meet for casual one-on-ones, group gatherings, or informal client meetings.
- Employee growth rate: Finally, plans to expand your employee headcount may require you to make changes to your space, purchase new furniture, or begin the search for a larger office. Understanding how much your firm plans to grow at each of your locations will help you stay on top of changes.
Pro tip: If you’re tight on space, you may want to designate certain areas of the office as dual purpose. For example, a casual meeting space can double up as a heads-down area and vice versa.
Once you’ve recorded these numbers for each of your locations, you can work out how to optimize your space to support employees.
3. Adopt the right workplace technologies
Once your firm has chosen a model of work and you’ve taken inventory of your offices, it’s time to prepare for the return. The right workplace technologies will help you create a space that flows and is functional for employees.
At a minimum, your space should include desk and meeting room booking technology, video conferencing technology, and remote collaboration and communication tools. These tools and technologies will ensure employees can be productive while they’re onsite, even if their clients or teammates are working remotely.
If you want an office that runs seamlessly, adopt a workplace platform that’s designed to support flexible work onsite and create a smooth guest experience. Key features to look for include:
- Interactive workplace maps: These are virtual maps that point out important points of interest in the office. With a map in hand (or in app), employees can easily find the space and amenities they need to be productive while they’re onsite.
- Foot traffic and space usage data: This data will empower you to measure the success of your return-to-office efforts and drive continuous improvements to your space.
- Guest management: This will enable you to streamline guest visits by asking them to complete forms and upload documentation before coming onsite. You’ll also be able to see who’s expected onsite and when, and screen your guests in advance so you can be confident they’re approved to enter the office.
4. Communicate changes with your firm
Be prepared to manage the changes that come with returning to the office. Start by covering important details about the return in your office policy. Be sure to include:
- Who’s expected to return to the office and when
- The value of returning to the office
- How often employees are expected to work onsite
- Changes to the office space
- Any other information relevant to your firm’s return
Communication is key to ensuring a smooth and successful transition. When in doubt, err on the side of over communicating your firm’s return-to-office policy by discussing it in multiple channels. Email, Slack, and company-wide meetings are all excellent choices. To avoid confusion, let folks know where they can direct their questions if and when they arise.
Finally, consider creating an “always-on” communication channel where employees can drop their questions about the return as they come up. A good option for this is an office-wide instant messaging channel (e.g., Slack). Employees will appreciate having a space to ask on-the-spot questions, and you’ll be able to direct folks to existing answers if folks ask the same question more than once.
Planning your firm’s return to the office is a huge undertaking. The good news is, by following the guidelines above, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each step of the way. With some forethought and the help of the right tools, you’ll be able to make your employees’ return to the office a smooth one.
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