Return to the Office: Actions Leaders Must Take Now, Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of our Return to the Office series, we emphasized the urgency to get ahead of the shift to a virtual working environment and how to approach that change with respect to talent. This installment addresses the reality of physical workspace and how to re-think what you need and how to maximize utilization.

Workspace matters

We know we won’t be returning to the pre-COVID model of working, but what are the implications for office space? It may be tempting to let all the office leases expire since nearly everyone has been working remotely for an extended period during the pandemic. And certainly, while cost is a consideration, thinking carefully through space requirements and optimal configuration will balance potential cost savings with continuity of performance and cultural coherence.

5 questions to ask in determining the right mix of physical space

  1. What work is required to be in-person?

Rather than starting with the office blueprint and subtracting people from their offices, evaluate what work needs to be in person. Challenge your pre-COVID thinking based on the experience of the past year. Categorize your workforce based on profiles of needs: in-person interaction, client visibility, and infrastructure support.

  1. How often?

Once you have an understanding of what type of work requires an in-office presence, evaluate how often it is needed. For some profiles, that may be 2-3 days a week, and for some, it might be not at all. Calculate peak attendance based on the nature of the work.

  1. What type of space?

Next, evaluate what kinds of interactions are taking place: in-office meetings, independent work, team collaboration. Calculate how much space you need to devote to meeting rooms, open collaboration, reservable and dedicated space. Think about how to use space most efficiently based on the work instead of, “Joe has always had his own office.”

  1. What support is required?

For in-office work, you may need to implement a reservation system and a virtual lobby, for instance. Don’t overlook the cost of supporting remote work— both hard and soft costs. Employees will have questions if they are asked to work remotely about what infrastructure and supply costs the company will reimburse (e.g., hardware, internet service, printers, paperclips, etc.) Also consider the soft costs, such as what additional manager time should be allocated to onboarding new hires and check-ins with team members.

  1. What else?

While many companies are making changes to reduce their physical footprint, many companies are doing the opposite, recognizing that office space may be a bargain. Think through growth plans, opportunities for office consolidation, location (commute times or proximity to an airport may no longer be priorities with remote work as a possibility), and environmental factors that may have newfound focus, such as wellness.


Embracing the opportunities that the virtual landscape brings— while being thoughtful and planning intentionally for the challenges — will insulate you from further disruption and ensure that you navigate future changes more adeptly.

Charlotte Ntreh and Barbara Milhizer are Partners at PeopleResults where they help clients build and sustain high performing, effective and impactful organizations with measurable results.

Charlotte:; Twitter @cntreh.