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What a Difference a Day Can Make

Eberhard Laepple, LEED AP
After nearly two years of working from home, many of our clients are making plans to bring employees back to the office under a new hybrid workplace schedule blending on-premise and remote work.

By not attempting to make your office “everything for everybody,” but rather only provisioning for the space your people really need, you can achieve significant real estate efficiencies and cost savings.

Imagine you need to accommodate 1,000 full-time employees (FTEs) in a return-to-office (RTO) plan. Your surveys tell you that most people would like to come back two to three days a week. Your C-suite absolutely wants to give them this flexibility but would like to have them in the office three or four days. Sounds like you’re basically on the same page, right? Sort of. But that seemingly trivial one-day difference can have huge implications.

It seems easy enough to meet your 1,000 employees in the middle and require them to be in the office three days a week. But if you then allow them to choose which days they will come in (as many companies do), pre-COVID history tell us that most will show up on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This face-to-face interaction will bring many benefits related to culture, collaboration and innovation. Yet because the office will be relatively empty on Mondays and Fridays, you won’t achieve meaningful space or cost savings.

If you plan for all 1,000 employees to be in the office two days a week, you’ll risk running out of space during the midweek crunch. If you configure your space to accommodate all 1,000 people four days a week, you’ll likely be overbuilding.

So, you settle on three days. But how can you then redesign the workplace to be as efficient as possible while supporting this type of hybrid work model?

Optimizing Your Hybrid Space

HOK’s Consulting group helps clients conduct surveys and digital interviews and analyze data to understand how their employees work and which types of spaces and tools they need to perform to their best potential.

People heading back to the office will be more likely to thrive in “free choice” environments where they have a home base. These spaces enable them to choose where and how they work, whether it’s in large collaboration spaces, small teaming areas or private spots for focused work. The key is to give people options that support them and their work.

We help organizations use the feedback from their employee surveys to determine the specific distribution of these space types that will work best for them. Our experience and best practices tell us that:

  • You will provide far fewer dedicated/traditional desks than the total number of employees expected to be in the office on any given day.
  • Additional alternate workpoints, such as collaboration and quiet seats, will need to accommodate up to 90 percent of your employees.
  • Shared amenities, which are more important than ever in this hybrid work environment, should be able to support the average number of expected occupants on any given day rather than the peak load.

In our 1,000 FTE scenario above, finding the right balance between individual and collaborative workspaces for staff who will be in the office three days a week would allow your organization to occupy two fewer floors in a typical office building with 25,000-sq.-ft. floor plates.

And on that rare day that most of your 1,000 people show up (perhaps it’s free BBQ day)? They all will have the space they need to thrive.

Contact author Eberhard Laepple, a director of HOK’s Consulting group, with questions about enabling your work environment for a hybrid return-to-office plan. Based in Houston, Eberhard helps clients optimize their real estate portfolios and create powerful places to work.

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