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The Office of the Future Will Be Flexible

As return to work gains momentum, facility managers may have some difficult decisions regarding space configuration and footprint. Here’s some advice.

Employees gathered in office

With a growing percentage of the United States fully vaccinated and people slowly engaging in activities that have been on hold for more than a year because of the pandemic, company executives are making plans for employees to return to their offices.

The work spaces they return to, however, are likely to look different from what they left behind as companies change their real estate footprints to reflect the need – and desire – of individuals to have more personal space. That doesn’t mean that companies are necessarily adding office space but are instead shifting to increasingly flexible models and creative solutions.

“I do think that most companies are trying to accommodate the dichotomy and the balance of the need for people to come together, to collaborate face-to-face and to enhance and kind of celebrate the company culture,” says Brett Taylor, principal and regional office buildings practice leader for architectural firm Gensler.

The timing of people returning to their offices – whether five days a week or less – greatly varies, experts say. Some companies, says Megan Mackinson, senior vice president of workplace planning and projects for JLL, have been in their offices with at least a few employees throughout the entire pandemic. Others reopened their doors last year. For companies that are planning to bring back employees this year, the two main dates executives are targeting are July 6 and after Labor Day, she says.

“There’s no playbook,” says Steven Steinmeyer, senior managing director at JLL. “People are figuring this out as they go. And it depends on what the company does and their employees, and also the view of the executives who run those offices. Some organizations say ‘We don’t believe that production and collaboration are the same at home as they are in the office,’ and they are already going into the office. And others have said ‘We can take our time.’”

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