Whether the blended office model becomes permanent or not, it’s clear that flexibility is the key to the future of work.

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As a Founder and the CEO of Vari, my mission is to help companies create workspaces that elevate people.

It's been a year of unprecedented challenges and ever-changing health and safety guidelines.

For businesses, the key to withstanding these constant changes is to stay flexible — what worked six months ago or even three months ago might not work today or tomorrow. This is as true in the office as it is in many other areas.

As we pivoted to adapt to the new normal, most businesses adopted a full work-from-home model back in March and April of 2020. Now, many of us are slowly reopening our offices and implementing extensive safety measures and distance-based design to help protect employees. Business leaders are also wondering if the pendulum will swing all the way back to working in-office every day.

What if the role of the office changes?

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 56% of U.S. workers have jobs that are at least partially compatible with working remotely, and that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. However, studies have shown that trust and creativity among team members may suffer without face-to-face interaction. It’s hard to measure the value that comes from being together, but what people miss the most is culture, collaboration and connection.

We’re seeing a new model emerge, a “blended office model” where companies take a flexible approach to in-office vs. remote work — allowing for a little of both. This model lets businesses support employee safety and well-being while also getting the benefits that come along with having a central, physical workspace. For many companies, this middle-ground approach may be here to stay.

If you think a blended model may be the answer for your business, there are some important things to consider.

Consider distance and density.

Employee safety is job number one. Due to health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), businesses are looking for ways to implement social distancing in their workspaces. For companies with limited square footage, this can be especially challenging. One benefit of the blended office model is that fewer people are in the office day to day, so you can easily increase the space between desks without the need for a larger office or a huge remodel. In fact, some businesses may be able to downsize their workspace, manage a smaller head count in the office and save on real estate costs.

Find the right mix.

What exactly this model looks like may vary from company to company. Depending on a range of factors — such as industry, culture, geography, team dynamics and head count — a blended approach will look different for every business. For example, we did a gradual re-opening of our headquarters with a limited number of people coming in at the same time, which allowed us to tweak our workspace design to prepare for the return of our larger teams.

Some other strategies include shifting staff attendance to 50% with rotating days, using several satellite office locations rather than a central headquarters, desk sharing or desk-by-appointment for certain team members or having teams use coworking spaces on a project-by-project basis.

Remember, culture counts.

Employee experience should be an important consideration, and you’ll want to find a way that allows for flexibility while keeping your culture intact. In-person collaboration and interaction helps your team create the trusting, lasting relationships that are the building blocks of a positive culture. On the other hand, working remotely gives employees a chance to focus on solo work, take a break from long commutes and public transportation, and deal with childcare and family responsibilities. By striking the right balance, you can maintain productivity and culture while enhancing the work-life balance that helps you keep and attract top talent.

Provide access to tech tools.

For a blended approach to work, it’s important that employees have a seamless experience wherever they work, and that means having access to the same technology and tools both in the office and at home. After some research (and a little trial and error in the early days), we settled on the platforms that made the most sense for our business, and it’s been well worth the effort in terms of productivity and communication. Keep in mind that with a partially remote workforce, using the right technology will also be the key to promoting culture and connectivity among distributed team members.

Prioritize safety.

When preparing our workspace for a gradually returning team, we relied on CDC guidelines to help us configure a space that built social distancing, sanitation and other features into the design. I can see some of the new measures we adopted — like temperature screening, acrylic privacy screens, and private work pods — becoming regular features in many offices for the foreseeable future.

As of September 2020, there were no official federal guidelines for businesses to follow. Virginia is the first state to legislate new safety requirements for offices, and it won’t be the last.  By looking at its requirements and consulting with health officials in your state, you can get an idea of best practices and common solutions for a safe return to the office. We’re seeing an interesting trend: Many businesses are preparing both for the way things are now and for how they may look in the future; in fact, we're frequently creating two space plan layouts for clients.

Whether the blended office model becomes permanent or not, it’s clear that flexibility is the key to the future of work. This year has taught us that you can’t always predict the nature of change, but whether it’s a pandemic or just simple market forces, you can manage whatever comes your way by staying nimble and ready to adapt. By adding more flexibility into the equation, you can create an environment and a company culture that can effectively react to anything thrown your way.

View original article posted on Forbes