Planning Your Return to the Office?

This is What You Need To Know.

More and more employees are advocating for workplaces that offer flexibility and new ways of working.  Our experience has shown that organizations are most successful in adapting to more flexible operating models when their approach is tailored to their business.


Culture, work process, business vision, and employee preferences can shape your path forward, creating an outcome that enables your business to meet its targets.

We’ve seen companies of all sizes, industries, and locations make successful transitions using our methodology.  

Involving Employees

Return-to-office solutions that are co-created with employees maximize acceptance.  Understanding employee concerns, preferences, opportunities, and constraints can provide a roadmap towards creating tailored solutions.

We advocate for a phased approach to return to office, which allows the organization to benefits from continual learning and development of solutions.  Maintaining channels for employee engagement and feedback remains key to long term success.


Variations due to region/geography, statutory requirements, local customs, and cultures should be considered to ensure the organization remains relevant in the areas where it operates.

Finding the Right Pace

There is no need to rush or mandate returns to the workplace, as this will likely lead to employee dissatisfaction and risks talent attrition.  Ensuring your business and employees can cope with the pace of change, reduces strain on resources during the transition.

Find our guide below to support your journey

Whether you are self-guided or ready for support we hope this guide can help you get started.

new office opening

New Ways of Working

Which approach works best for you? 

Do you feel it’s important to really find out how the workplace can support your employees to do their best work?  How would location and type of work setting enable them to be most productive for each activity?

Theres more than one approach.  Taking a top-down approach, asking leaders or workplace/real estate leads to estimate locational attendance, types of worker personas, and what design will suit them, may lead to misinformed approaches.

Why?  They are unlikely to have detailed knowledge of employees’ daily activities to be able to do this with any accuracy for designing workplaces.  We’ve learned this through many years of data collation and interviews across hundreds, if not thousands, of stakeholders.

This approach also misses the critical element of engaging people in the change process and allowing employees to enrich and participate in the design of their own space.  Any psychologist or anthropologist would support an employee engaged and human centric approach.

At this time, utilization surveys and sensor analysis captures data associated with disrupted, pandemic-impacted activities, and will not give a true reflection of preferred future working patterns.  They are useful in a new workplace to inform the tweaking of any work-settings, once it is occupied.

The recommended approach now is to ask employees, using their data to co-create solutions.  After all, they are the ones that know the most about their daily activities and what will work for them.

Using our innovative WEX Engagement tool, this is exactly what we do. 

We assess days per week in the office and filter this by team.  We know their preferred in-office activities and what work setting best supports those, and we plan team neighborhood adjacencies that facilitate physical interaction, by using the collaboration mapping function.

By understanding who will be in, when, what they are doing, and who they are collaborating with, we can start to create the workplace strategy and continue to develop this team - team across the business.

Below is a sample of about 5% of the WEX Engagement tool dashboard output.

hybrid data dashboard
hybrind worksettings chart
hybrid data results

Business leaders attention is now focused on how their employees will work in the future and what the impact will be on the business.

The remote working imposed by the pandemic has broken old, traditional habits and has changed management’s opinion on how work could be done.  It accelerated technology solutions that really help a location independent way of working for many previously office based employees.

The pandemic facilitated a chance to create a way of working that allows employees choice and flexibility, enables productivity and efficiency, and helps your business attract and retain the best talent.  The opportunity has never been more obvious than it is today.

Much has been said in the press about the location independence that has enabled a new way of working, “hybrid working”, which will become the “new normal” for businesses across the globe.  Various definitions exist, but this essentially means that employees have the choice to access a mix of work locations to perform their role, which is in effect a long established approach known as “agile working”:

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time, and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task.  It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of place and of how you achieve it.)

The Agile Organization

Technology has released employees from the chains of the traditional office desk or cubicle, opening up a world of places to work: the office, home, business center, co-working spaces, or a coffee shop.  For your employees and business, it should be a frictionless experience.

Hybrid (agile) working is enabled in a workplace by applying Activity Based Working* design principles that ensure that the various tasks being undertaken are best supported.  It is likely that most focus or general process tasks are best suited to remote working, while collaboration tasks, in particular ideation, knowledge exchange, onboarding, and learning, are better supported, and achieve improved outcomes, by taking place face to face in a supportive workplace environment.

The most successful workplaces are those that allow employee choice and flexibility of hybrid working, as well as modifying their processes and procedures.  

*Activity Based Working is a workplace model which offers employees the flexibility, choice, and autonomy to work in the best work-setting for a specific task.  The workplace is designed around a range of work settings strategically placed throughout the floor to offer variety, ambiance, and the functionality required for a particular task, from informal and formal collaborative and open settings for team-based tasks, to focus booths or closed spaces for individual tasks and so on.

We use our deep dive WEX Engagement tool to simply and quickly capture and report all of this data.

How do I develop my new workplace design?

To develop the most appropriate way of working and workplace design for your business there are some key steps to follow, each one supported by intentional communications.

1.  Employee Engagement. It is important to understand, at a granular level, about your employees’ preferences across a whole range of metrics, including activities/tasks, location, work-setting, who they need to collaborate with, when, and any technology needs, as well as gaining insights on culture and social needs.  Engage with your team leaders in interviews to understand their preferences for their team, and to identify challenges, opportunities, and upcoming changes that need to be included.

2.  Worker Personas. It helps to create typical employee personas at this stage, ranging from whether they are a focus or collaborative style worker and capturing their level of locational preference (remote/in office) so that you know how many people are in the office at any one time.  It recognizes that “one size does not fit all”, and becomes a very useful tool for the change management and implementation process.  This also has the significant advantage of forecasting how many people will be in a building on a typical week, key to successful real estate planning.  (Our WEX tool does this automatically.)

3.  Workplace as a Venue. Your workplace should be somewhere your employees want to be, a hub of excitement, brand, and culture.  It should foster creativity, inspire your employees, and provide a different workplace experience to working from home.

4.  Workplace Design. Your new way of working will be human centric and most likely require physical changes.  Your workplace now needs to include various work settings configured to offer the variety, ambiance, and functionality required for a particular task; from informal and formal collaborative and open settings for team-based tasks, to focus booths or closed spaces for individual tasks, video conferencing, and one-on-ones.  The workplace can no longer be a place of standard features, it needs to not only be functional but also an attractive place to work.  From a design aspect, the move is towards more of a residentialized

feel to the spaces, with softer less obviously corporate styling.  You can find out more about our workplace consulting services here.

5.  Neighbourhood Strategy. When employees come into the office it is usually to collaborate (focus work being successfully completed at home) they want a base that they can come back to, to be with their own team.  These neighborhood spaces are shared with their team at the core, and as you move further from the core spaces, they are shared with surrounding teams, facilitating spontaneous interaction and collaboration.

6.  Formal Meeting Protocols. Many businesses find that for formal meetings which would previously have been held in a meeting room, a remote first strategy gives everyone equality of participation; not favoring an onsite group of employees in a meeting room.  It is a protocol where everyone joins the meeting from their own laptop, regardless of location.  For those in the office, that means providing small booths with good acoustic properties.

7.  Workplace Protocols/Neighbourhood Guide.  Employees need to be clear about how to use the new work-settings, a simple neighborhood guide about the spaces and how they can be used.  It also explains safety in the workplace and new features or technology that they may not be familiar with, such as booking and entry systems.  This allows employees to make an informed choice of the work setting that is most effective for the task.  This guide is best co-created in conjunction with team change champions.

8.  Human Resources. Most employee contracts stipulate a location (office building) for work along with core hours.  These need to be reviewed when introducing hybrid working to allow the level of desired flexibility.  It is also the case that managing remote employees, or employees who are not in the same physical locations as their managers, can be challenging for traditional management culture.  Managers will require support in changing their approach to output/outcome management, using a clear objective setting as a solution.  It may be useful to check out the leadership and managers hybrid working assessment tool at


Businesses also need to be cautious that their managers are not giving preferential treatment in terms of career advancement and access to the best projects to employees who are more frequently in the workplace, than remote workers.  New processes and policies that treat each fairly need to be created.

Need some tips for implementation? Try these.

1. Change Management Many employees will be concerned about the change from what they have become used to and the transition to a new way of working.  The sharing of desks and work-settings may be new to them and this needs to be handled carefully otherwise it can create stress and anxiety.  The first rule of change is that those impacted want to know “what’s in it for me?”  This should be addressed early on. 


A comprehensive change program needs to be developed to engage from the boardroom to the front line, leadership skills, manager training, and change champions to ensure embedded knowledge and success.  This needs to be coordinated with a structured communications plan – contact us for a change route map to plan your activities.  Learn more about our change management services here.

2.  Pilot Project. Creating the right solution takes time and iterations.  A pilot project can be defined as a single team, department, floor of a building, a building, or a geographic region of employees, consider it a “bite sized” approach to get you started.  Initial ideas for workplace and technology interventions will be developed along with reviewing and identifying any changes required to employees’ contracts, guidelines, procedures, etc.  Invite early adopters to occupy the pilot project spaces.  Willing adopters are more likely to be supporters of change and provide constructive feedback. 


This approach will confirm viability and scalability while enabling proposed designs, processes, and procedures to be tested.  It will confirm the appropriateness of any new tech tools proposed as well as make sure that working practices comply with statutory standards.  It also enables the benefits to be tested and a more reliable investment appraisal to be created for the main project (see more on this below).

3.  Continual Development. The change journey is a continuum, and there will be a need to make changes and develop new solutions over time.  Your business will need to continue to monitor performance and effectiveness of the new workplace design and protocols and make the necessary tweaks to optimize performance.  Technology can help with this along with periodic surveys and engagement with employees.

Why is a Pilot Project Important?

The pilot project can be defined as a single team, department, floor of a building, a building, or a geographic region of employees.  It commences with a  deep engagement program including employee experience and activity analysis surveys, interviews at two levels of leadership, workshops, and, where appropriate, observational studies.

Initial ideas for workplace and technology interventions will be developed along with reviewing and identifying any changes required to employees contracts, guidelines, procedures, etc.

The pilot project will confirm viability and scalability and enable proposed designs, processes and procedures to be tested.  It will confirm the appropriateness and of any new tools proposed and any new working practices comply with statutory standards.  It also enables the benefits to be tested and a more reliable investment appraisal to be created for the main project.

With a pilot project, there is generally a high degree of uncertainty and there needs to be recognition that the purpose of this stage is primarily to prove viability, not deliver an agreed outcome.  There is a clear need for a control structure that allows for the potential for radical changes in scope and direction if required, as lessons are learned during the live occupation/implementation of the pilot project stage.

Deliverables would include:

    · Workplace design interventions required for project

    · Technology changes

    · HR Policy and processes requiring change

    · Change Management Road Map

    · Robust lessons learned, risks and issues logs

    · Benefits assessment

    · Viability report and recommendation

    · Route map for implementation

    · Revised investment appraisal and project plan


    · Lower costs

    · Speed of Change

    · Opportunity to trial new products

    · Opportunity to trial new protocols

    · Ease of iteration

    · Psychologically safer place to make mistakes

    · Test where, when, and how employees work

The Return to Office Journey

Return to office plan

Why Should You Consider a Phased Implementation?

A phased approach to implementation benefits from continual learning and development of solutions, and also allows for regional variations due to compliance requirements, local customs, and cultures.  There should not be a rush or enforced re-occupation as this will risk employee dissatisfaction and talent leaving.

Phase 1 or Trial Phase

A trial is a small-scale implementation planned before the main rollout of the new way of working and return to the workplace.  It enables the project team to test product supply chain, vendors, logistics, communications, stakeholder management plans, and the effectiveness of any rollout tools.  It also enables deficiencies in project team briefing, training, and skills to be ironed out before the main rollout begins.

Phase 1 may also include a number of temporary interventions across all workplaces as an interim solution addressing the new ways of working, until such time as roll out can be implemented in each location.

Phase 1 deliverables include:

​    · A more accurate budget

    · Refined plan for the main rollout

    · Review of benefits in the light of practical rollout experience

Subsequent Phasing

Subsequent phases can be implemented on a business needs basis.  For instance, aligned to lease breaks, availability of capital, any merger or acquisition plans, and/or scaled depending on the existing workplace design/ways of working in each location.  This means that the work can be scaled appropriately across the real estate portfolio and employee base.

Depending on the nature of the solutions that emerge from the pilot project there may be a broader real estate strategy piece (such as rationalization) that will influence the implementation rollout.

Want to know how we can guide you along the journey using our innovative WEX Engagement tool?