Are you ready to bring your teams back to the office?

You’re not alone. From Walmart to JPMorgan, a number of enterprise companies have announced return-to-office dates for employees beginning in July. With the CDC reporting that more than half of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose to-date — and the White House aiming to raise that number to 70% by July 4th — the country is at last poised to move forward.

But while the switch to a remote-first work model last March looked roughly the same for corporate America, with companies announcing the change almost overnight, there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to going back to the office.

Employees have made it clear that they want a more flexible approach to the workweek, and many enterprise employers are inclined to accommodate that shift. JPMorgan, for example, is thinking of taking up a rotational model, in which everyone is assigned a set of in-office days. Walmart is planning to split up its workforce, with some teams reporting back to its Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters while its tech employees embrace remote working for the long-term. Meanwhile, Ford Motor is considering a flexible hybrid model, in which employees stay home for focus tasks but come into the office for collaborative work.

With so much variation, it can feel like there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for bringing teams back to the office. But if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find that there are three best practices that can help your company develop a back-to-office plan that suits your particular needs.

Evaluate your team.

The best back-to-office plans start by getting a good feel for what is and isn’t working for employees. Don’t make assumptions. Take the time to investigate how they’re doing and what their needs are, and don’t forget to follow up. What’s working for employees one month might not the next. It’s especially important to keep a pulse on their evolving needs in this period of transition.

Another way to evaluate your team is to categorize them by workstyle. Certain employees may want to be in the office more often than others either for reasons of temperament or simply because of the kinds of work they do. You can sort your employees into one of four general types:

  • Residents: Work primarily alone but require space-specific tools
  • Collaborators: Work primarily in teams and require group settings
  • Connectors: Work cross-functionally but individually
  • Nomads: Work primarily alone but without space-specific tool requirements

Not sure which employees fall into which group? Have them take this Workstyles Quiz and self-report the answers. (Learn more about how workstyles affect back-to-office planning.)

Modify your space.

Most likely, your office won’t function the same way that it did before the pandemic. Workplaces are transforming from catch-all spaces that had to be able to accommodate a multitude of tasks to much more intentional spaces made up of dedicated zones.

For example, in the old open-office, you might have held a team huddle in the same space as people trying to do heads-down work. Going forward, however, your team may come into the office specifically to collaborate, which means there may be dedicated areas for those informal huddles as well as a wide variety of conference and meeting rooms designed for specific types of group work. Employees who need to concentrate can slip into a phone booth or focus room to get their work done.

Collaboration is likely to be the main driver for bringing your teams into the office. Being around other people is what 74 percent of workers miss most about the office, according to Gensler’s 2020 “Work From Home Survey.” But maybe you evaluate your team and find that’s not the case — maybe their primary complaint about working from home is the number of distractions, for instance, or the lack of access to a particular tool.

Either way, plan to modify your space to address the major issues they’re facing. That might mean bringing in modular meeting room units so that more groups can collaborate at the same time; improving A/V equipment so that it’s easier to connect with remote coworkers; or setting up more individual offices so that the employees who do need to focus have their own space. (Learn more about how to rethink your office space.)

Iterate your plan.

Don’t expect that you’ll be able to make a one-time plan and stick to it. Instead, embrace experimentation — and anticipate making changes by building flexibility into your back-to-office approach.

So how do you prepare for what you don’t know? First, do your research. This is one of the reasons why it’s critical to check-in regularly with employees. You might find that at the beginning, the majority want to come into the office two days a week. Over time, those numbers may shift as more employees become fully vaccinated or as schooling and childcare options solidify for parents. Or maybe your employees will continue to spread out and you’ll find that you need to accommodate a more distributed team. Regularly survey employees and keep tabs on office occupancy levels so that you can reassess your needs as circumstances change.

Second, look for opportunities to make your workspaces more adaptable. That may mean being prepared to modify your space on a regular basis to suit evolving needs; investing in swing or overflow spaces; or creating a more varied workplace from the get-go.

For example, instead of establishing a central HQ, maybe you switch to a regional hub-and-spoke model with smaller offices set up around a main hub. That way, you have overflow spaces on-hand. If you find that one office is often empty while another is highly-in-demand, you can adjust the spaces more easily than if you were modifying your main space. (Learn more about how to build an iterative approach to your back-to-office plans.)

Remember: As workplaces become more flexible, they’re also becoming more personalized. Instead of trying to predict how their headcount or team distribution might shift over the next decade, companies are adopting an approach that’s right for their specific needs in this specific moment. The result is a set of highly-customized workplace models that benefit employers and employees alike.