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Which post-pandemic workplace model is best for your business? Check this framework

Posted by Deepshikha Shukla

March 1, 2022

Two years of the pandemic has forced many businesses to reimagine their work setup, with many having transitioned to 100% remote, albeit temporarily. But a lot of those same businesses are now struggling with how to optimize their workspace configuration into the future. Some are unsure whether to call employees back into the office or continue having them working remotely, while others are mulling a combination of the two. 

According to Harvard professors Maria Roche and Andy Wu, there is no single right configuration; businesses should tailor their working environment to their company’s particular needs. They developed a framework to help businesses select the optimal configuration among four models — stand-alone, hybrid, coworking and full remote.

Map your business’ needs to your workplace



Roche and Wu advise first answering the following two questions to determine the best working model for your business.

1. What is your growth strategy?



Decide whether your strategic goals align with creative innovation or with efficient execution, and take note:

• If piquing creativity is paramount to your business, your workplace needs to bring people together, ideally in person.
• If execution is your primary business objective, ensure that individual contributors are efficient in their work by providing flexibility as to when and where they work.

2. What is your organization’s size? 



Small businesses and large enterprises have very different needs when it comes to office configuration. Small business owners can be nimbler with office setup as they have a much smaller pool of knowledge to leverage. Large enterprises have access to ample resources and skills, but challenges arise from coordinating that activity at scale.

Identify the optimal workplace for your organization



Depending on the business’s growth strategy and size, employers should consider implementing one of the four workforce configurations described below. 

Stand-alone office or campus


Best fit: creativity-oriented large enterprises



Employees drive the creativity that businesses need, and research shows that innovation works best when you bring people together in a single place. Immediate feedback and updates are essential for fruitful brainstorming sessions. 

Large enterprises can take advantage of knowledge exchange and foster active collaboration by gathering employees in a stand-alone office or campus, in person. Creativity-oriented large enterprises should offer ample opportunities for employees to run into one another. This encourages relationship building across teams and sharing ideas with co-workers with different specialties.

Real-life example: Cupertino, California-based Apple Park.

Hybrid with flexible space


Best fit: execution-oriented large enterprise



If your employees need a space without interruption to perform their jobs efficiently, give them the flexibility to work where and when they are most productive, Roche and Wu advise.  The best place to do this is not always the office; it could be at home or a coffee shop. 

Large enterprises can also align employees toward common goals by providing them with the time and space to collaborate and socialize in person at assigned intervals. This hybrid model helps ensure consistency in the decentralized decisions employees make when working independently and remotely. 

Real-life example: GitHub’s San Francisco-based headquarters. The company uses the space for teams across the company to host in-person team summits, events and workshops. Employees outside San Francisco can also gather in smaller local offices and coworking spaces.

Coworking environment


Best fit: creativity-oriented startup



One of the biggest challenges for small businesses can be a limited pool of knowledge and expertise. That’s why it’s best for creativity-oriented startups to ensure their workspaces promote social interaction where employees can exchange information. 

Locating your office close to other firms in a coworking environment lets you benefit from knowledge spillovers, according to Roche and Wu. This allows people from different companies to interact face-to-face and build trust by sharing mutually beneficial knowledge over time. 

Real-life example: Atlanta Tech Village. This startup coworking hub has seen several firms that rose to unicorn status.

Full remote


Best fit: execution-oriented small startup



If you run an execution-oriented small business, empower your employees to work with independent efficiency. This model may present limits as your business grows and coordination becomes a challenge, in which case your firm may need to consider a hybrid flexible space model. 

Real-life example: Toptal fully leverages this model. Its internal team and network of contract developers work remotely, spanning over 93 different countries. 

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