We recently looked at the careful planning needed to establish the right hybrid workplace model for the return to the workplace. It’s not just hand sanitizer stations, face masks, and social distancing. From staggered shifts to right-sized real estate footprints, businesses need to look at long-term, new ideas for collaborative workspaces where all employees feel safe. Now let’s take a closer look at what those workspaces actually look like.

Of course, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating a return to work plan.  You need a big picture view of all of your spaces combined with needs of each of your business units. You also have to take into account local health guidelines (that most like won’t remain static). And it all needs to encompass your employees’ ideas around returning to the office versus continuing to work remotely.

Flexible workspaces can help you create the right workspace for your employees, but executives need to plan for a completely different workplace density model and consider the safety and cost-efficiency of different models—and remember that agile workspaces are really about user experiences.  That means implementing technology that simplifies finding flexible workspaces on the days employees may come into the office.

What does a flexible workspace look like?

A flexible workspace is just that … work happens where it happens, be it at home, in an office or even a local coffee shop, and can be at the discretion of the employee. For example, if the weather is vexing or the commute is particularly cumbersome, then the employee may opt to work remotely for that day.

Advantages: As employees have demonstrated that they can successfully work just about anywhere, they want the freedom to do just that – and 48% say they expect their employers to make permanent changes to their remote work policies so that employees have more autonomy in choosing their workspaces.

Challenges: The healthiest and most successful space strategies rely on understanding who is using your space and when they’re using it. By understanding these true requirements, you can also uncover opportunities to consolidate or repurpose areas, floors and even entire buildings. This is especially true for companies adopting a flexible workplace. In fact, 83% of CFOs surveyed for a recent study said they’re looking to facilities and capital expenditure as a cost cutting opportunity.

The reservable workspace

In the post-pandemic office, some employees might consider coming to the workplace when collaborating on a big project.  In this case, hoteling might be in order, allowing people to reserve desk for five days, for instance, because they’ll be in the office rather than working remotely.  Booking workspaces near coworkers with whom they are collaborating assures employees coming into the office that time there is well-spent

Hot-desking, another option to consider for a limited-time approach to space, gives employees the flexibility to book a desk based on their needs. Perhaps they’re in the city for another appointment and need a space to work for the rest of the day.  By providing a number of reservable desks, you can safely adapt to demand as needed.

Advantages: The ability to reserve a space in real-time is a definite advantage. According to the report, “What Is The Case For Investing In Workplace Technology,” by independent research firm Verdantix, hoteling and hot desks provide a shared workplace experience that many employees want. In addition, 78% of employees said flexible work arrangements made them more productive.

Challenges: You need a 30,000-foot view of your space and your employees so that you can react quickly when people reserve office space. With social distance guidelines still in place, you need to clearly delineate how many desks are available for hoteling or hot-desking, so that employees can stay safe. You also must look at office utilization and map indoor floor flows so people can navigate to their space and easily locate amenities, colleagues, and collaboration spaces.

Here’s how you can deliver a flexible workspace

Outdoors is the new indoors

Depending on your geographic location, making outdoor space reservable for meetings — or even single employees working — offers your people the distance required for safety, along with the connection to nature that workplace gurus say makes us more productive and less stressed. Think about that rooftop patio or the grassy space between buildings; with the right setup, these can easily become flexible working spaces or collaboration spaces.

Advantages: You can’t argue with less stressed and more creative employees. And with some configuring to handle sun or rain, you gain outdoor workspaces that keep employees safe and productive. With an intelligent, integrated workplace management solution like the IBM TRIRIGA®, you can design a unique workplace experience.

Challenges: You probably won’t have many employees reserving outdoor space if it’s -25° or 100°. Configuring outdoor space into useable workspaces requires a moderate climate and likely some additional construction or furniture purchases.

Staying flexible helps companies outperform

Show your workforce that you have their well-being at the forefront as you develop your return-to-work strategy. Demonstrate that you can react quickly to changing needs and protocols by making strategic space decisions that show care for employees. This will not only create a safer workplace, but also a more productive environment that engenders a sense of trust, purpose, and mission no matter where employees are working.

Discover the right return-to-work strategy for you organization, and see how IBM Watson Works can help you make informed decisions about workplace re-entry and facilities management, workplace safety, and contact tracing.


[1] Fortune, “Nearly a third of workers don’t ever want to return to the office”

[2] “7 Big Statistics About the State of Flexible Work Arrangements”

[3] Inc Magazine, “Want Happier Workers?”

See how IBM crafted its own return-to-the-workplace strategy

Was this article helpful?

More from Government

AI governance is rapidly evolving — here’s how government agencies must prepare

5 min read - The global AI governance landscape is complex and rapidly evolving. Key themes and concerns are emerging, however government agencies should get ahead of the game by evaluating their agency-specific priorities and processes. Compliance with official policies through auditing tools and other measures is merely the final step. The groundwork for effectively operationalizing governance is human-centered, and includes securing funded mandates, identifying accountable leaders, developing agency-wide AI literacy and centers of excellence and incorporating insights from academia, non-profits and private industry.…

Building trust in the government with responsible generative AI implementation

5 min read - At the end of 2023, a survey conducted by the IBM® Institute for Business Value (IBV) found that respondents believe government leaders often overestimate the public's trust in them. They also found that, while the public is still wary about new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), most people are in favor of government adoption of generative AI.   The IBV surveyed a diverse group of more than 13,000 adults across nine countries including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Japan.…

5 key areas for governments to responsibly deploy generative AI

3 min read - In 2024, the ongoing process of digitalization further enhances the efficiency of government programs and the effectiveness of policies, as detailed in a previous white paper. Two critical elements driving this digital transformation are data and artificial intelligence (AI). AI plays a pivotal role in unlocking value from data and gaining deeper insights into the extensive information that governments collect to serve their citizens.   As the demand for generative AI is expected to grow this year, it becomes imperative for…

IBM Newsletters

Get our newsletters and topic updates that deliver the latest thought leadership and insights on emerging trends.
Subscribe now More newsletters