Most of us have just spent the last three months working from home for the first time. Some of us were more productive, and some were more distracted. Some loved the new remote work situation, and some missed the comradery of the physical workplace.

Now that workers are trickling back to the office in some cities and states, businesses have to make a decision whether or not to allow those who prefer to work remotely, to stay home forever.

New CDC workplace guidelines suggest that once-popular open office layouts are no longer safe work environments, and the make-up of new office spaces will accommodate fewer employees per square foot. Does this mean they need to cut some staff too? Not necessarily…

Finding the right ratio

Since my partner and I started our company back in 2007, we’ve had a lot of experience working with all different kinds of teams at various stages of our existence. Some work in the office, some work remote, some split their time between both.

With some of our teams spread geographically, the balance we have found that is optimal is to have 60% or so of the team centralized and co-located with 40% of them able to work remotely.

This 60%/40% split has worked for us both at a team level but also as a company – having over half the company based on our core campus in Ireland has been a great aspect of our culture.

Every year, we bring every remote employee to our HQ for a week where the company gets together to realign around our vision, spend days planning together face-to-face and most importantly, having time for teams to be together socially, outside of work. We call this our Grand Council and it is a company ritual which really is critical to ensuring the balance between co-located and remote employees continues to work so well for us.

Based on our experiences, we’ve also found that it is important -where possible – to have the team lead or manager in the team’s main co-located location.

Although we have found this ratio works best for us, businesses of different sizes and industries should test the waters, where they might find that a slightly different ratio works better for their own needs.

While the world has had  to be 100% remote during this time, our teams have not dropped in productivity. This is thanks to the fact that we are a company that was operating with 40% remote staff anyway, so the culture had already supported this enforced shift.

However, I would expect that we would start to see some drop in productivity if there was an indefinite WFH requirement. Some of our teams – such as sales – work better in our offices where they can feed off the energy of the group, huddle up, resolve issues quickly, assign tasks in-person, or even have the casual desk-side brainstorm.

Remote doesn’t mean unproductive

While a full team of remote workers who did not make the conscious choice to work from home might be less productive, a 40% remote team can still remain at the highest levels of productivity.

Humans all have different lives and needs. Some need to take care of their children or other family members during the day. Some may be unable to relocate and some just generally work better from home.

As long as they show they can work hard from home, and they have a team supporting them from one location, remote workers can be some of the most important to a business.

Return to “normal”

Now, as small businesses return to the physical office and begin to figure out the new normal, it is important to consider rethinking the distribution of your workforce. You may be excited to reopen the office and bring everyone back, but it may be worth taking a step back and assessing the productivity of your employees who have been working from home.

Did some employees work better from home? If so – for the sake of freeing up space in the office and making it a safer working environment – it might make sense to let some of those workers (up to 40%) have the option to work from home ad infinitum.

Either way, everyone’s approach to this return will be different and likely staggered. Based on the size of your small business, it might make sense to have a few test runs and figure out your own best ratio.

Peter Coppinger, Founder & CEO at Teamwork, a work and project management tool that helps in-house & remote teams improve collaboration, visibility, accountability and ultimately results.

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