NATICK — Two local businesses — one small, another larger — could prove to be the blueprint for how MetroWest companies decide to bring workers back as the coronavirus pandemic appears to move into a less-threatening stage.
Kent Fitzpatrick, managing director at financial services firm Asset Strategy in Natick, has already brought everyone back.
It happened in October — all 15 employees — and Fitzpatrick knew he needed the whole crew in the office.
“The human element in our industry is critical,” Fitzpatrick explained as the reason for ending remote work for his staff.
Meanwhile, Allego, a 200-employee Needham business that sells remote training and virtual tools to sales forces, is heading in the opposite direction.
Yuchun Lee, Allego’s chief executive officer and co-founder, said his workers want to be in the office only two to three days per week, based on a survey of his staff and Lee’s own research.
Allego remained productive working remotely during the pandemic months, Lee said, but he acknowledged that constant Zoom meetings can be exhausting by the time 5 p.m. rolls around.
“Can we stay productive working fully remote? No,” Lee said.
In September, the company is moving to Waltham, where it will lease a 25,000-square-foot space — similar in size to its current footprint.
Lee hasn’t decided how the new space will be laid out.
“Hoteling” is a concept he could incorporate into the design. Lee described it as doing away with assigned desks, making them available by reservation. There could also be “neighborhood” work areas — some catering to those who want quiet space, others who want to “mix it up.”
Smaller companies, like Asset Strategy, have the advantage of being more nimble when it comes to deciding how to approach office space in the weeks and months ahead, according to Garry Holmes, president of R.W. Holmes Realty in Wayland. Asset Strategy is among the commercial real estate firm’s clients.
“At this point, what I’m seeing in the market, in terms of smaller companies, their business is more predictable,” Holmes said. “They know their needs. For larger companies, it’s up in the air. They’re working hard on their policies.”
To get a grip on their plans, Holmes said some of his larger clients extended their leases for a year, giving them more time to figure out how working from home impacts their space needs.
When Asset Strategy brought all of its workers back in October, the company remained in Natick, but moved to a much larger space — 5,200 square feet, up from 2,800 at its prior location.
During the pandemic, Fitzpatrick’s firm acquired PRI Financial Advisors in Holliston and an online business that provides newsletters for investors called moneyletter.com.
“We needed more space,” Fitzpatrick said.
Decision depends on industry
Ultimately, both Fitzpatrick and Lee said the decision on what course to take — whether it’s bringing everyone back to the office, instituting a full-remote policy, or having some combination of the two — depends on the needs of each specific industry.
There are many considerations to take into account. A big one is know what your workers want, so they remain productive.
In some cases, bringing everyone back makes sense because it enhances collaboration, resulting in ground-breaking ideas. But full remote is preferable for some businesses, because it’s one way to attract top global talent.
As for Asset Strategy’s new space, it reflects the changing world of work in this age of COVID-19 — large conference areas that adhere to social distancing, thermometers for taking the temperatures of workers and visitors, and hand-washing stations.
It’s a lease that runs for more than three years, and Fitzpatrick said he sometimes wondered if he was “nuts for doing this.”
But in the end, Fitzpatrick feels it’s the right move, because his line of work is a people business. Optimal results, he believes, happen in the office, where workers can freely share ideas.
“That human interaction is not going to get old,” he said.
Henry Schwan is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymetrowest. He can be reached at [email protected] or 508-626-3964.