Achieving Strategic Balance in the Hybrid Workplace: Balancing Efficiency, Effectiveness and Quality of Life through Thoughtful Design

As the global haze of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to lift, many leadership teams are beginning to face the question: How do they build and sustain the talent base necessary to grow their businesses? Reevaluation of priorities and expanding telecommuting opportunities have led to an unprecedented level of career mobility in the workforce, creating new strategic challenges for companies. If a company fails to adjust its workforce policies in a timely manner in response to these changes, its performance is likely to be significantly worse than that of competitors who do a better job in this area.

To be successful, companies need to not only maintain the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness, but also support employees in achieving a good work-life balance. Efficiency measures tend to focus on reductions in office space, commute time, travel and recreational activities. Effectiveness is about execution of existing goals and innovation in products, services and business models. Quality of life refers to ensuring employees have access to the resources and support they need for work-life balance.
We see the workplace of the future as a stool whose three legs – efficiency, effectiveness and quality of life – must always be in balance. For the stool to remain upright, all three legs must be strong enough.
Weighing the costs and benefits of hybrid working

During the epidemic, major companies relied on online offices to achieve economic benefits. Now, in order to improve efficiency, they are trying to permanently reduce costs by maintaining these economic gains. This includes cutting travel and entertainment expenses and significantly reducing office space. Many companies are trying to make these efficiency improvements the norm. For example, Salesforce and Airbnb have significantly reduced the amount of office space they lease. Salesforce plans to have more than 65% of its employees work in the office for only one to three days a week, a 40% increase from before the epidemic. It was also reported that in May 2021, Airbnb “sold off 287,000 square feet (approximately 26,663 square meters) of excess office space at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, reducing its total real estate by 424,000 square feet (approximately 26,663 square meters). Total 39,391 square meters)”.
However, the focus on these short-term efficiency gains must be weighed against the risk of compromised performance. For example, a company must carefully assess how far it can push online without compromising innovation in product and process development, customer relationships, and business growth.
During the pandemic, managers have created many process efficiency gains. Major shifts in work patterns have forced managers to trust and empower their employees more than before. This means that companies need to give employees more autonomy in decision-making at points that were previously considered essential in the complicated approval process. This, in turn, frees up employees and their managers to spend more time improving organizational effectiveness.
Another important aspect of effectiveness is embedded in corporate culture. During the pandemic, many companies’ basic social fabric of connecting with each other and sharing cultural norms has been disrupted. To repair this structure, companies must invest systematically in team-building activities, social outings, brainstorming workshops, personal development projects and best practice sharing sessions. For employees to be cared about by the team and organization and feel like they are a part of it, the existence of the above-mentioned “inefficient” activities is essential. While it’s easier to build and maintain a strong corporate culture in a face-to-face interactive environment, reality may not allow everyone to be there in person. Therefore, it is the responsibility of leadership to ensure that the company’s social fabric remains strong by leveraging the best virtual technology solutions, such as through innovation platforms, breakout sessions, town halls, and cross-functional problem-solving pathways.
Our research shows that the balance between efficiency and effectiveness depends heavily on the careful design of hybrid working systems. What we call “design with care” mainly refers to the implementation of the hybrid office system, which requires designers to have a deep understanding of what employees can and cannot do in online mode, and what must be restored as soon as it becomes feasible. Offline mode.
Change management thinking model

The experience accumulated during the epidemic has made us realize that so-called “shallow teamwork”, such as reporting work, performing management tasks, making simple decisions, sharing information, drafting documents and performing financial analysis, can all be effectively achieved online. . Likewise, our research and experience show that most of the one-on-one interactions between leaders and followers, including some coaching, can be accomplished effectively online.
However, there are also tasks that require teams to integrate knowledge, create safe spaces for conversations about difficult topics, and build emotional connections—what we call “deep teamwork”—that cannot be accomplished effectively online. For example, given today’s technological constraints, teams striving to achieve breakthrough innovation, solve complex problems, build lasting cultures, and manage conflicts are many tasks that can only be performed more effectively in an offline environment.
If employees are indeed unable to work together offline, then a major shift is necessary, that is, from input-based work evaluation to output-based work evaluation. For many managers, this is a big change. Although few managers are willing to admit it, it has to be said that hours worked are often an important factor in employee performance evaluations.
Hybrid working poses both operational and cultural challenges for employers: When should employees work on-site and when should they work remotely? Some companies have strict policies based on office occupancy, such as allowing only some employees from each department to be in the office at any given time. Apple requires employees to work in the office at least three days a week. There is often an incompatibility between such policies and the pursuit of effectiveness. Companies need greater flexibility in making decisions about when to have everyone onsite and when to have everyone work from home. While this change has made it difficult to use offices at their most efficient levels—especially from a pre-pandemic perspective—the key is that companies are not sacrificing effectiveness for the sake of efficiency.
This means that excessive pursuit of online work to improve efficiency may undermine effectiveness, so that the “stool leg” of effectiveness will be weakened to the point of being unsteady. The crux of the matter is that while moving most shallow teamwork and one-on-one interactions online to reduce costs, we can still actively encourage deep teamwork to be completed offline. There is no conflict between the two. “Encouragement” means having a space for deep teamwork and providing resources for teams that are working together to bring members together regularly, even if the benefits of doing so are not immediately apparent or even mean giving up. Benefits of certain efficiency gains.
Strive for flexibility within the framework

Additionally, companies must ensure that improvements in efficiency and effectiveness do not come at the expense of employee happiness. The survey shows that the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic has triggered people’s deep thinking: What do talented professionals want from the workplace? What sacrifices in quality of life are they willing to accept?

During the epidemic, the increase in freedom and autonomy has prompted many professionals to choose to resign, change jobs, or receive further education based on their work-life balance preferences and career priorities. The company cannot sit idly by and ignore these practical demands of employees. This requires companies to focus on balance and boundaries, developing leaders who have the ability to maintain a balance between efficiency, effectiveness and quality of life in their organizations.
By “balance,” we mean thoughtful design for hybrid working systems that achieve the right mix of shallow and deep teamwork. Leaders must have sufficient “flexibility within the framework” to customize hybrid working systems to meet the needs of their teams. The so-called “flexibility within the framework” means that managers must clearly explain the reasons, time and specific arrangements for requiring employees to come to work offline. Doing so helps maintain a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. Additionally, it supports quality of life because team members understand why they work the way they do—understanding leads to acceptance. Some shallow team work can be completed in an online environment without them having to come to the office in person; similarly, when they need to work together to tackle in-depth cooperation tasks, they will not work independently in online mode. Due to the nature of the work, employees are sometimes required to come to the office to work. Although doing so does restrict personal freedom, we believe that most employees will understand if the reasons are explained clearly.
The second is “boundaryness”, which is to establish and implement an acceptable hybrid office rhythm, even at the expense of certain efficiency improvements. One reason employees need to re-evaluate priorities is that they are exhausted by being on call 24 hours a day. This approach resulted in significant but unsustainable productivity gains. Especially considering that it has become increasingly easier for talented professionals to move to places with a better quality of life, and they often receive higher salaries after changing jobs, if the company continues to improve. efficiency, may have the opposite effect.
Finally, in the brave new world of hybrid working, the way leaders lead plays a key role in maintaining the strength of the “stool leg” of quality of life. This means leaders must do three things: carefully design and implement hybrid work systems to match the necessary mix of shallow and deep teamwork; invest the necessary resources to build relationships and sustain a shared culture; build and sustain sustainable Acceptable work-life boundaries.
In addition, leaders need training in what is called “multimodal leadership.” This means that leaders should know how to lead teams differently when faced with shallow teamwork online versus deep teamwork offline. Our research shows that leaders must effectively fulfill four key roles—director, facilitator, coach, and supporter—and know when and how to transition between these roles.
Balance efficiency, effectiveness and quality of life

Leaders cannot dictate how teams should organize themselves around the three dimensions of efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of life. Instead, they should examine which dimension their team is better suited to strengthen. Based on the above reviews and considerations, leaders should work with their teams to create a plan that balances the three elements based on their actual situation. Here are some examples of companies and leaders we’ve worked with to see how they used the “three-legged approach” to design hybrid office plans.
Take the person in charge of a school education group as an example. This person will bring principals from each of his schools together to develop a joint strategy and ensure they all feel a sense of belonging as a team. He will also meet with representatives from the Ministry of Education as often as possible to ensure constructive cooperation. In addition, he meets regularly with the chairman of the board at lunch or dinner. These on-site meetings with principals, board chairs and Ministry of Education representatives focus on effectiveness in areas such as strategy, culture, resourcing and gaining commitment. For general announcements, policy changes and progress updates, the leader now only uses virtual meetings. Online meetings are even available for most regularly scheduled board meetings. Taken together, these practices promote significant efficiency and effectiveness gains while taking into account improvements in quality of life. The latter is achieved by limiting commuting and gathering offline for high-quality collaboration.
How to best use offline meetings to create performance value while leveraging online tools for other value creation activities is a question that every leader needs to grapple with. Please note that in all of these practices, we view offline meetings as key to innovating, creating and maintaining a shared culture, ensuring constructive collaboration, and gaining commitment.
However, this does not mean that effectiveness and innovation are limited to various offline activities. For example, pharmaceutical companies have found some more effective strategies for launching new drugs as online tools provide greater reach and most doctors are now more willing to accept online communication. In addition, wealth management institutions have also mastered ways to attract clients online, making clients’ business processes less cumbersome and allowing them more time to focus on value-added activities. These findings have direct implications for future strategy development. In executive education, on-site learning can be combined with online and offline learning in various interesting ways, and the possibilities of these combinations keep participants interested and energized. This change has forced executive coaching organizations to radically change their business models.
While COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll, there are plenty of lessons to be learned for leadership teams as company priorities shift from survival to growth. For leaders, the key is to thoughtfully design hybrid working systems, invest in company culture, and ensure a balance between efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of life.

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