Work effectiveness is one of the central concerns in discussions surrounding remote and hybrid work models. However, effectiveness is a very broad concept, which makes discussions about it full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. This text describes an example of such a misunderstanding that took place within a consultancy team.
Meet the first character in our story – Claire. Claire is the head of a small team responsible for conducting research for clients. Based on the research, Claire’s team prepares reports and recommendations, which are then presented to the clients’ board of directors.
Claire has two direct reports: Albert, a data analyst, and Victor, who prepares materials for client meetings based on Albert’s analyses.
Since their company has made it possible to work remotely, Albert and Victor make eager use of it. They visit the office about twice a month and greatly appreciate the flexibility and time savings, which result from the lack of commuting. Both are also convinced that working remotely enhances their productivity, compared to working from the office. This is not just a hunch – Albert and Victor have evidence to back up their claim. Before the pandemic, it took them 10 working days to complete a standard analysis for a client. Since they have been working remotely, they have been able to complete a similar analysis in just 7 working days, which, as they quickly calculated, represents a 30% boost in effectiveness.
Claire, on the other hand, is more skeptical about her team’s increase in effectiveness. While reports are indeed produced faster – this is a fact that Claire doesn’t deny – she notices a shift in client feedback. Since the team started working remotely, clients have been voicing more objections to their reports.
A good illustration of this problem is their recent project. The goal of the project was to prepare an analysis which would show the potential consequences of a major transformation being implemented in a client company.
During the presentation of the final report, the client pointed out that while the analysis was sound, the report focused excessively on the transformation’s financial aspects. The client made it clear, however, that the analysis should also include the risks related to employee management, especially the risks related to staff turnover.
Claire attributes the team’s performance problem to their dispersion and the fact that they rarely meet in the office. Prior to the implementation of the hybrid working model, Claire, Albert, and Victor sat side by side and frequently exchanged comments on the report they were working on at the time. As a result, it took 10 working days to complete the report, but it usually met the clients’ expectations. Since the team started working remotely, reports are produced faster, yet they don’t align as well with client expectations. This is why Claire regularly encourages Albert and Victor to come to the office more often – at least 1-2 days per week. She believes that working together in one office space will improve communication and have a positive impact on her team’s performance.
What is going on?
The example described above is a good illustration of the fact that work effectiveness is a multidimensional concept. Indeed, the source of disagreement in Claire’s team is that Claire and her subordinates focus on different types of effectiveness.
In his writings, Peter Drucker distinguished efficiency (how well the results match the effort invested) from effectiveness (the extent to which the results of our work align with the right tasks). Albert and Victor looked at their work primarily from the efficiency standpoint – they paid attention to how quickly they were able to conduct the analysis. Claire, on the other hand, looked not only at the pace of work but also at effectiveness, i.e. how aligned the result of the team’s work was with the client’s expectations.
In essence, we encounter a paradox: both Albert and Victor, as well as Claire, are correct, as team performance has increased and decreased at the same time. The team works faster and needs less time to prepare the report, which translates to an increase in efficiency. At the same time, delivered results are not as aligned with clients’ expectations as they used to be, which corresponds to a decrease in effectiveness.
What can be done?
How can we solve this problem? Is Claire correct when she suggests that Albert and Victor should come into the office more frequently? The answer is: not necessarily. After all, the fact remains that remote working is beneficial to Albert and Victor’s efficiency. Therefore, a perfect solution should boost their effectiveness without compromising efficiency. How can this be achieved?
When dealing with such a problem, one key area that should be paid attention to is communication between team members. Before implementing remote work, the exchange of key information took place in the office, on an ongoing basis. Now, with the team seeing each other sporadically, there is little opportunity for informal conversations. The old ways of sharing project-related information could be sufficient before the team started working in a hybrid model. Now, those practices may be in need of adjusting to the new, hybrid reality. It is crucial to verify whether the information Albert and Victor receive at the beginning of the project is comprehensive and reflects the client’s expectations. It is also important to ensure proper communication during the project. It may be helpful to establish ‘checkpoints’: short coordination calls that would allow adjustments to be made at an early stage of the project.
We have frequently emphasized that implementing hybrid work results in having to make changes to the way an organization operates. The example presented in this text illustrates how implementing a hybrid model necessitates implementing changes in the team’s communication practices. However, communication is not the only aspect that requires attention when implementing a hybrid model. Other such aspects include coordination and task delegation, workload, collaboration, and fostering a sense of belonging within the team. For each of these areas, old practices may prove to be inadequate in the hybrid reality and may consequently become a source of friction and frustration. However, closer inspection often reveals that the root of the problem is not remote work itself but the attempt to apply outdated practices in the new, hybrid reality.
In our latest publication “Hybrid Work Insights | Individual or Collective? Rethinking Efficiency in a Hybrid Work Model” we explore two organizations’ approaches to implementing the hybrid model of work. One of those ways makes the risk of experiencing the kind of misunderstandings that occurred in Claire’s team significantly less likely. Download the guide Hybrid Work Insights here.