I’m the CEO of my own writing company. As such, I know the factors to consider when it comes to my business’s long-term success. The framework that describes this balancing act comes in different forms. However, a straightforward way to look at it is the triple bottom line. Look at: people, organization, and planet.
People, Organization, Planet, which one should we prioritize to maximize company value? To maximize value, we should take into consideration each of the three dimensions individually. We must understand how they are interrelated in terms of options and potential tradeoffs. The future is uncertain. We have to return to the fundamental concepts of the business to build it up again.
Prioritizing one tends to negatively affect another. We should strike a balance to ensure the company thrives in the long-term. It may be tempting to pull in a certain direction to accomplish immediate concerns. However, neglecting any of the three will lead to the company’s failure. We can optimize the business. We have to know the opportunities, trade offs and constraints of each business decision.
We have to return to the fundamental concepts of the business to build it up again. To give you an idea, we have a comprehensive article, “50 Work Related Questions Asked in 2020 - Answered by Experts.” It provides answers to the most common inquiries business leaders have.
In this article, we will be tackling what the triple bottom line is, each of the three dimensions it has, why a balance between them is necessary, and how it all relates to the future workplace we envision to occur.
The triple bottom line or TBL is a framework adopted by organizations to evaluate business decisions in three key dimensions. In the accounting version of the TBL, the three components are: social, environmental and financial. In the original form of the TBL, the three components are people, profit, and planet. This is why its alternative name is the 3Ps.
However, we have to go beyond the usual analysis of the triple bottom line to adapt it to today’s complexities. Working in this pandemic scenario, there have been preconceived notions and assumptions with regards to our employment that have been debunked through experience. For example, we now know that 86% of remote workers rate their productivity as excellent or good. In contrast, there was a long-standing assumption that remote work is unproductive for most organizations. This shows that we now have new insights with which to operate upon when making future business decisions post-lockdown.
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The triple bottom line grounds organizations in reality and shows the gravity of their decisions. Although the triple bottom line is not necessarily a zero-sum situation, it still recognizes every direction has a tradeoff.
This translates to the future workplace in many ways. A focus on the people allows them to enjoy freedom of choice. There is hope that companies will become flexible post-pandemic in terms of remote work and asynchronous communication. They may do it after learning all the supposed benefits it had while in quarantine. However, these have massive implications on the organization and the planet that we are yet to discover. As we enjoy more privileges when it comes to work, we also become more wasteful in terms of both natural and company resources. This is the central theme of what we’ll tackle in this article.
Find any resource that talks about the future of work and almost all of them will point to the direction of a people-centric workplace––and for good reason. A people-centric workplace ensures the satisfaction of the core of every company, the employees. It is about flexibility and choice, which then translates to comfort, convenience, and overall well being. People intrinsically value other human beings through empathy. Inanimate objects, buildings, and natural resources are secondary.
Unfortunately, the people-centric workplace most propose can be too idealistic and counter-productive. As freedom of choice broadens, accountability must also come with it. A people-centric workplace can bring the success of an organization, but it still has limitations and boundaries. Neil Usher stated it in the most precise way. He said that an effective people-centric workplace is about “giving people a choice but making sure that it is exercised in a responsible way.”
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “freedom comes with responsibility.” Although freedom in the workplace differs from that of this context, it still inevitably comes with the price of higher accountability and rules.
For starters, Neil stated in his article that, “choice only works if choices themselves become synchronised.” Giving people the choice where to work is only effective if they still choose to meet as a group once in a while. It’s more effective than only going to the office if they feel like it. There may not be enough people present to actually spark meaningful social interaction. In that case, a slippery slope of further absenteeism will appear. The workplace will eventually be rejected altogether.
Furthermore, too much freedom has obvious implications on the organizational and environmental costs. Studies show that around half of the average office is empty. Letting employees choose to stay at home only results in even more wasteful practice. The pragmatic approach is to allow just enough freedom and adopt just enough responsibility. It benefits both the person and the company; a balancing act indeed.
One of the reasons why employees fell in love with the novelty of the quarantine is that it provided them convenience and increased their wellbeing. We live in a highly stressful fast-paced world. Poor sleep, long commutes, and prevalent burnout made the lockdown initially a sanctuary for tired workers. They could finally catch up on rest and remain productive in the comfort of their homes.
As the pandemic got prolonged, we now realize that the same burnout can occur even if we are given the luxury of working anywhere we want. A new term called “Zoom fatigue” emerged. People are growing weary of the perpetual screen time and long hours of web conferences. They’ve replaced the face-to-face social interactions we once had. The virtual set-up eventually blurred the lines between work and rest. Emails and work-related calls could still invade our space and demand our attention in the wee hours of the night. Blurring the boundaries pretty much allowed work to permeate our personal sanctuaries.
In the future workplace, we know that well-being is still paramount and it will be a strong factor of employee satisfaction. To maximize well-being, we may have to do more than just make employees return to the status quo of the office. Letting them stay at home perpetually is also inadvisable. We have written the article, “50 Workplace Stress Relief Activities (For Individual, Team, Group and Company).” This article should help you and your organization release stress from work.
Productivity is a major factor that companies consider when it comes to whether or not it’s better to allow employees to work remotely. As mentioned before, employees tend to rate their productivity high when working at home, as opposed to going to the office. Unfortunately, productivity is also very difficult to measure especially when everyone is remote. This leads to the concept of subjective and objective productivity.
When employees get surveyed and they provide their own statistics when it comes to how productive they are, it tends to be rather subjective. When employees actually get measured against the standards of an organization, it becomes more objective. In the past, the easiest way to measure productivity was time. Suppose an employee is always present everyday and even clocks in overtime. They must be extremely busy with work and therefore objectively productive. Although this gives an inaccurate idea of actual output, it’s the simplest form of measurement we had.
This objectivity isn’t easy to come by in the present situation. Time will tell if we come up with better ways to measure productivity. At the moment, the boost of productivity we seem to have working remotely remains entirely subjective.
The organization is often seen as a transactional entity. We offer our time and effort in exchange for monetary compensation. As unglamorous as it seems, the organization is necessary for the workplace’s success. If organizations fail to generate profit, it is inevitable to let people go. Organizations must give people the expected compensation.
Perhaps the strongest motivator for gathering people in a single location is for collaboration. Physical touch and social interaction are some of the most important factors that remote work cannot replicate. However, we have to keep in mind that collaboration isn’t a prerequisite for new ideas. Still, it is a prerequisite to implementing them. After all, “collaboration isn’t how we innovate, but how we make innovation a reality,” as Neil puts it.
Furthermore, the workplace doesn’t automatically make people collaborate. It is a misconception that a better office instantly results in better collaboration and output. Nonetheless, it at least provides them with a space to do so. Some of the most successful companies first collaborated in humble locations:
• Google-operated in a home garage in Menlo Park
• Facebook was founded in a Harvard dorm room
• Amazon was an online bookstore out of a home garage
• Microsoft was founded in a garage in Albuquerque
For organizations to succeed, collaboration is necessary. However, employees can collaborate at any designated space.
Being efficient is all about minimizing waste when working towards a certain goal. Even before the pandemic, there has been a lot of room for improvement in workplace efficiency. As mentioned earlier, the average office is half empty. This subpar utilization was even exacerbated when the lockdown occurred. Entire offices were almost all empty, and only recently have there been a slow return to the office.
However, we have to reconcile the fundamental insight we gathered from this pandemic. That is, we can work from anywhere and feel even more productive. Surveys now show that a staggering 97% of employees don’t even want to return to the office full-time anymore. While this shows a huge step towards workplace flexibility, it may entail problems for workplace efficiency. In which case, this is something that organizations must face and prepare for soon.
Productivity can either be subjective or objective. The pitfall of subjective productivity is that it doesn’t seem evidence-based and is rather anecdotal. Empirically, productivity can be viewed in terms of inputs and outputs. If the outputs increase for a certain level of input, we can say that we are productive. Degrees of output aren't easily measured in any organization, so we mostly used the simplest metric for productivity––time.
This is where the organization steps in. Being an organization-focused workplace entails being results-oriented, with a clear focus on the goals of the company. Offices are still relevant for social cohesion and spontaneity of ideas which are hard to replicate remotely. Ultimately, productivity is only relevant insofar that it actually translates to results for the business. Focusing on the people is nice to have and ensures satisfaction. But as Neil puts it, the needs of the organization remain an “unfashionable necessity.”
The future workplace discussion could not be fully inclusive if it did not talk about the planet. Climate emergency is now a relevant topic of discussion within the business world. The past years have brought this call for action in our collective consciousness, yet we cannot say that progress is indeed happening. Discussions must generate and promote the practice. In particular, businesses are important stakeholders in this discussion. For example, commercial real estate is responsible for 40% of the U.S carbon dioxide emissions. It also consumes the same percentage of national energy.
Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that businesses are the least to budge when it comes to the urgent environmental crisis. After all, the direct effect of adopting more sustainable practices is abandoning old lucrative ways of generating profit. That isn’t to say that we cannot be profitable if we take care of the planet. On the contrary, being sustainable ensures that future generations still have enough natural resources to enjoy. The key is to think long-term. We must utilize technological advances for the betterment of the planet.
The United Nations defines sustainability as “'meeting the needs of people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” This is difficult when immediate and alarming concerns such as keeping up with monthly expenses and improving employee satisfaction. Yet, neglecting the long-term discussion will only spell out disaster.
Sustainability must be prioritized. Often, we are distracted by short-term actions. For instance, whether we adopt a remote work set-up or not, the use of office buildings themselves is an unsustainable practice in the first place. We have been overlooking this for the past decades.
Neil Usher emphasized making a company’s purpose in helping the planet clear. He further stresses that there is no reason why we shouldn’t utilize more than 90% of a future workplace, compared to the measly 50% we do today.
Analyzing the three dimensions above, the future workplace is a series of opportunities and trade-offs. This is why the best way to transition into the future workplace is to approach it iteratively. Having an experimental mindset allows us to adjust based on the evidence. We’ll need to try until we arrive at an ideal workplace scenario - a balance between the three dimensions. This future workplace is with satisfied employees, profitable organizations, and a healthy environment.
The clamor for people-centric workplaces has gotten stronger since our shift towards remote working. Changes with workplace flexibility and hybrid working may come in the post-lockdown future. We have written an article entitled, “Hybrid Workplace - What it Is and Why Now is the Time,” that talks about a hybrid model. Nonetheless, we have to consider the triple bottom line as a whole if we truly revolutionize the workplace.
The triple bottom line is all about aspirations. Employees want freedom and wellbeing. The organization wants employee collaboration and efficiency. The planet calls for urgent action in becoming sustainable. These three dimensions aren’t mutually exclusive. However, trade-offs are to be made, and satisfying all dimensions will be difficult. Still, the solution ultimately unlocks our ideal future workplace.
What will the future workplace look like? There is increased remote work and employee flexibility, but organizations must still tackle how to implement it. Know more by reading our article, “Why the Future Work Space Should Focus on Outcomes.”
How can we achieve a balance for the triple bottom line? There is a value with returning to the humanity of work, and people intrinsically come first. Nonetheless, we have to be aware of each component's opportunities and constraints. We must also be sensitive to our decisions.
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