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4 Ways to Avoid Collaboration Overload

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 13:15
How to Avoid Collaboration Overload

Over the years, hundreds of how-to books, seminars, podcasts, and articles have tried to help us increase productivity. Lately the focus has been on how technology can solve the problem. And while tech tools like collaboration platforms have increased team communication and productivity, their overuse, combined with inefficient workplace practices, can lead to “collaboration overload” or burnout, depleting productivity levels.

While there’s no one-size fits all solution, finding a balance of technology and healthy workplace habits can boost productivity. But to find that balance, managers must first understand the current productivity levels of their employees.

The State of Workplace Productivity

It’s easy to get caught up making the morning coffee or gossiping at the water cooler, but after, everyone usually settles down into a productive workday, right? Wrong. Research suggests that in an 8-hour day, the average worker is productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. Not even 3 hours!

Such a low level of productivity leads to fewer projects getting done and is indicative of organizational inefficiencies. And that can have an effect on the bottom line. In fact, the Harvard Business Review’s research suggests that the best companies are 40 percent more productive than the rest. This difference in productivity results in much higher operating margins- 30 to 50 percent higher- than the competition.

These numbers are hard to argue with and in a quest to increase productivity, many businesses are stressing the importance of a collaborative culture and the use of communication tools. As a result, companies have embraced open floor plans, scheduled more team meetings and raised expectations around communication and responsiveness. At the same time, team collaboration apps like Slack and Cisco Spark, project management solutions like Trello and document file sharing tools like Box have soared in popularity.

However, when employees spend an excessive amount of time responding to requests and managing teamwork instead of focusing on their own critical work, it can lead to collaboration burnout. So how can managers encourage productivity without inciting collaboration overload?

Barriers to Employees Productivity

To better understand what’s preventing employees from being productive, we polled our Twitter followers on a series of questions exploring workplace collaboration. In our first Twitter poll, we asked, “What is really keeping you from getting your work done?” In response, 36 percent said office disorganization, 33 percent said office conversations, and about a quarter (24 percent) said too many meetings. The results suggest business leaders need to address complaints around “organizational drag,” what Harvard Business Review defines as the structures and processes that consume valuable time and prevent people from getting things done.

While most broken processes require leadership to resolve, meeting overload is something all employees can address. Meeting fatigue can be caused by many things, but the worst culprit is mismanaged meetings. In another survey we conducted, only 36 percent of workers said they actively contribute to all meetings they attend and just 37 percent said there’s always a set agenda for work meetings. To prevent unnecessary meetings, the scheduler should make sure to include only the necessary attendees, have a set agenda, time limit, and a clear goal.

We also asked our Twitter followers, “How much of your day is spent on conference calls, sending emails, chatting, etc.?” We were surprised, but encouraged, to see more than half (56%) percent said almost none. However, nearly a third (31%) said workplace communication takes up a reasonable amount of time in their day and 13 percent said it takes up all of it, indicating a significant number of employees feel overburdened by communication requests.

Avoiding Collaboration Overload

Fortunately, there are many steps employees can take to better balance workplace communication and collaboration. Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Avoid Multitasking

Most people assume multitasking allows more tasks to get done at once, but in reality, conversations get interrupted, email chains get forgotten, and unnecessary stress builds up. It is much better to focus on one project for a few hours and produce quality work than to risk multiple projects being rushed or getting lost in the mix.

2. Be Selective About Your Tools

When we asked on Twitter how many collaboration tools people use on any given work day, 46 percent said they use 2-3 collaboration tools while 20 percent use 4 or more.

Collaboration tools are certainly a great way to communicate more efficiently and increase productivity, but using multiple apps overcomplicates matters and may become difficult and time consuming to manage. To curb the use of multiple apps, work with your team to pick one that fits your needs and stick with it.

3. Give Yourself Time to Unplug

The constant slew of emails and collaboration app notifications can be extremely distracting. To avoid this, allocate some time where you log off email or your team apps, and devote yourself to the most pressing tasks at hand. Just be sure to let coworkers know when you'll be offline and provide them with a way to reach you for anything urgent.

4. Re-evaluate Standing Meetings

Employees should regularly take a look at their calendar to determine which standing meetings should continue on a regular basis and which can become less frequent or occur on an ad hoc basis. This will help lighten up calendar loads, giving employees more time to work on timely projects.

Figuring out how to take advantage of collaboration without inciting employee burnout requires employees to share feedback on what strategies are working and what aren’t. While the quest for greater productivity may never end, organizations that are selective about what collaboration tools and processes they put in place will reap the benefits.

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