Collaboration: a blessing or a curse?

According to research done by a University of Virginia professor, employees today spend 50% more time communicating than they did 20 years ago. 85% of daily work time are spent with e-mail, meetings and phone calls, and for some managers, the percentage is even higher.

Time to do meaningful work, to write a concept, to do something without being disturbed, seems to get rare. Some management researchers even start talking about the “collaboration curse”.

When you’re interrupted while working at something, your brain needs 25 minutes until it is able to fully concentrate on the old task again, so it seems quite a challenge to work in a dynamic environment. Finding the time and space to do some “deep work”, to think, to write, is often only possibly when you close the office door – provided you actually have a door.

It is unrealistic that we suddenly stop using open space offices or tell people not to come in, but it’s worth thinking about how we can use collaboration in a more intelligent way.

Meetings can be very productive, but some definitely aren’t. Everyone knows these regular meetings that don’t seem to be necessary, so why not skip these and just set up a meeting when there’s something that needs to be discussed? What about the participants? Does everyone have to be in the meeting from start to end? Or could some people join later, or leave early? Each agenda item should have a time slot and the leader of the meeting needs to remind people of the allocated time. Don’t just invite people to meetings because you think they “should be there”.

It could make sense to introduce “quiet time” when people are allowed to not take part in any kind of communication (e-mail, chat, meetings) and can work on a task without being interrupted. For some people, “quiet time” might even be shorter than one hour, for others, it might be longer. Some people organise their own “quiet time” by coming early or staying late, so there shouldn’t be fixed time slots for everyone.

Despite all this, there are researchers who say that it’s simply a nice idea that you can be creative in an organization. To work on a new idea or develop a concept, you need to be somewhere all alone. Well, then, have you booked your weekend retreat yet? 😉


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