Is there such a thing as TOO connected and TOO collaborative?

Image - Ben Wiseman

Written by Vicky Emery

April 19, 2021

Time to put the genie back in the bottle

In a recent article, The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready? Microsoft Worklab April 2021,  Microsoft outlines findings from a study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries and an analysis of trillions of productivity. It also includes perspectives from experts who have spent decades studying collaboration, social capital, and space design at work for decades.

I have been thinking about that article since I read it 2 weeks ago.

One of the headlines really grabbed my attention: High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce.

You might comment that that isn’t just about COVID and its impacts. I hear and see this in lots of organisations and teams and I know I have been in the grip of it at times, myself. Our need or drive to continue to deliver is almost holding us hostage – but it looks so tempting and so justifiable!

We are using collaboration tools to help stay connected and include people. Here are some stats from the report:

  • Time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings has more than doubled (2.5x) globally and, aside from a holiday dip in December, continues to climb
  • The average meeting is 10 minutes longer, increasing from 35 to 45 minutes
  • The average Teams user is sending 45 percent more chats per week and 42 percent more chats per person after hours, with chats per week still on the rise.

Could there be such a thing as TOO connected and TOO accessible?

While we might be more connected, it’s creating a sense of exhaustion and disengagement, with a lot of meetings (virtual or IRL) being unstructured and unplanned (Microsoft says 62% are unplanned or ad hoc).

This constant disruption leads to feeling overwhelmed – not knowing where to start or how to continue. I have seen the impact this has on Leaders, Change Practitioners, Project Managers, and staff. What people may not have realised is that this is a change in a change in itself – we may be using technology we already have but using it the way we are is not working for our people, our customers, and the changes we are trying to land. We need to address the behaviours that will use it for good.

50 percent of people respond to Teams chats within five minutes or less, a response time that has not changed year-over-year. This proves the intensity of our workday, and that what is expected of employees during this time, has increased significantly. And it’s worse in organisations with global teams and time zones to manage.

For years as a Change Practitioner, I dreamt of having this kind of ready access and engagement with people and now, I think I’d like to put the genie back in the bottle! How?

Top 5 tips

  1. Leaders – make it ok for you and your team to go offline for parts of the day and do that yourself. I have found checking emails 3 times a day works rather than responding immediately as they come in! Turn off chat while you are working on something that needs your attention – even if it’s 30 minutes. Yes, you will keep going to check it every 5 mins but it will be OK!
  2. Leaders – in meetings (Zoom or in real life), ask people to turn off devices and just be in the room with the current topic and group. Let’s solve the problem in front of us and use each other’s time respectfully and well.
  3. Use tech wisely and selectively and PLAN your communications – both the content and pacing rather than use the wonderful access you have now poorly. Pacing allows you to think about what time of the day will work for your audience and give them time to digest it before the next piece.
  4. Decide on ONE collaboration platform and stick with it – there is no need to monitor 5 different channels for chat! It’s hypervigilant and will give you an ulcer.
  5. Agree as a team the way to respond to emails or requests out of hours – and help each other stick to it.

Continue the conversation

At Change in Practice, we bring a pragmatic approach to real-life change. To continue the conversation:

Illustration by Ben Wiseman.

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