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March 7, 2019

New Technology-Enabled Approaches to Avoiding Collaboration Overload

Khiv Singh


More than 8 million customers across 70,000 companies use Slack’s collaboration-messaging tool. The vendor, which recently filed for an IPO, has been the poster child of the burgeoning enterprise collaboration and messaging space which is projected to hit $3.2 billion by 2021, according to International Data Corp.

There’s no shortage of enterprise aptitude for digital collaboration tools. But in the midst of this digital collaboration arms race, are we helping or hurting overall workplace productivity and effectiveness?

“Real-time communications and collaboration provide many advantages to knowledge workers, enabling flexible work arrangements that allow them to work anywhere, anytime,” said Raul Castanon-Martinez, an industry analyst with 451 Research. “The flip side is that workers are now available 24/7, blurring the lines between work and personal time.

“It also tends to foster an ‘always-on’ mentality, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace,” the analyst continues. “Knowledge workers have come to rely on real-time communications and team collaboration technologies but find themselves constantly bombarded with distractions from email, phone calls, mobile messaging and notifications.”

As organizations have placed an ever-increasing focus on adopting new technologies to aid collaboration to engineer a more responsive, real-time business, we’ve now reached a state of communication overload.

“As the volume continues to grow, new approaches are required to help workers manage the flow of information. Managing the volume of information is important, but it is only part of the equation,” Castanon-Martinez says.

There’s a growing need for new and additional capabilities that go beyond the scope of today’s current collaboration and messaging tools, he says. “There is an opportunity for these applications to expand their focus on ‘deep work,’ a term coined by author Cal Newport that refers to the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” he says.

Are we collaborating too much? (Daniel_Dash/Shutterstock)

The most effective collaborators alter their behaviors in context with challenging their beliefs and imposing a structure to streamline time spent engaged in collaboration. But how does one discern and allocate the optimal amount of collaboration? How much is too much collaboration?

Today corporate success hinges on intellectual capability, and productivity is dependent on cultivating a focused workplace that facilitates the synthesis of information, for value creation and innovation. To this end, employers must provide an employee experience that facilitates focused work—one that prioritizes attention management or mindfulness and not just the latest technology that is the” flavor of the month.”

In the workplace, mindfulness refers to immersing oneself completely during daily activities to deliver the focus needed for peak performance. To optimize human performance and encourage a refactoring of work with mindfulness in mind, organizations are leveraging a new type of analytics application known as people analytics.

Today’s knowledge workers’ tools of the trade are computers – work stations, PCs and mobile devices – and business systems, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, as well as Microsoft Office applications.

Finding a balance between collaboration and ‘deep work’ is important to optimize success

Via people analytics, organizations and work group’s capture and study work patterns and analyze it to understand productivity trends and traps. Sophisticated software automates the collection of the digital signals that computers/digital devices emit and combines them with powerful analytics that equip senior executives with reporting and analysis to make better decisions to improve work.

Many organizations today are only realizing only 60% productivity of workforce capacity. According to the Sapience Annual Work Trends report, global knowledge workers spend 9 to 11 hours in the office, yet only 5 to 7 hours of work per employee is completed within these hours. The top 20% of performers log twice the amount of productive work hours than the bottom 20% of performers.

Further, employees who leave work “on time” at day’s end spend 8 to 9 hours in the office, whereas employees that depart the office “late” log 10-to-12-hour days. In both cases, these employees produce relatively the same amount of work output.

People analytics offers a valuable tool to find the sources of productivity loss to inform and guide strategies to close this gap, and to guide the organization on best-practice utilization of systems, including collaboration tools, to find the optimal balance between collaboration and focused work.

Organizations can gain significant increases in productivity – often reducing workforce distraction by one hour a day per employee. For a company with over 5,000 employees, this can add $400 million annually to the bottom line.

Moreover, by eliminating collaboration overkill, organizations can improve the employee experience by minimizing stress and improving efficiency so that employees end up with more time to spend with family or leisure – attaining the ever-elusive work-life balance that is a recipe for sustained organizational performance and employee retention.

About the author: Khiv Singh is senior vice president of Global Sales and Marketing for Sapience Analytics, a vendor of “people analytics” solutions to help companies better organize and use employee time to be more efficient. Sapience Analytics technology is used by more than 120,000 users in over 85 enterprises across 18 countries to move the needle on employee engagement, organizational productivity, and business profitability.

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