Our views and beliefs about the world are influenced by our own experiences, which are often incomplete. It is human nature to overemphasize our perceptions and resist and discredit new information that don’t correspond to our acquired knowledge. This phenomenon, known as belief perseverance, often leads to misconceptions and inaccurate ideas about any topic or concept. Collaboration in the workplace is no exception. Businesses have their unique experiences with collaboration, which narrow their perceptions and influence their strategies. Strategies can be more effective if businesses and individuals work together to overcome their common misconceptions about collaboration.
In this blog post, which is the second part of a series centred around collaboration in the workplace, we will debunk common myths and misconceptions about collaboration and show how to overcome them.
All employees and teams are open to collaboration initiatives
Although statistics tell us that employees understand the importance of collaboration, not many are willing to do so in certain circumstances. This is what Lisa B. Kwan, a researcher at Harvard University, discussed in an article published on HBR. Her research was into cross-team collaboration, and what makes both teams and individuals reluctant to collaborate.
Employees might feel threatened by collaboration requests from management, especially if they are asked to contribute too much of their resources, expertise, and skills, or give up some of their responsibilities. This will trigger a defensive response, leading employees to question their value within the organisation and fear for their long-term futures.
Remote working kills collaboration
The most sceptical of businesses often associate remote working with a host of disadvantages such as a lack of productivity, camaraderie, collaboration, and so on. These views are outdated; it used to be that employees had no means with which to collaborate remotely, which meant collaboration happened only at the office. This is why we have seen increased interest in office design and the birth of a variety of layouts to foster collaboration in the workplace, such as the open office, the bürolandschaft, and the action office, just to name a few.
Things have changed recently. Collaboration tools have become widely available and employees are eager to work from remote locations. However, it wasn’t until the global widespread of COVID-19 that businesses had to make the transition. But did it kill collaboration? The answer is that it did not. In fact, the results are quite promising. According to the Future Workforce Report by UpWork, 56% of managers stated that working remotely has exceeded their expectations, with 62% planning to adopt remote working policies beyond the pandemic.
Yet remote collaboration is not without its challenges. Burnout, a sense of isolation, detachment from teams, and employees feeling untrusted by their managers are often cited as direct consequences of a poorly designed remote working policy. Businesses that have been successful in handling employees’ prolonged periods away from the office had to overcome these challenges by bridging three types of distance: physical (place and time), operational (team size, bandwidth and skill levels), and especially affinity (values, trust, and interdependency).
The key is to establish communication and collaboration norms at organisational and team levels. These norms will determine how to collaborate, how often, and through which channels. Employees can maintain regular interaction with their peers and ensure smooth collaboration, thus avoiding feeling disengaged while maintaining productivity.
Collaboration is expensive
Getting your teams to collaborate effectively certainly comes at a cost. But how much?
Although there is no definitive answer to this question, there are common factors such as infrastructure, licence fees, and bandwidth, that can drive costs up and down and help determine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of collaboration tools. There is a common belief that it is expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. However, 56% of IT professionals have stated that they are in the dark about how much they spend on collaboration tools, according to a Spiceworks survey. This is mainly due to the absence of a clear collaboration strategy which often leads to tools overload and hidden costs. According to the same study, an organisation deploys on average 4.4 solutions to meet the demands of its various teams, ranging from messaging apps to video conferencing platforms.
Provide your teams with lots of tools and they are ready
When collaborating in the workplace, the tool in itself isn’t the solution. Worse, it may end up being a problem for businesses if they don’t allocate the resources to study their workforce and understand their recurrent needs.
Getting teams to collaborate requires a robust collaborative culture, a clear strategy, and individuals willing to collaborate before technology is even mentioned. Once all these factors are present, it will be easy to determine how many tools to employ, thus avoiding having multiple solutions to fix pretty much the same problem. It will also help in guaranteeing high adoption rates and making sure employees have what they need to get their jobs done.
Collaboration is a magic stick
Whenever something is portrayed as the answer for everything, we know it will be overused. As the saying goes, “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little”. The very idea that collaboration will help to solve all business problems may lead organisations to spend aimlessly and employees to collaborate just for the sake of it, for little to no results. And this is dangerous. Research by HBR has shown that employees spend 80% of their work day on collaborative activities such as meetings and emails, and less on productive tasks. According to RingCentral, the average worker uses approximately four communication apps, which is considered challenging by 70% of the 2,000 surveyed respondents. What makes matters worse is that upwards of 35% of all the efficient collaboration is performed by only 2% to 3% of all employees.
So if too much collaboration is bad, how can the perfect balance be achieved?
The answer lies in numbers. First, you have to try to minimise the number of apps used by employees. Try to limit it to one solution for each collaboration type, or one holistic platform that can group and integrate with all these solutions. You also have to ensure your teams do not use apps that are not approved by the IT department, as this obviously presents a security threat and makes it hard for teams to locate information.
Another way to get the perfect balance is to restructure your hierarchy and the way in which decisions are made. This can be done by reducing the number of decision makers, if possible. If information has to travel through many stakeholders in order for a decision to be made, then the process will invariably be long, involving endless email threads, unnecessary meetings, lost data along the way, and so on.
Finally, one of the main causes of over-collaboration is nice people who just can’t say no when they should. Experienced professionals know that going through each email in their inbox, attending every meeting, or responding to every chat message, leaves no time to actually work. Teach your employees how to be selfish at times by avoiding unnecessary collaborative actions and prioritising their own work instead.
Once all of these myths and misconceptions are understood, businesses can seize the benefits of collaboration. In the next blog post of this series, we will explore the benefits of collaboration and provide some examples of businesses that got it right. Stay tuned.