On collaboration

I thought that this article from the Economist on collaboration that a colleague pointed out to me last week was an interesting read. It warns that in this age of Slack, chat rooms and instant messaging we are at risk of ‘over-collaborating’.

I can see the sense in this argument, and I definitely recognise how precious focused time has become, and also the challenge that both individuals and delivery teams face in preventing continuous interruptions from affecting their work. It made me think a bit more about what ‘collaboration’ means to me and the role I think it should have in how we get work done.

On reflection I think there are possibly two separate dimensions to how collaboration tools are changing the nature of work.

1. There are some aspects of collaboration which, in my view, are purely positive. For example, working together on the same document (moving away from what was essentially the distribution of electronic pieces of paper to working collaboratively as a team on shared information) has taken away loads of low value work and effort merging feedback and edits, and has also changed the character of the work we do together.

Since adopting Google Apps for Work my team and I now very rarely send each other copies of our work in the way we did before, and it now feels distinctly odd if we aren’t collaborating in real time on shared documents and information.

2. But many collaboration tools are also rapidly increasing the volume and speed that information flows at. I am convinced by the qualitative benefits that social tools like Slack, Google+ and Yammer etc can bring by making teamwork more open and shared, but do agree that they can also add to a sense of being overwhelmed (amplifying some of the well documented problems that email causes us: https://bytherye.com/2015/11/02/is-email-here-to-stay/). There can be some respite in picking up a new communication tool that only a few people are using, but it often won’t be long before take up grows and it becomes yet another crowded space.

Part of the answer to this is likely to be technology getting ever smarter and helping us filter out the information that’s most important and deserving of our attention (which will be one reason why the big technology companies are investing so much in artificial intelligence developments). But I think this will only take us so far, and it will also be essential to think very hard about how we manage our own time, work styles and our expectations of others. A very human challenge…