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Are Remote Workers Collaborating Too Much?

October 29, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

With many employees still unable to meet and communicate with each other in person, companies have found new ways to collaborate. 

From Zoom meetings to Slack channels and tried-and-tested email threads, remote workers have found many ways to meet and collaborate. However, while virtual meetings and instant messaging can be beneficial, there is a possibility they can negatively impact productivity.

This begs the question: Are remote workers collaborating too much and not doing enough productive work? We spoke to remote company leaders to determine if remote collaboration is turning out more negative than positive. 

The Problem With Collaboration

Remote work requires the use of different tools to promote collaboration and maintain valuable workforce links, said Gilles Bertaux, co-founder and CEO of Livestorm, a Paris, France-based video engagement platform. The danger comes when we get bombarded by distractions.

“This can impact productivity if you are constantly disturbed by email or messenger notifications,” he said.

Too many distractions are a problem, but the fact remains that collaboration is essential to the way we work now. The key is to find the right balance between collaboration and distraction, said Louis Mestrallet, head of project management at Paris, France-based Tilkal, a software platform for supply chain management.

“We must collaborate and will continue to collaborate," he said. "But real-time tools like Zoom and Slack drive us to context switch many times each day and prohibit us from focusing intensively on one issue for 90 or 120 minutes." 

Like working in the office, remote work still requires setting aside time for the kind of uninterrupted work that boosts productivity. Interruptions force workers to go through a period of context switching or multitasking, and that move from one task to another removes focus and makes it harder to concentrate on one thing at a time.

The result? A task that was supposed to take 20 minutes takes an hour instead. 

Related Article: How to Stay Sane While Working Remotely

How Companies Can Help Employees Stay Productive

Since collaboration in a remote environment is both necessary and inevitable, it's important for companies to help employees remain productive amidst the distractions. Here are a few tips: 

Designate Distraction-Free Days

One idea is for a team leader or CEO to initiate a designated day in the week, usually Friday, where only essential communication happens. The success of implementation will vary depending on the company’s size, but this can also be done within smaller intact teams.

"We have opted for a 'Focus Friday,' which is a day without non-essential notifications to allow employees to focus on complex subjects, to have deep work sessions and to end incomplete tasks of the week,” Bertaux said.

The ability to do deep work for a few hours can provide tremendous productivity benefits for team members. It allows them to get through several tasks without worrying about whether or not they might be missing an important meeting because they haven’t checked their Slack messages. 

Focus on Objectives

Employers should also remember that productivity is subjective. One benefit of remote work is that employees don’t need to be always on to get through their tasks for the day. Setting clear objectives that need to be completed and being satisfied that those are done, regardless of how they get done, should be the goal.  

“By focusing on objectives instead of productivity, not only will you attain your business goals, but you will do it while building a relationship of trust with your employees," said Antoine Paré, CEO of Quebec, Canada-based DashThis, a marketing technology software company. 

"If your employees attain their objectives, how they spend their time on collaboration platforms doesn’t matter much." 

Related Article: Why Collaboration at Your Company Is Complicated

How Remote Workers Can Help Themselves

Block Out Calendar Time

Workers, remote and in-office alike, can create time to get work done by blocking out time in their calendar. Many mandatory meetings are usually scheduled ahead of time, so making themselves unavailable for a few hours a day outside of those meetings can often provide the time needed to get productive work done. 

Have Short Calls Rather Than Long Text Chats

Sometimes it may seem easier to have a conversation via Slack or another messaging app to talk about a particular project. However, in many instances a quick 5-minute conversation via video may be what’s needed to get everyone on the same page and avoid misunderstandings.

Opt-Out of Meetings

Saying no is one tried-and-true way to protect productive time. It won’t always be possible depending on the meeting time, but employees should consider declining meeting invitations when they know they have work to do.

If meetings are done right, there should be a written record of what occurred that allows them to catch up with any critical tasks that might pertain to them. Many web conferencing platforms such as Zoom also allow meeting organizers to record the meeting for future reference and even auto-generate a transcript.

Collaboration is an essential part of remote work, but it is also a source of unproductive distractions and interruptions. By implementing a few minor changes, employees and employers alike can ensure collaboration can still happen even while critical work gets done. 

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