Paving Cow Paths Won't Improve Productivity or Efficiency
It was remarkable how quickly most of us adjusted to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few days, those of us who were able to work remotely shifted to digital work. The move led to positive outcomes such as increased efficiency and productivity, and provided many of us with more control over our schedules, which helped balance our personal and professional lives.
Remote work also had its downsides, such as feeling socially isolated and having difficulty separating work and leisure time. Furthermore, one study of US remote workers found that they had longer working days, attended more meetings and sent more emails than before.
These issues could be attributed to a lack of preparation for remote work, including working methods and tools, as well as inadequate self-leadership skills among employees and leadership skills among managers.
But today, over three years after we set those emergency settings in place, we need to make sure we don't codify what were stop-gap measures as the way we now do business. Otherwise we'll just be cementing inefficiencies and bad practices into our day-to-day work.
Why We Need to Rethink How We Work
Meetings have become the default mode of collaboration. And as the world becomes increasingly complex, fast-changing and unpredictable, the need for collaboration increases, resulting in more and longer meetings. At the height of the pandemic, as in other major crises, we needed to collaborate more. So it made sense when video meetings quickly became the primary tool for collaboration at many organizations.
But it didn't take long before people were spending their workdays in back-to-back video meetings with barely have the time to grab a cup of coffee or get some fresh air. Also gone were the variety of tasks and work environments that made each work day unique. It became harder to distinguish one day from the other, which started to feel like we were living a version of the movie "Groundhog Day," where Bill Murray's character is trapped in a time loop that forces him to repeat the same day over and over again.
Research by Microsoft has shown that without recovery in between video meetings, we become mentally exhausted and stressed.
Another consequence of collaboration primarily happening in meetings is that our work time becomes locked, and our workdays become chopped up by all of the different meetings we are involved in. Accomplishing other tasks becomes difficult, especially things that require focus and sustained work time. Instead, we end up doing trivial tasks such as reading and replying to emails or being present in video meetings.
Relying so much on meetings and using video meetings as direct replacements for physical meetings and conversations may not be the most effective way to collaborate, as it has been shown to have negative consequences such as mental exhaustion and a lack of sustained work time. Going forward, it is essential to develop new working methods and behaviors that are effective in both physical and digital environments.
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What We Can Learn From Successful Distributed Organizations
Awareness of what others are doing is one fundamental need to make collaboration effective — how are things progressing and when will tasks be completed? Without this knowledge, effective planning and contributing is challenging. To deal with this, we must be willing to change our work methods and behaviors, including developing new ways to create, coordinate and share information.
In general, we can learn a lot from successful distributed organizations, such as Automattic and GitHub. They have long been exploring various alternatives to reduce the reliance on video meetings and enable remote teams to collaborate more effectively. For example, they use tools such as chat and digital whiteboards to communicate and collaborate without requiring real-time interaction. The illustration above demonstrates how a combination of synchronous and asynchronous tools can create a smoother and more continuous workflow in a distributed work environment, reducing dependence on video meetings.
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Instead of Paving Cow Paths, Build New Roads
As we've all witnessed by now, merely introducing new tools without changing our work methods and behaviors will not lead to significant improvements in productivity or efficiency. Nor will it help us address basic needs to support collaboration in a distributed work environment. We must be willing to adapt and innovate, rather than paving cow paths as we did when simply replacing physical meetings with video meetings.
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About the Author
Oscar Berg is an accomplished author, speaker and strategist who has dedicated his career to helping organizations navigate the complex world of digital transformation. With a background in computer science and business, Berg brings a unique perspective to the field of digital strategy, blending technical expertise with business acumen to help organizations thrive in the digital age. He has over 25 years of experience consulting organizations including IKEA, H&M and Volvo with their digital strategies. Connect with Oscar Berg:
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