“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” A friend recently posted this adage to a Facebook conversation in response to a discussion about the application of artificial intelligence. It got me thinking: Does it also apply to the use of collaboration tools in the workplace?
The use of collaboration tools has accelerated over the last couple of years to the point where we now have more collaboration platforms than we know what to do with. In some ways, the proliferation of these tools is fantastic, as I can now work from home and collaborate with colleagues all around the world. But I’d already been doing that for decades: I’ve worked from home for almost half my career as part of a globally distributed team or as a manager of remote teams. The modern platforms have made working in this way a lot easier to do, which brings me back to my original question: Just because we can, should we?
Building Good Collaboration Habits
The frequent mentions of "Zoom fatigue" make me think we have slipped into the “use it because it’s there” mentality, rather than thinking about tool use in terms of what is best for the people and the business.
At a recent conference I attended — which was my first actual in-person event in two years! — one of the speakers said that when thinking about changing work patterns, we should shift from ‘change management' to a ‘building good habits’ mindset. A concept I agree with and one that applies to collaboration platforms. We need to build good habits in the way we engage and use collaboration tools, rather than just throw them at people under the label of change management. Yes, the workplace has changed and the way we interact has changed, but we need to be careful what that change means for the individuals involved.
Related Article: Most of Us Aren't in Too Many Meetings
A Collaboration Plan
A friend of mine works for a company that has an official no-Friday-meetings policy, with the aim of helping people finish off the week with some time to focus and get things done. That way they head off into the weekend with a sense of satisfaction of knocking a few things off their to-do list.
It is a model I personally have tried to follow (with varying degrees of success) over the last few years. I usually block my Fridays out to work on a major project, get some writing done, etc. I've also tried to have Thursdays dedicated to “heads down” work too, but keep collaboration tools like Slack and Teams open in case someone needs to contact me (interactions are kept to brief exchanges). Monday is for planning and setting up my week, while Tuesdays and Wednesday are my collaboration days. These are the days when I’m happy to accept meeting invites and participate in Zoom calls or similar. But as the popular meme says, I always ask: could we cover this subject in an email, or a Slack conversation?
At the end of the day, all business comes down to person-to-person relationships, and collaboration is key to that. But so is time for us to have our own thinking space, to focus and do the jobs we (hopefully) enjoy. To do that, we need to figure out how much collaboration is too much collaboration, how to use the tools we have wisely, and build the habits that work for us as both individuals and teams.