jazz combo, saxophone and trumpet player
PHOTO: Jimmy Baikovicius

Collaboration in the workplace is radically changing. Over the past 20 years, the workplace pendulum has swung far in the direction of team-based environments and processes. Think open office floor plans, chat applications, and meetings upon meetings upon meetings. However, the pendulum is swinging back towards a more individualized workspace as employees and teams realize that more collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean better collaboration.

As someone who thinks about the employee experience day in and day out, I’m seeing a big trend of employers catering more to individual needs and to less — but smarter) collaboration. Let’s dig into what this means, and why it’s important to understand in order for your organization to achieve peak productivity.

Workplace Flexibility Benefits Everyone

These days, more people recognize that there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to productivity. And while the open office floor plan and the rise of enterprise chat apps have great intentions for fostering collaboration, these streams of relentless communication often backfire, creating loud and distracting workplaces. A study by CoSo Cloud found that 77 percent of remote workers get more done in a shorter period of time, due in part to the reduction of noise, figuratively and literally. Naturally, employers have noticed this, and are becoming more comfortable giving employees the autonomy to choose a work environment that best caters to their individual needs, allowing them to work from home or a coffee shop if they need to get heads down on a project.

On the more extreme side of the spectrum, there are successful teams that have complete freedom to work from anywhere in the world. Thanks to the rise of technology that empowers teams to collaborate remotely, companies like Zapier and Buffer are 100 percent remote. While all-remote teams come with a set of new challenges, if established correctly with healthy company culture and employee expectations, all-remote teams often lead to happier, more creative and more productive employees.

In addition to allowing employees to work remotely, employers are becoming increasingly flexible when it comes to work hours and vacation time. The rigid 9 to 5 setup is becoming less of a norm, as many startups adopt a “take what you need” policy. Employees are allowed to work non-traditional hours and are permitted to take as much vacation as they need. Again, this requires a new set of standards and expectations, but if implemented correctly, this flexibly policy has a huge benefit. Employees get their work done, recharge on their own terms, and are much more productive and happy overall.

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Why the Shift Is Happening

I believe that there are a few reasons for this shift towards personal productivity. As mentioned earlier, organizations realize that nonstop communication, meetings and collaboration actually hinders productivity. Employees need smarter, better collaboration — not more collaboration — and alone time is crucial to getting work done.

Furthermore, the workplace is evolving into a gig economy. We see this with the rise of freelance and self-employed workers, but it also translates to how we utilize employees in a traditional work setting. Long gone are the days where employees are satisfied with a strict organizational hierarchy and predefined roles. Employees want to be recognized for their individual skill sets, be utilized in intellectual ways, and they want to continuously learn and evolve. Their skills should determine their roles and the initiatives they work on — not the other way around.

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The New Employee Role

If the outdated employee role is referred to as a cog in the machine, think of this new, more fluid employee role as a musician in an orchestra. Individuals come together to perform a piece of music, then disband until their instrument is needed again. In the gig economy, freelancers are pulled into projects based on their unique strengths, and then disband until they find another project that utilizes their skills. Traditional workplaces can follow suit by learning about their employees’ passions and skill sets and placing them on projects accordingly.

Technology is also playing a large role in this change of pace. Traditionally, a lot of time in the workplace is spent doing clerical work. Even high-level account managers or strategists are still caught up doing work that appears to be nothing more than a time sink. Whether it’s scheduling meetings or sorting documents, all of these mundane tasks can be handled by artificial intelligence (AI), freeing up employees to focus on their primary goals. With less time spent on office admin, employees will have less of a need to be in the office.

In all likelihood, you’ve already seen these shifts towards personal productivity take place in your personal life. There is a huge cultural movement towards “less is more.” As technology has skewed so far towards constant connectivity, we’re learning to find a balance. We’re realizing that less, but higher quality interaction is far better suited to our productivity and our happiness.

The same concept applies to our work lives. Find ways to create a flexible work setting and give your employees the freedom to choose the environment, hours, and projects that allow them to flourish and thrive — and you’ll be well on your way to fostering a happy, productive workplace for many years to come.

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