Collaboration: Cure or Curse?

Collaboration has been used by business professionals as a magic word for some time. It is seen as a cure for the inefficiencies of traditional silo working and the disconnection between departments and the disengagement of colleagues. It is often seen as business critical, as it should be but only when handled in the right way. Anyone who reads these (and thank you if you do) knows that I like the Schumpeter column in the Economist and recently ‘The collaboration curse’ has got me thinking. There are fundamental benefits to collaboration that are hard to argue with but it must be encouraged in such a way that workers are still given the flexibility to work in the way that is best for them. This may not be constant collaboration but concentration without distraction and what Mr Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’. The key is encouraging both and I believe our technology truly underpins and enables this flexibility.
There is no doubt that ‘we are better together’ and collectively, teams and organizations can achieve great things that alone or in silos we could not. Collaboration can spark creativity, drive productivity and allow you to feel like a part of something exciting that’s bigger than yourself. Perhaps I am lucky in that, it does that for me because of the colleagues I am surrounded by. Does that mean that I am any less productive then when I work at home in my pyjamas, headphones in and minimal distractions? No, and the economist goes as far as to say that the space to concentrate without collaboration can be more productive. I believe there is a crucial balance, facilitated by flexible working and powered by technology like mhub that allows you to be collaborative and communicate when you need to (from any device, from anywhere in the world) but on your own terms.
Our workplaces are set up for ‘collaboration’, ‘firms shove their staff into open-plan offices to encourage serendipitous encounters.’ The oxymoron of encouraging serendipity entirely based on chance, I think well represents the problem. ‘The biggest problem with collaboration is that it makes “deep work” difficult, if not impossible. Deep work is the killer application of the knowledge economy: it is only by concentrating intensely that you can master a difficult discipline or solve a demanding problem.’ This is very well expressed by Susan Cain in the first Ted talk that I ever saw: The Power of Introverts. She argues that our world is designed for extraverts in that, all productivity and creativity comes from a gregarious place and anyone who works alone is an outlier. She points out that to maximise talent we have to allow people to be in the zone of high or low stimulation, that is right for them.
She illustrates her point with the example of Steve Wozniak who invented the first apple computer sitting alone in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard. He said that he never would have become such an expert had he not been too introverted to leave the house growing up.
This does not mean that collaboration isn’t important; case and point is that he famously came together with Steve Jobs to make apple computers.
‘Rob Cross and Peter Gray of the University of Virginia’s business school estimate that knowledge workers spend 70-85% of their time attending meetings, dealing with e-mail, talking on the phone or otherwise dealing with an avalanche of requests for input or advice. Many employees are spending so much time interacting that they have to do much of their work when they get home at night.’
The point is to give flexibility for people to work where and how they work best. The survey on flexible working – Flexible: friend or foe? – by Vodafone found that: 61 per cent of respondents said their company’s profits increased with flexible working; 83 per cent reported an improvement in productivity and 58 per cent believed that flexible working policies had a positive impact on their organization’s reputation. mhub is allowing some of the world’s largest organizations to gain value from flexible working. Mhub makes it quicker and easier for people to access and use the apps and information they need. They can search and operate multiple productivity apps from within a single, easy to use mobile app, resulting in faster adoption of Office 365, SalesForce and other applications and maximizing people’s talents.
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