Collaboration is seen as a cornerstone of modern business. Due to the adoption of Activity Based Working (ABW), many organisations are embracing this business strategy – a flexible and shared workplace strategy that provides people with a choice of settings for a variety of activities – to increase productivity and drive better business outcomes. These include accelerating decision making, driving better collaboration between teams, fostering innovation and enhancing employee productivity.

Businesses are recognising they can achieve more when everyone works together rather than in isolation. Talking to colleagues can spark valuable insights while inter-team collaborations can help to break down silos and uncover new business solutions. Yet, with the pressure to manage issues, solve problems and improve the environment in which we live and work, the art of collaboration is being hindered simply through the act of ‘booking yet another meeting’ and the resulting backlash sets in.

What the research says

Researchers have found that employees today spend 50% more time collaborating than they did 20 years ago. This sounds positive, but when you dive deeper into the research there are considerable impacts. A study from Babson College, in the US, analysed 300 organisations over 20 years and found the surge in collaboration is causing a lopsided distribution of work on specific employee groups, resulting in high levels of stress and burnout.

Additional research on activity-based working has also shown that it is only likely to suit employees who see themselves as mobile and independent, and who have largely self-contained work processes. Additionally, many employees have trouble finding privacy or concentrating and struggle to switch between different work settings.

More isn’t always better

The issue with collaborative overload is balance. Collaboration is just one of four work modes employees are constantly shifting in and out of every day. The others include conversation and communication, which describe how they get their work done, and concentration, which is particularly important for employee productivity and the growth and wellbeing of the organisation.

Concentration is that critical time when employees get their day-to-day work done, and it can also be where inspiration strikes. While a collaborative effort is required to bring these bursts of inspiration to fruition, most originate as a single thought or brainstorm from a lone person.

But, as collaboration increasingly gobbles up concentration time, organisations are deprived of the benefits of our employees’ day-to-day work, not to mention those ‘ah-ha’ moments that are critical to success. To make up for this declining productivity, employees are required to work longer and harder.

Bringing the balance back

To foster the best outcomes for both employees and the business, management have an obligation to help their employees restore the balance between collaboration and concentration. Businesses must look to adopt a culture where employees feel comfortable and empowered to distance themselves from their notifications and step away from the ‘always-on’ mentality for periods of intense work.

Providing the right tools to reflect, think, brainstorm and create value is also essential. People operate in different ways, and have different working styles, so businesses need to incorporate multiple spaces for different uses within the office, as well as making available the flexibility to work from home.

Deploying the right technology; such as headphones with noise-cancelling capabilities to support intense periods of concentration, or portable conference speakers to enhance collaboration and engage everyone in the conversation, will greatly enhance the work environment.

And finally, understanding the true need and nature of collaboration – is it truly productive collaboration, or just another meeting? Setting a clear agenda, selecting the right attendees, and managing the details both before, during and after the meeting, all go a long way to ensuring the right outcomes. And with a better balance between concentration and collaboration restored, your employees will thank you.