Job Doc

Is collaboration really necessary? Elaine Varelas encourages it, within reason

Many people have gotten into a routine of working alone in their work-from-home settings. However, as employees begin returning to the office, collaboration will be trickling back into their day-to-day. Elaine Varelas suggests some resources to aid in moving forward with collaboration in mind.

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Q: I’ve gotten used to my flexible work-from-home hours and I’ve been more productive working by myself with less collaboration. Do you have any advice on how to make the readjustment back into the office a little smoother and to maintain my solo project situation?

A: Every organization is focused on the timeframe and the methodology to get their employees back into the office as smoothly as possible. Both sides of the spectrum are represented with organizations who have decided to go entirely virtual and to give up all their real estate, and organizations who have given employees a weekend notice to come into the office five days a week, starting next Monday.

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Every employee is thinking about their transition. Some are ecstatic and are looking forward to being with their colleagues and getting out of what might already be a busy house with too many distractions and too many demands, whether it is kids home from school, pets, roommates, or a working or non-working spouse or partner. Many individuals wasted no time going back into the office following the CDC mask guidelines, and other employees took the opportunity to move as far away geographically from their office as they could, with a vow never to return. 

It’s up to each individual employee to find the best way to be the most productive version of themselves, whatever the circumstances are, and managers and organizations are counting on it.

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You think you have been more productive alone, which may be true.  Does your manager think so?   Do the internal customers who need your work product think so?  Are they satisfied with not being asked to contribute their thoughts or ideas?  Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College Rob Cross examines what he calls “the infinite meeting loop” and burnout as a result of inefficient collaboration in his book BEYOND COLLABORATION OVERLOAD: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being, set for publication September 2021.

Cross argues that “the main reason for much of the unhappiness … turns out to be not some exogenous factor like technology. Instead, paradoxically, it is collaboration itself — or, rather, the dysfunctional forms of collaboration that most of us fall into by default.” This could be what’s causing your hesitation to restart the collaboration cycle. He notes that over-collaboration happens because “we’re too eager to jump into, or be dragged into, active collaborations that might run better without us and that burn up our valuable time and energy.”

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His employees have created work environments that minimize stress, avoid burnout, and enable commitment to activities that promote wellbeing. Companies are now discussing the need for collaboration and a retention of culture as two driving forces as to why employees need to return to the office. Cross encourages essential collaboration to become more efficient.  Often, collaboration creates bottlenecks, which increase stress. The necessity of being intentional about bringing other people into your work realm has been a benefit of the opportunity to work away from the office.

As a side note and an alert to managers: The culture that you left over a year ago may not be the culture that employees return to today. Measuring that culture and being intentional about the culture that you want is going to be key to the success of everyone returning to the office.  Take these parts back to the office with you.  Who needs to be invited, for what purpose, when and what will they be asked to contribute?  Keep clear on these questions for all collaborations and you can maintain your high productivity. 

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