Collaborative overload is real. It’s a term that is fast becoming a workplace terminology arising from the network approach to work. The seamlessness of working across borders virtually has opened the doors for collaboration at a global scale. According to data collected by Harvard Business Review, over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.
In the workplace of today, employees can experience Collaborative overload and how can we avoid getting stuck in the cycle of endless meetings, endless emails, and endless chats? The truth is that collaborative overload happens all too often – especially with remote working now increasingly common.
Collaborative overload is a real problem, and it’s caused by a number of factors. You can’t control all the factors that cause collaborative overload, but you can control some of them.
If you’re like most people, there are roughly six common situations that cause collaborative overload in your daily work routine.
- Fear of Missing out – a situation where employees themselves bite more than they can chew because of concerns about missing out on the in-things happening around them.
- Speed Rounds of Meetings – Meetings are a necessary part of the workday, but they can be overused and inefficient. If you find yourself spending more time in meetings than actually getting work done, consider speeding them up by having each person present his or her ideas without interruption. This will allow your team to discuss relevant topics without being bogged down by trivialities.
- Long Email Threads that go on for days – Endless replies to emails and copying all unnecessarily.
- Endless Loop of Chat Messages – Chat messages can be a great way to get quick answers to simple questions, but they can also be overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of people in your chat group. If you find yourself constantly checking in and responding to the same questions over and over again, consider creating an archive of all past conversations with this particular coworker or team member so that new messages don’t take up time that could be spent on other tasks.
- When email fails as a communication tool
- When the search for info takes time away from productivity
Collaborative Overload is a real workplace challenge and a reality of our time, but with some simple tips, you can keep it under control for yourself and for your team
You also know that collaborative overload isn’t just frustrating for those who are dealing with it—it’s also a drain on your time as a manager. It takes much longer than normal to get things done because everyone is spread thin over quite a few collaborative efforts within the local organization and across borders – multinationals are relatively more affected.
Here are some tips to reduce collaborative overload in the workplace.
Assess your bandwidth in real time to reduce collaborative overload
My personal experience with collaborative overload brought out a salient point. The majority of us do not take time to assess how much time we truly have to get work done personally, and to collaborate with others to get work done.
You have been invited to join a new and exciting project team. Naturally, we all love the “shiny” ones, and most often than not, you jump on the “bandwagon” without taking a step back and checking if you truly have the bandwidth, from a time commitment perspective, to commit and contribute meaningfully.
What I have also seen a lot is that once people bite more than they can chew, in the end, they prioritize the most important collaborative efforts that contribute directly to their performance rating while dropping the ball on the others.
For me not showing up well on collaborative efforts you say Yes to is not good for how people perceive you. It’s better ab-initio to say No, and not join than to join and not pull your weight.
Rethink the way you communicate with your coworkers.
The easiest way to curb collaborative overload is to rethink the way you communicate with your coworkers. You do not need, for example, to call a meeting for every piece of information you need to pass to your team members.
Other channels of communication that can be considered as alternatives to meetings include using workspaces like Google Workspace where your team can utilize features like Chatrooms and other collaborative tools like Google docs & Google Drive where team members can work on the same documents at their own pace, within a defined period.
Be in Control of Managing your Time
One of the prominent inducers of collaborative overload is endless engagement in meetings and collaborative efforts that literally take over your calendar.
What this means is that you have less and less time to do the “real” work. Here I mean the personal tasks you need to contribute or accomplish to get things moving, instead of getting caught in the loop of “death by a thousand meetings“
In other words, you need to be deliberate about how you plan and manage your time, otherwise, others will do it for you. Block out time deliberately for other tasks – personal time getting work done, breaks, time for reflection and self-development, etc. – and say no to irrelevant meetings.
Be selective when it comes to collaboration
There are different meaningful reasons to collaborate. Primarily, you would want to get involved in collaborative efforts that can potentially help you achieve your goals – organizational & personal. There are other reasons to collaborate.
You could collaborate to bridge a knowledge or development gap, in which case you do not just contribute, but also learn and develop yourself in the process.
You can also collaborate to network within and without your organization.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that to reduce collaborative overload, you need to be deliberate about the collaborative engagements you sign up for.
Flip from FOMO to JOMO to reduce Collaborative Overload
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is often one of the driving forces behind people biting more than they can chew. Oh! The train is moving! I had better follow in its direction or I will be left behind — got that?
My invitation to you as you read this piece is to rather be okay with missing out – the so-called Joy of Missing Out (JOMO). Be comfortable with the fact that you cannot be on every bandwagon. Prioritize getting involved in collaborative opportunities that you have the bandwidth for and make an impact with your contributions.
To keep yourself from burning out, it’s important to be mindful of the collaborative invitations you say yes to, and even for the ones you are in, be mindful of your time commitment.
Collaborative overload is real, but it doesn’t have to be a drag on your productivity or interpersonal relationships. By being mindful of how much time you’re spending collaborating virtually, you can keep yourself from burning out in this new world of boundariless work.