is one of those words that, like 'communication', is mentioned as a solution to many team problems, but the word is often used in a non-specific way and without really considering what it really means to our way of working.
So in the first of this Virtual not Distant Bitesize posts, I’d like to touch on one of the benefits of not being in the office together all the time: the opportunity to schedule your work so that you can have quality time on the most difficult tasks – and some of these tasks need to be done on your own.
I’m as guilty as many of reminding you that in order to work well as a virtual team, you need to narrate your work, share your availability, make time for informal chats etc etc, but with all the online collaboration tools trying to convince us that if we’re not chatting online we’re not great team members, we're in danger of burning out from talking to people online all the time.
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but there must be something in the air because this month’s HBR (January/February 2016) is titled "Collaborative Overload". In the article that gives the issue its focus, Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant quote that
80% of many employees’ time in organisations is dedicated to collaborative activities, like meetings, phone calls and replying to e-mails, “leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own.”
Not just that, they also mention that those people who are seen as good collaborators are the most likely ones to get burnt out or leave the company.
Moving to a More Flexible Schedule
So, while you’re deciding on how to make the move from collocated to virtual, or as you are bringing in people from your team who live in different cities or countries, make sure that you lay down the ground rules not just for how you’re going to stay in touch and (if you choose to) how you’re going to keep that team spirit going, but also, make sure that you all know how to ask for quality time for yourselves and that you are all free to say "no" to collaboration.
And while you’re taking a break from all that deep thinking and intensive writing that you need to do, why not comment on this post sharing how much time you spend sharing information with others, or directing them to people you know who can help them or just sharing your time and energy with your colleagues. An interesting exercise to go through in any case.
You can listen to the audio version of this post in Episode 61 of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, around the 10:30mins mark.