Forty hours. That’s all you should take—from your employees, that is. It’s up to you to make sure you get the most out of it. Unfortunately, some companies are putting too much emphasis on collaboration, leaving little or no time left to actually get work done.
Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, explains: “Employees are under siege for their time and attention. They are sliced up by an overabundance of meetings, physical distractions in open workspaces, virtual distractions on their phones, and the expectation they’re available to anyone, anytime, for anything that’s needed.”
All of this collaboration eats away at those 40 work hours. “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 (virtual or face-to-face), dealing with e-mail, talking on the phone or otherwise dealing with an avalanche of requests for input or advice,” reports The Economist.
While tools like e-mail and instant messaging apps are supposed to make collaboration faster and easier, they can have a significant impact on the bottom line, as explained in The Economist: “Tom Cochran, a former chief technology officer of Atlantic Media, calculated that the midsized firm was spending more than $1m a year on processing e-mails, with each one costing on average around 95 cents in labour costs. ‘A free and frictionless method of communication,’ he notes, has ‘soft costs equivalent to procuring a small company Learjet.’”
So, what do you do?
The answer is not to demand more time from your employees. Collaboration technology makes your workforce accessible 24/7, but expecting them to have one foot in the office all the time quickly leads to resentment, burnout, and turnover.
“[O]rganisations need to do more to recognise that the amount of time workers have available is finite, that every request to attend a meeting or engage in an Internet discussion leaves less time for focused work, and that seemingly small demands on people’s time can quickly compound into big demands,” reports The Economist.
Think of your employees’ time like money, advises Fried. “Time and attention are best spent in large blocks—large bills, if you will, not spare coins and small change,” he writes.
To work more “large bills” into your employees’ work week, get rid of the recurring “status” meetings that have no real agenda or success metrics. Instead, use meetings only when necessary. At Basecamp, people share daily or weekly updates on the collaboration platform. “This saves dozens of hours a week, and affords people larger blocks of uninterrupted time,” Fried writes.
Once employees have those blocks of time, they need to be encouraged to protect them. Otherwise, they’ll be tempted to break large bills into small change. Consider making it a policy to turn off notifications when employees are at their desk concentrating on a project, for example. Create a culture where immediate responses are not expected. Tools like FocusMe can also help.
Finally, when you’re in a meeting, don’t multi-task. If you have dispersed teams, consider getting on video. It’s a lot easier to resist multi-tasking when everyone can see each other. Video also allows everyone on a call to communicate more effectively, reducing the need for follow-up emails. And you can record video calls if documenting the meeting is a concern.
Your employees are your greatest asset, and collaboration throughout your workforce and even outside your organization can deliver value as a competitive differentiator. But if you’re not careful, it can also be debilitating. View your employees’ time as the valuable asset that it is. Collaborate with purpose. Protect large blocks of uninterrupted focus time. And build a culture where a smart, thoughtful response is rewarded over a fast one. Help create the environment where your employees can make a significant contribution, and everyone will benefit.