Teamwork overload: Why you could be struggling and how to overcome it.

Teamwork makes the dream work. While teamwork enables tasks to be split and divided into simpler ones to get done more efficiently but overloading yourself with collaboration is not going to make you any more productive. Collaborative work, which is time spent on online collaboration software, such as video calls, instant messages, and emails has drastically increased. There has definitely been some teamwork overload.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused this number to skyrocket from remote working. Employees are spending more time every day in shorter and more frequent meetings causing instant messaging and video calls to double. On top of that, collaborations are also beginning earlier in the morning and extend further into the evening. 

In Teams, people are working more frequently in the morning and evening hours, but also on the weekends. Teams chat outside of the typical workday, from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m., have increased more than any other time during the day – between 15% and 23%. Weekend work is spiking as well – work chats on Saturday and Sunday have increased by over 200%.

“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’.” Isn’t it unbelievable how this line from Dolly Parton reflected the working life yet it seemed like an unusual way of living back then? Yet, for a lot of people, things have worsened. Has remote work during the post-pandemic caused the 9 to 5 workday to fade?  

most used tools for remote teamwork
Source: Statista

Do you struggle with collaboration overload and have you ever wondered why?

We are prone to jump in and offer a lending hand through deep motivations that have been nurtured and taught to us since we were little. The truth is that collaborative overload starts off subtle and gradually becomes overwhelming. It feels good at first until it doesn’t. 

When speaking of collaborative overload, we tend to blame the overwhelming number of emails, back-to-back meetings, hard-to-work-with colleagues, and micro-managers. While the things listed (might) contribute to collaborative work overload, research has shown that about 50% of the time, the main culprit of our overload can be found by looking in the mirror. (Yep, we kind of brought this onto ourselves.) So the question is, why do we allow it?

research shows that the main culprit of overload is ourselves

The harmful working cultures that cause teamwork overload

1. Triggered by reputation or the sense of accomplishment.

We all have the desire to always help others. Perhaps it gives us a sense of fulfillment from accomplishments or the feeling of needing to be recognized in the workplace. Perhaps a majority of us just want to be seen as good colleagues and contributors, that we are capable of helping everyone else out while also completing our own dedicated tasks. We want to be known that we are good team players.

2. Triggered by anxiety or discomfort of ambiguity

Some of us might possess the fear of losing control of a project or outcome, a need for closure, or even a fear of missing out (FOMO). Some projects are so ambiguous that it makes us feel better to do the research and have the discussions well ahead of time to avoid the unknown and ambiguity. A form of pre-preparation you would say.

3. The “Always-On” Culture is Harming You

Imagine this, you’re on the couch, about to indulge in your bowl of ramen while binge-watching the latest TV series you’re behind on when you hear a notification. You open to see a message from a colleague/ boss: “Can you help me with this?” You think for a second and feel like the better option is to deal with it now, rather than having to do it early the next day/Monday. Perhaps you just do not want to leave them hanging so you chose to get it over and done with. You set aside your dinner and open your laptop only to realize a few hours later that your ramen has gone cold, it’s late and you’re feeling burnt out. Welcome to the “always-on” work culture, where you’re always on the clock. And sadly a lot of us are way too familiar with these scenarios.

the harmful 'always on' culture

The problem with the always-on work culture is that work never really stops. Even if you are technically “off” work. Remote work can blur your boundaries and is a vicious cycle perpetuated by every ping.

Hypothesis: The longer the work hours, the higher the chance to feel burnt out. 

4. Reducing the Inefficiencies in Multitasking

The issue with collaborative overload is not just the amount or volume. It is also the switching of tasks in a short span of time. Juggling more than one task at a time or multitasking as we call it, does not make you as productive as you think it would. As columnist Jennifer Senior put it in The New York Times, Covid-19 has created an unending series of “staccato pulses of two-minute activities” for work and home that many are struggling to manage.

As Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, has shown in her research, it can take us as long as 23 minutes to get fully back on task after a slightly longer interruption. With practice, people do get better at adjusting to interruptions, but this adaptability comes at a cost. The more you are frequently interrupted, you tend to experience a higher workload, more time pressure, and higher frustration and stress.

Overcoming Teamwork Overload

how to overcome teamwork overload

1. Setting clear expectations

It is crucial to set a guideline both for your team and at the company level. This can help to reinforce the importance of downtime and reduce any pressure to respond to work matters after hours. Normalize creating clear boundaries for yourself and your colleagues.

2. Using “stand-up” meetings to quickly solve problems

It is better to have weekly touch points to discuss one-off issues compared to allowing excess disruptions to occur ad hoc. This should be practiced more to improve effective communication and problem-solving. Issues can be brought up on collaboration platforms where the team is encouraged to solve what they can ahead of meetings to avoid wasting time. Meetings will be shorter and less frequent and thus no more unnecessary regular meet-ups.

3. Practice blocking out reflective time

Depending on your own personal rhythms, create a block-out period for reflective work. This way, you get to study your own experiences to improve the way you work best. Plan and allocate your time to finish off tasks and respond to emails. Some may prefer to answer emails first thing in the morning and then have a two-hour block for reflective work. For others, it might mean doing creative work early and answering emails in a few different sessions throughout the day.

4. Using triage rules in email.

We all have the tendency to respond to all emails in hopes of feeling accomplished. However, in order to be more efficient with time management, it is best to apply the triage rule to your inbox. Sort your emails into categories. Is it urgent, serious, moderate, or low priority? This way you will be able to process them at a given point in time, rather than allowing constant interruptions while working on a task.

5. Leveraging your digital tools

Using effective communication solutions and digital tools can help workers get more out of their working hours while protecting their personal time. For instance, the average employee wastes about 60 to 90 minutes each day switching between apps or documents to complete a task. That lost time makes it harder to get more done during working hours which then leaves employees no choice but to work overtime in order to get the job done. Invest in digital tools that help you get the job done more efficiently and even better when they are all on the same platform. Businesses have been using platforms such as Monday or Trello more to keep teams more organized, both for fully office workers and remote teams. 

In schools, for example, coming up with a master schedule that accommodates all parties is definitely a grueling task. Platforms such as Orchestra can help teachers and administrators get their schedules done in 5 easy steps

In conclusion, setting boundaries for yourself and your employees is important. Teamwork and collaboration can be either a blessing or a burden. Although collaborative teamwork is key to success, too much of anything becomes bad. Hence, it is crucial that we practice collaboration fairly. We hope our sharing today can help you avoid teamwork overload. The key is to identify effective teamwork. This will help to motivate your team members to collaborate more productively. 

Visit the Orchestra website if you are interested in learning more about our Online Master Scheduler Builder

get your online master schedule builder today

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