It’s been over a year since the pandemic forced us to pack up our desks and begin working remotely. Since then, we’ve become accustomed to wading our way through a sea of work tools, all of which promise to help us connect and collaborate with our colleagues.
Except that’s not always how it works out. With the average company now using 88 workspace apps, the reality is that many of us are overwhelmed by a sea of tools —we’re more burnt out and distracted than ever.
Combine this tool overload with a huge shift to working in distributed teams, and it’s little wonder that a recent HBR study finds people scoring highly on cynicism, exhaustion, and burn-out, with 89% saying their work-life balance was getting worse.
Change isn’t needed, it’s overdue
Today, as HR and firms plan for a post-pandemic world, they have an amazing opportunity to reset working practices and commit to a new way of doing things — whether hybrid, remote, or in-person.
They have the chance to redesign work so it works for real people. And they have the opportunity to carve out room for craftsmanship and creativity, both of which were lost to the pandemic.
Here are three areas where we can shift their relationship with productivity and collaboration tools to make them work for us, not the other way around.
1. Ditch the back-to-back video calls
This time last year, many of us underestimated just how exhausting and unproductive the remote day would quickly become.
“Zoom fatigue” may now be the stuff of memes, but if you stop to consider its wider impact, such as its effect on mental health, it’s no laughing matter. From Citigroup to Channel 4, companies are taking this seriously and introducing “meeting amnesties” on particular days.
Leave the pointless video calls behind by investing in asynchronous collaboration. That is: collaborating with colleagues without the expectation of an immediate response.
Of course, things like 1:1s or candidate interviews call for video-conferencing, but the more people default to asynchronous collaboration, the healthier the workplace will be.
2. Silence the noise
The bombardment of Slack messages and other notifications has made it ever more difficult to concentrate during the working day.
According to academic research, we lose 23 minutes every time we’re interrupted. That’s a lot of the working day wasted on a pointless question about where that old Powerpoint was saved!
Too often, we’re chatting during the day and then getting actual work done in second shifts in the evening. Talk is cheap, and deep work is where we do our best, as evangelized by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University who specializes in productivity.
While watercooler chat over instant messaging has a place in the workplace, it’s important to put guidelines in place to help people find their focus.
Firms can encourage employees to block out time for focused work in their calendars, mute all notifications when doing a project, and respect others’ boundaries when they see these tactics being deployed.
Tools that enable asynchronous working are part of the solution too: collaboration software like Trello, for example, can be a useful way for a team to see how a task is progressing, without having to check up on colleagues via Slack.
Ultimately, this kind of culture change has to come from the top: when leaders practice what they preach and these behaviors are reinforced at all levels, they are more likely to stick.
3. Transparency breeds trust
Many companies are facing a crisis of trust in the workplace. They’ve onboarded employees who’ve never met each other, often have no idea what people are working on—and this feeds a culture of suspicion and confusion.
In the workplace, transparency breeds trust. By defaulting to an audience of everyone when communicating, we not only create trust but also prevent information silos and unnecessary duplication.
Companies like GitLab put a lot of emphasis on transparency and documenting decision-making, no matter how trivial, so that all employees can participate.
And venture capital is flowing into tools like Otter that generate rich notes for meetings and interviews so people can be transparent about their decisions at work.
The more companies can create transparency in the workplace with technology and culture, the more trust and belonging they’ll create among their employees.
From chaos to harmony at work
Collaboration tools have been a lifeline during the pandemic, but there’s still a way to go before we can use these apps in concert with one another. The whole of all those tools could be much greater than the sum of the individual parts.
As others follow their lead, we’re seeing demand from all kinds of businesses for that missing connectivity layer in the modern workplace. Looking ahead, as the number of workplace tools will continue to grow even faster, the need for this is set to become even more acute.
But technology isn’t the only solution here. As the very nature of work fundamentally changes, it calls for a mindset shift to put people first at work, and corporations second.
This is what puts a stop to the burnout, endless pings, and an infinity of tabs — and, instead, creates a strong sense of belonging, trust and focus for people at work.