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Collaborative Overload in the Age of COVID

Microsoft’s Outlook keeps sending me a weekly email titled “MyAnalytics.” You may get them, too. MyAnalytics is part of the Office 365 cloud-based suite and it’s a plug-in to help gain insight into how you spend your time. It tracks data such as time spent in meetings, Outlook emails, productivity, and time spent working late. I’ve been getting this email every week for the last several months.

I hate this email.

I hate it because MyAnalytics tells me things that I intuitively already know, just not down to the precise, excruciating detail. Such as the fact that I had 79% collaboration time and 21% time “available to focus.” That I had 147 collaborators and added 38 new people to my network.  It even tells me who I collaborated with the most, the total time I spent with that person, the percentage of emails I opened from my top collaborators, and my average response time. And then, the very last thing it tells me, under the heading “Wellbeing,” is how many “quiet days” I’ve had…days protected from distractions during my quiet hours.

Mine has never said anything but zero. Yeah, I could’ve told you that one pretty precisely.

I’m like most of you—I suffer from collaborative overload. And since this coronavirus pandemic banished many of us to work from home it’s only become worse. Much, much worse.

Like many of you, Microsoft really only knows some of my predicament. There are many ways to reach me directly. Outlook, Gmail, SMS, WhatsApp, WeChat, Zoom, Teams, Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram…I get messages via each regularly. Oh wait, and I forgot the phone. Yeah, sometimes people still call me.

Collaborative Overload is not a new term. My business colleague and friend Rob Cross wrote an article about this—along with Adam Grant and Reb Rebele—in HBR exactly 4 years ago. The basic premise is that many of us are suffering from an increase in collaboration, and it’s not good for you, your co-workers, or your organization. The article, and a great deal of research which followed, shows that—through a few different techniques and understanding of where overload is happening—you can also control it. You are your own worst enemy (but so is your manager – can’t let them get away without blame).

We study this and many aspects of collaboration and, given today’s new reality and impact on collaboration, we’re doing more research on this now. In fact, we’d like to study how this has affected you since you’ve taken the time to read this far.

If you take this survey by EOD Friday, April 24, we’ll send you the results of what everyone else is saying about collaboration. It’ll only take 5 minutes because, let’s face it, you don’t have time for much more.

Thanks in advance for sharing your views. We really appreciate it. Just don’t email or message me when you’ve completed it.