The top communication / technology culprits contributing
to feelings of collaborative overload are video meetings (78%) and email (71%),
followed by collaboration platforms such as Slack and Teams (47%).
The concept of “collaborative overload” entered many
people’s vocabularies after the cover story with that title, written by Rob
Cross, Rob Rebele, and Adam Grant, appeared in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue Harvard
In short, while collaboration in the workplace is generally
a good thing, too much of it, or collaboration in the wrong ways, can overload
individuals and teams, and actually reduce productivity and morale.
Given the significant shifts in work practices for many
people due to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., more working from home, the use of
new tools, more virtual meetings, etc.), the Institute for Corporate
Productivity (i4cp) conducted a survey last week of over 200 HR professionals
to determine if they were feeling more or less collaborative overload.
While 39% reported that they are collaborating at about the
same level as before COVID-19, over one-quarter (28%) said they are feeling
overloaded as the collaborative demands on them are much higher now.
But there’s a positive flipside to that—17% said that while
they are collaborating more with their co-workers, doing so is energizing for
them and not creating a feeling of overload. Only 12% indicated they are
collaborating less than before.
When asked which communication / technologies are causing
the most collaborative overload angst, it wasn’t surprising that 71% of
respondents cited email among their top three problem areas.
This has long been an issue for many people, but a sudden
shift to remote work could exacerbate this if the volume of email increases.
See i4cp’s email best practices derived from our study
on collaboration conducted in partnership with the aforementioned Rob Cross,
now at Babson College.
Virtual facetime is the biggest overload culprit—most respondents
(79%) indicated the use of video platforms (Zoom, WebEx, etc.) is a top cause
of feelings of collaborative overload. As helpful as these platforms are, “Zoom
Fatigue” is real for many people. The sheer number of meetings is an issue,
with 36% of respondents indicating they are in three-to-four meetings per day
during the current crisis, 24% saying they are in five-to-six meetings per day,
and 20% are in seven or more meetings daily.
Beyond the sheer number of virtual meetings, another factor
is the frequent use of webcams. Unlike in-person meetings, using a webcam means
you not only see your colleagues, but also constantly see yourself as well,
something we aren’t used to psychologically.
And unique to this pandemic period is the added stress
factor of inescapable work/life overlap—trying to manage and be present for virtual
meetings while dealing with children at home, partners also working from home, etc.
Collaboration platforms such as Slack and Teams were cited
less often (47%) by those surveyed as a primary source of collaborative
overload. This could be because they are less problematic than email and video
meetings, but they might also simply be less prevalent at many organizations
(for now). Their use is increasing significantly during this time of increased
remote work, so it will be interesting to track what impact they have on both
productivity and collaborative overload in the future.
Relatively few organizations are trying to measure
collaboration within their workforces during this pandemic, with frequent pulse
surveys being the most common approach (16%), followed by monitoring email and
collaborative platform usage (10%). This will likely change, because to the
extent increased remote work is here to stay for the foreseeable future,
leaders will need to focus on optimizing collaboration and minimizing
collaborative overload in order to maximize productivity and reduce employee
Download the full survey results—due to the
current global health and productivity crisis affecting everyone, i4cp is
making all related ongoing research publicly available.
We also encourage you to visit i4cp.com/coronavirus for
other employer resources including discussion forums, next practices, useful
resources, and more.