This is a variation of an article I wrote for eclipse MAGAZIN that was published in their March issue. Many thanks to Ryan Anderson for his contributions.
Everyone struggles to get work done these days as the amount of communication and information available continue to increase at warp speed. The old adage, ‘Work smarter, not harder’ has become a joke with many employees now forced to work after hours, through lunch, and even on the weekends just to keep up. Work has become a lifestyle whether we like it or not.
But just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you’re actually getting work done. For as fast and demanding as today’s work environment is, it’s also become increasingly inefficient. Between the never-ending slew of emails, endless meetings, and geographical dispersion and timezone differences that many teams now face, productivity often takes a back seat. Without the proper tools to combat these issues, team focus often vanishes, which is why so many are forced to work outside of normal business hours just to make up for time lost during the work day.
The fact of the matter is, you waste A LOT of time at work. We have examined extensive research to identify the root of this drastic decline in workplace productivity and identified two surprising culprits: email and face-to-face meetings.
1. Email is great for communication, not so much for collaboration…
The invention of email was one of the biggest turning points in workplace communication, and it’s become an integral part of every business relationship. Historically, it’s been the easiest way to make contact – concise, direct conversations with your closest associations. But most people fall prey to the notion that email is also a good channel for team collaboration… it’s not. In fact, that’s one of the biggest mistakes a team can make.
If you had to apply a Facebook relationship status to your email inbox, it would probably be ‘It’s Complicated’. While email is an effective means for brief and direct communication, when it comes to team collaboration and actually getting work done, it’s a bit more, well, complicated:
- Group conversations often grow unwieldy – and quickly.
- Tracking down the most current version of an attached document is the modern-era’s needle in a haystack.
- Maintaining clarity about what needs to get done, and by whom, becomes incredibly difficult.
The problem with email is that it just doesn’t scale. Used incorrectly, it becomes a major hindrance to a team’s effectiveness rather than a facilitator. Here are three reasons why email kills productivity:
Reason #1: Managing an inbox is never done
You receive a ton of email each day (yeah, like you didn’t already know that!) – most people receive an average of 304 business-related emails per week. Some of these are important, some are actionable, some are SPAM, and many are unavoidably pointless. As a result, you probably spend much of your day just fielding email and triaging tasks attempting to reach inbox-zero.
You’ve likely tried all the features your email client has to offer to control your inbox (labels, filters, multiple inboxes, smart inboxes, etc.), but at the end of the day, you probably still spend hours just trying to manage it. For many, email is the first thing they check in the morning, the last thing they check before going to bed, and the thing that consumes a large part of their day – all just in an attempt to keep their heads above water.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this unhealthy habit has become the norm and it’s one of the biggest time-sinks employees face.
Reason #2: Email silos a team’s tacit knowledge
Emailing has become a reflex. Need to share a file? Email. Need to ask a question? Email. Need feedback? Email.
Before you know it, all of your team’s important conversations and files are siloed in a bunch of different inboxes. The inbox becomes a graveyard for valuable tacit knowledge, knowledge that gets buried deeper and deeper every minute of every day – truly criminal.
Email is a tool that best facilitates simple communication – not discussion, and certainly not collaboration. When you send an email asking someone to review your work, oftentimes the most valuable piece of information transferred is not the file or document but the ensuing conversation. Regardless of the fact that you’ll probably have a difficult time trying to find this email in your own inbox later, no one else outside of the email thread benefits from this transfer of knowledge.
Reason #3: Switching context between work and email wastes a lot of time – and money
The rate at which most people check their email is astonishing – an average of 36 times per hour! Not only is this habit extremely time-consuming, but it’s more disruptive than you probably realize. Studies show that most people spend up to 16 minutes just trying to refocus after handling incoming email. Now multiply this by the number of emails people receive daily and… there’s basically no time left to do any work. This translates into hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars per year wasted just tending to the inbox.
Switching contexts is distracting – if not annoying – and email is a huge part of the reason people struggle to focus and get their jobs done well.
So what’s the solution?
At Atlassian, we’ve found that many of these issues can be addressed by switching from an email-based communication network to a central collaboration platform that serves as a company’s single source of truth. For us this means using Confluence, Atlassian’s team collaboration software, as the backbone of collaboration. It’s where we do our work, store information, capture feedback, and ultimately streamline communication. And we’re not the only ones.
Like Atlassian, HubSpot uses Confluence as its knowledge management system where ideas are nurtured from start to finish. For most questions, the default answer is, ‘It’s in the Wookie,” said HubSpot co-Founder and Chief Information Officer Jim O’Neill, referring to the company’s internal nickname for Confluence. “The Wookie” contains all of the company’s lively, cross-departmental discussions regarding feature ideas, product roadmaps, pricing strategies, and more.
So what about the other big culprit destroying your productivity?
2. Most meetings are pointless
Time is scarce when your calendar looks like a game of Tetris, but you’d at least hope that all that time spent in meetings is put to good use. Unfortunately, studies show that that’s just not the case.
On average, employees attend 62 meetings per month, at least half of which they consider to have been a waste of time. That means the average employee spends roughly 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings!
Holding productive meetings is difficult because it’s hard to:
- Reach decisions without bringing everyone together in one room.
- Share a meeting agenda to which all team members can proactively contribute.
- Track meeting deliverables to completion.
So how can a central collaboration platform cut down on the amount of time wasted and maximize the efficiency of meetings?
Not all decisions require handshakes
A common misconception in business is that ‘working together’ means working together in person. Meetings have become the default strategy for reaching a decision, but unfortunately, spending time together does not ensure that work is actually getting done or decisions are being reached. Oftentimes, meetings involve too many people in discussions that don’t always pertain to their specific responsibilities.
A central collaboration platform eliminates these issues by facilitating remote brainstorming and connecting the right decision-makers in one place, online. Excessive emails and meetings are eliminated because consensus can be reached outside of the conference room at everyone’s own convenience.
Additionally, remote brainstorming encourages creativity and innovation because people have the necessary freedom and space to think without being subjected to the thoughts and opinions of others (ever wonder why some of the best ideas are dreamt up while in the shower?).
Meetings called to brainstorm the ‘next big idea’ can be ineffective because they’re often too vague or hampered by the fear of rejection. People become afraid to speak their minds because they don’t want to say something ‘dumb’ or off-key. Electronic (remote) brainstorming can help alleviate this issue, spurring creativity and decreasing the amount of time spent wasted in meetings.
Sharing a meeting agenda via email just doesn’t cut it
A clear and thorough meeting agenda is to a productive meeting what a lesson plan is to a fruitful classroom. It’s key to ensuring attendees are sufficiently informed and prepared for a thoughtful conversation. Distributing a meeting agenda so all meeting-goers can contribute in advance makes reaching decisions during a meeting much faster and easier.
How an agenda is shared is also equally important. Most teams share meeting agendas using email and Microsoft Word, but that doesn’t mean they should. Email can turn conversation threads and file attachments into nasty time-sinks as attendees spend crucial work time deciphering which message relates to which agenda version. Instead of becoming a launching pad for productive collaboration, the agenda begins to divide the team, stunting a meeting’s potential before it even starts.
Our customers found that a collaboration platform provides the necessary structure teams need to design a productive agenda yet provide the flexibility to create and brainstorm ideas in advance – all without the chaos of email. Additionally, platforms that offer advanced social features such as Twitter-like mentions and persistent comment threads further boost collaboration by automatically including the right people in the right discussions, on their own time. This approach prevents inboxes from being flooded with back-and-forth chatter and valuable conversations from becoming trapped in various email inboxes.
Additionally, keeping the agenda in one central place that’s manageable and trackable by everyone eliminates confusion. Discussions are automatically documented, so it’s easy for teammates to go back and reference not only the content of a conversation, but also what was said and by whom. As a result, everyone benefits from the shared information and a culture of true collaboration is born.
And while a central platform doesn’t eliminate all meetings, it does enable those meetings to be focused and action-driven.
Meetings should have clear agendas and outcomes
Meetings fizzle when there is no follow-through on the decisions made and the tasks created during a meeting. A meeting agenda is meant to be a living document, so it shouldn’t disappear when a meeting concludes. Instead, it should become a working document with a clear followup agenda outlining what needs to get done, by whom, and when.
Assigning those responsibilities and tracking progress in a centrally-shared workspace forces deliverables to be well-defined; ensures people are held accountable and given the information they need to succeed; and makes it easy to track the status of a project. Social features within the platform also help guarantee that everyone is included in the discussion and aware of what is expected.
So forget about having to constantly juggle various forms of communication such of Microsoft Word, task apps, email, etc. A central collaboration platform automatically brings all the pieces together in one place.
There’s a better way to work together
While email and meetings may be the standard form of collaboration and communication, that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive. If not used efficiently, these two business norms can actually become the two biggest obstacles a team faces in completing a project well. A team collaboration platform addresses many of the issues by offering:
- One place to create, share, and discuss work.
- One place to make decisions and stay up to date.
- One place to track what’s been completed, what still needs to get done, and by whom.
Confluence Blueprints to the rescue
Based on a decade of customer experience, Confluence Blueprints give teams a simpler and faster way to create and share work. Crowd-source meeting notes, share files, and define product requirements that are consistently formatted, automatically organized, and easy to find.