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Does Collaboration Actually Hurt Productivity?
 

In some offices the insistence on collaboration is forcing people to take creative measures to focus. What's the new etiquette when it comes to connection vs. concentration?

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Collaboration is all the rage (so much so that some are even speculating it might be the new greenwashing), but this trendy we're-all-in-it-together ethos doesn't just set off some folks' hype sensors, it also presents other dangers.

Let's be honest: collaboration can kill productivity and focus. 

Open plan offices and helpful, chatty workplace culture definitely have their advantages, but according to many people's personal experience and a recent New York Times article, they can also drive you batty if you're actually trying to put your head done and plow through some concentrated work. John Tierney opens the Times article with an explanation of the problem and one of the coolest quotes on office culture you're likely to hear for awhile:

The walls have come tumbling down in offices everywhere, but the cubicle dwellers keep putting up new ones. They barricade themselves behind file cabinets. They fortify their partitions with towers of books and papers. Or they follow an "evolving law of technology etiquette," as articulated by Raj Udeshi at the open office he shares with fellow software entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan.  
"Headphones are the new wall," he said, pointing to the covered ears of his neighbors.

No one may be mourning the death of the beige cubicle farm, but that doesn't mean they're not looking for new ways to get a bit of what cubes offered – privacy. Headphones may be the simplest way to go (just about everyone has an iPod in their bag these days), but for those who find music distracting or are faced with truly persistent colleagues, other measures to keep would-be collaborators at bay may be in order.

Marissa Feinberg, owner of Green Spaces, a New York co-working space for socially conscious start-ups, observed this first hand. "In any open, collaborative environment, people must always fight interruptions. Therefore, collaborative work spaces, for start-ups, or for major companies like Accenture or Google, are going to need a new best practice for focus, and a new set of etiquette for connection," she told Inc.

Her low-tech solution to interruptions mania? A little gizmo called Flockd that sits on your desk. Turn it one way and it displays a big red X to colleagues warning them you're engaged and uninterested in connecting at the moment. Turn it another way and it becomes a little pyramid-shaped announcement to the world that you're open for collaboration.

Not only does Flockd serve as a visual signal beckoning co-workers to connect with you when you're in the mood, but Feinberg also believes that, by demanding old-school manual manipulation, it helps workers be more conscious of what sort of work they're doing and how much collaboration time is optimal of them.

"I may put [headphones] on and then forget I am wearing them. Consequently, everyone around me thinks I am busy and no one approaches me for the entire day. And I can get too deep into my head to remind myself that human connection is important. It's not healthy to be heads down all the time," she says.

Feinberg mentions "a new etiquette for connection." What are your rules for respectful collaboration? 

 

IMAGE: sektor5/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 14, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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