Stop Fooling Yourself. Productivity Tools Like Slack Are Secret Enemies of Collaboration
Walk into any company these days, especially those deemed "innovative," and you see rows of desks with people plugged in to their computers -- our best and brightest trying to be productive and get lost in their work. And to make sure they get lost in their work, they put on their headphones and hop on Slack.
Co-workers alternate between Spotify, Pandora and YouTube, and jump into a Slack chat room -- places that are never distractions themselves, because Slack is all about increasing productivity, right? Yeah, until Slack goes down, like it has recently, and people are forced to actually interact with each other, panicked at the idea that they might have to start and maintain real life conversations.
I’ve come to realize that headphones, Slack and the other productivity tools that are supposed to help us focus are actually a threat to our future workplaces. Genuine collaboration comes from human interaction. We need the ability to clarify something in real time through an actual voice and not a endless email chain that leads to more confusion.
Our increasingly divided employees and workplaces destroy all of that -- the heart of the human condition that needs to connect. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how to unplug and save the future of work.
No cliques allowed.
Headphones aren’t just real world hurdles to collaboration, they’re also metaphorical. They represent a desire for employees to stay disconnected from each other, filtering out challenging new voices or ideas. It’s the same reason people seek out comfortable echo chambers.
In any workplace focused on innovation, it’s important to bring different team members together. Don’t be lured into staying siloed by department. Go further. Bring in someone from sales to gain their opinion. Add a software developer who works on the website. Everyone thinks about the company in different ways. Don’t be intimidated by that. Take advantage of it!
Use exercises or approaches that allow all voices to be heard. Ideate in small groups of four or even groups of two. This allows people to feel comfortable and not intimidated by the loudest voices in the room. Remember, you’re trying to introduce a new way to collaborate, but you also want to make sure to get genius ideas out of the heads of those who don’t speak as loudly.
Try a change of venue.
Leave the conference room for once. Movement is a validated promoter of new ideas. Find an unorthodox space somewhere in your building, whether it’s the parking garage, the kitchen or elsewhere, where people can walk around and ideate. This will force employees to spend time with each other and interact in new ways.
Working is more than an action, it’s a communal space we share with others. We need to build our offices into spaces reserved for more than plugging in, with our meaningful conversations packed into the 10 minutes when we drink coffee or unwind at the December holiday party.
Motivate and celebrate.
Collaboration should be open but, at the same time, focused. Don’t just diverge -- converge. It’s important to go wide, to take advantage of the different voices in the room. But it’s also key to build on a process that makes it easy for collaborators to converge and narrow down ideas.
Help people to understand what the priorities are to evaluate. Be clear about goals so that conversations don’t become personal and demotivating. Most importantly, remember to celebrate the collaboration itself as much as the ideas it produces. If you continue to collaborate and destroy silos, motivating participants along the way, you will unearth new ideas that resonate and a group eager to build on them, because everyone will be invested.
A Slackless future?
At the end of the day, we’re all human. We want community and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. The thing is, this simple truth about humans also extends to work. It’s not like our need to connect goes away the second we walk out of the house in the morning. But for some reason, once we walk into the office, we succumb to a process that demands headphones and Slack. We are fighting our innate desire to connect with others in reality, not only through software and collaboration tools.The history of innovation is rich with stories of people with different experiences and personalities coming together to sit in rooms or buildings with the intention of working together in a literal, not virtual, sense. I believe that people still want to do that, we’re just missing a work process that truly represents an enjoyable collaborative experience, endorsing human connection and enjoying each other’s time, while also being productive and solving problems.