Summary : gathering people and bringing them closer does not often increase performance. If it’s a good way to spur creativity, exchange, share points of view and refine, the productive part of work is still a solitary activity. Other ways to organize people and even space are needed. Online social software tools help both sides of work to coexist in a not very intrusive way, and help people to make the most of others without being distracted of swallowed by the group. To be productive we should optimize the we are “alone together”.
Are we mo productive in groups than alone ? Even if it’s a very common belief and that, today, nearly everyone praises for the group, the collective, collaboration, the need to work social, reality is much more complex.
I already shared some doubts in a former post. I can be a very good way to rely too much on others while gathering people to exchange and have collective activities is not a substitute for individual rigor and respect for assigned goals and deadlines. In the end, the smallest unit of work remains individual and is one’s responsibility. People can brainstorm before, refine after but, in the end, it’s all about one person delivering an individual work right on time.
In fact, knowledge work has two sides. There are times for production that are rather solitary ones and, before and after, exchange, sharing, conversational activities that are collective. As for the creativity one need, sometimes, to produce, it’s spurred by discussions and exchanges that take place before and around production work I say “around” because, when the time comes to make an analysis, a decision, to write some recommendations, each person is alone.
Now, two things about knowledge workers. They are not all the highly-graduated white collar too many people think they are. An assistant or even a blue collar have a growing part of their activity and, most of all, the more valuable part of it, that is about knowledge work. Second things to know is that, even if their creativity is spurred by collective activities, they work better when they are alone. Rather in a quiet environment, a quite buccle that is not made possible by meetings or even when they work in open spaces
So, is it possible to make people have the best of both worlds at the same time ?
To promote new approaches to collective intelligence we often mention all the great things that have been made possible by web 2.0. But we often forget to mention the point that makes the difference between productivity and distraction. Social tools, if well mastered, can separate noise from information by increasing situational intelligence, and also allow people to get themselves out of the stream for a while and protect themselves from unwanted distractions. What’s great with the social web is that it made it possible for people to be, at the same time, alone in their people and a part of mass online conversations. They decide when they switch from one situation to another, depending on their needs. It helps people to be “alone together”.
So, promoting social collaboration tools inspired from the web within the organization can helps to build this duality of spaces in the workplace, letting people free to switch from one to the other depending on their needs. Moreover, contrary to in person meetings, online workplaces allow to get rid of geographic constraints (we are as close to someone that is in the same office that to someone who works in another country) as well as time ones (relationships are synchronous, everyone can contribute at his own pace, conversations are not intrusive).
Collective, groups, are essential but do not meet all needs. They may also become counter-productive. Rethinking the organization of work also means thinking about impenetrable spaces that favor each kind of activity while respecting one’s personal sphere. Online and offline.