Do you have time to think?

Open plan offices and new collaborative tools are in vogue, but is too much information sharing getting in the way of peoples’ day to day productivity?

The point of collaboration is to enable people to achieve things collectively, things that cannot be achieved individually. Talking to colleagues and working across departments can and does spark valuable insights, however, some argue this does not justify the sharing of large noisy spaces and bombarding them with electronic messages.

Greenfields found this an interesting challenge to what is the norm in many organisations. We thought we’d share these ideas with you and let you decide what you think.

In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article1 studies found collaboration is taking over the workplace. ‘As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing and teamwork is seen as key to organisational success. According to data collected over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has increased by 50% or more.’

Consider a typical week, how much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine discovered that interruptions, even short ones, increase the total time required to complete a task by a significant amount.

A succession of studies have shown that multitasking reduces the quality of work as well as prolonging the task completion. Sophie Leroy of the University of Washington Bothell adds to this argument, by suggesting that jumping from one task to another reduces efficiency because of ‘attention residue.’ The mind continues to think about the old task whilst working on the new one.

Mark Bolino of the University of Oklahoma points to a hidden cost of collaboration. Enthusiastic collaborators are asked to weigh in on every issue and soon they become a bottleneck, as nothing happens until their input is received. Some collaborators are overwhelmed with the demands on their time and under-perform, and may suffer from burnout as they complete their own work at home after hours.

Not all top performers are collaborators, the HBR article suggests there is a 50% overlap. Up to 20% of the top performers in an organisation keep to themselves, so it is important to appreciate peoples’ varying behavioural styles and accommodating multiple ways of working.

Collaboration has many benefits, however equally important is giving people time to think.


  • HBR (January to February 2016 issue), Collaborative Overload, by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant
  • The Trouble with Collaboration, Australian Financial Review, 5 February 2016

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