The connected workforce: How much is too much?

Expanding the employee experience with social collaboration

Social collaboration tools help bring together a diverse workforce by fostering connections and improving connections but they can also create distraction—many employees now feel they are "ultra-connected" to too many things. So how do organizations find the right balance in a way that makes the right kind of impact on an organization?

Constant connection

We all know the addictive power of social media—it is everywhere, used by almost everyone, on almost every device. Just walk down the street of any major city and you’ll see most people staring at their phones.

This ability to constantly connect and communicate, whether it be by text, video, or email, has become so routine that employees now expect a similar level of interaction at work. To fulfill this demand, businesses are now using social collaboration tools like Workplace by Facebook, Skype, and others to mimic the consumer experience at work.

We recently studied this and found a huge and rapid adoption of these types of new systems. As our 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report explains, 70 percent of respondents believe workers will spend more time on collaboration platforms in the future, 69 percent see growth in "work-based social media," and 62 percent predict an increase in instant messaging. But how can organizations ensure that collaboration doesn’t become too much for employees— creating distractions and burnout rather than improving engagement and productivity?

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Collaboration tools bring diverse workforces together

There are lots of good things coming from this connected workforce trend. Today’s workplace is highly diverse, filled with people of varying backgrounds, experience, generations, and skills. These tools help bring them together.

People work in multifunctional teams, and these teams, which may be working on product or customer programs, need to communicate in near real time. (We used to rely on managers to communicate between functional groups—that’s considered too slow now.) Thanks to the new tools, people can easily see what others are working on and quickly “join” another team for information.

Teams also need specialized skills that may be located in another group. Through these systems we can seek out the experts, ask them for help, and quickly get their support—without waiting for a manager to “assign a person” to help.

From an HR standpoint, these new systems can be amazing. Suddenly we have engaging platforms for learning, performance management, and other HR processes that are as “fun” to use as consumer systems. For the first time in decades, HR tools can plug into these systems and help employees easily and quickly communicate with each other at work, offer feedback and suggestions on improvements, and give developmental tips to others.

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Too much collaboration can create distraction

While this increased use of digital communication tools can foster connections and improve communications, it can also create distraction. Many employees now feel they are "ultra-connected" to too many things. Are we really making work better? Or are our people overwhelmed?

An increased emphasis on distributed decision making and cross-functional collaboration means that managers and employees now spend approximately half of their time working and communicating with others. Unfortunately, they aren’t always deriving value from that time (or adding value for the company). Typically, 20 to 35 percent of value-added collaboration comes from only three to five percent of employees, meaning many employees are bogged down by too much collaboration. And productivity is likely suffering as a result.

This especially holds true for organizations experiencing change, such as those expanding into new markets or those going through an M&A transaction. Information can come from a variety of sources—emails, meetings, and social communities—which can lead to communication overload, even misunderstanding.

When collaboration tools cause confusion or distraction, they can hurt engagement and output—the exact opposite of the intended effect. There is an interesting dichotomy in the fact that research conducted by Bersin shows that 38 percent of all leaders feel overwhelmed by collaborative demands, while those organizations that are able to manage the overload are 20 percent more likely to excel at innovation. Effective collaboration is overwhelming to leaders yet essential to organizational success.

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A recent study Deloitte completed with Facebook found that only 14 percent of companies believe their internal processes for collaboration and decision making are working well, and 77 percent believe email is no longer a viable tool for effective communication.

Finding the right balance

It’s clear that effective, convenient collaboration tools are essential in today’s workplace. How do organizations find the right balance?

First, leaders need to find ways to standardize technology, integrate these systems, and simplify the process—making it possible for collaboration to be easy and value-additive.

Second, HR has to make the connected experience relevant to the “moments that matter” at work. If I want to open an IT help desk issue, check my vacation balance, process my expense reports, or update my goals, this should be easy to do within the collaboration tools I use. Additionally, by leveraging self-service platforms like Deloitte’s ConnectMeTM, leadership is able to share targeted, individualized, and direct messaging that helps employees access information that is specific to their needs, reducing the noise that can come with having so many collaboration tool options available, by streamlining and personalizing the content that employees receive.

Third, HR has to think about its role as “the employee productivity department.” Rather than build new processes that take people away from work, our job is to deliver solutions in the flow of work. A client recently took their ERP-driven HR system and built Salesforce widgets that appear in the Salesforce environment, letting people manage their work lives directly from the tools they already use. As described in HR technology disruptions for 2018, the new world of HR technology is all about delivering systems that “make work life better.”

All these new AI-based systems can add value, but only if we make them easy to use and integrated into the flow of work. This is HR’s new role—serving not only as an advisor and consultant, but also as the spiritual owner of the “irresistible employee experience.”

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Hyperconnectivity is here to stay

As the world gets more integrated, collaborative, and connected, we all feel a bit of overload, often driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). We as HR and business leaders can teach people how to do less, focus on what matters, and stay true to our own well-being and sense of self. Being hyperconnected is now a way of life; let’s focus on the people and not the technology, and we can create an integrated productive experience at work—one that brings people together, helps people get more done, and leaves people feeling energized when they go home every night.

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70 percent of respondents believe workers will spend more time on collaboration platforms in the future

Perspective authored by

Josh Bersin
Principal and Founder, Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP


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ConnectMeTM is a digital workplace product that helps the workforce access what they need, when and where they need it, by enabling employees to access all of their HR-related information through a personalized dashboard with content specific to their needs.

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