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Is Modern Workplace Communication Keeping Us From Real Productivity?

emails, social media, professional

Image by photoraidz, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently read a fascinating debate on Forbes about the nature of today’s work – specifically how communication and technology tools like email or Skype – are either A) getting in the way of real, productive work, or B) empowering us to collaborate better, in fact making us MORE productive.

It starts with a statement from Bain & Co. partner Michael Mankins from his recent Harvard Business Review article. Mr. Mankins estimates that while a typical executive in the 1970s might have received 1,000 messages a year, that number has soared to more than 30,000 today, suggesting that we may “have reached the point of diminishing returns.”

The Forbes article contributor, Greg Satell, makes a counterpoint. He states, “…the nature of work has changed. The real reason that we communicate more is because, today, we need to collaborate more to be effective.”

Both men make fair points that we should all consider. Work has no doubt changed a lot from the 1970s. As someone who believes that we can’t just “react” to change, but should instead harness inevitable changes to prove our value and reach our goals (this is a major point in my book Ringmaster), I tend to side more with Mr. Satell on this one. The very nature of work has indeed changed, and we have to move with the changes, or else we’ll get left behind.

But that being said, we do have a responsibility to make sure that we don’t use emerging technologies just because we can. Every organization should consider how it will hold itself accountable to productive use of relevant technology and communication.

What do you think? Are emails, shared documents and collaborative data management systems keeping you from being productive, or helping you do your job better?