Project Collaboration Overload

Project Collaboration Overload

Collaboration overload in a virtual environment where project managers are concerned is common.  Project Managers are responsible to receive input from many people and places.  This can lead to project collaboration and communication overload.   It can also turn upside down and lead to isolation in a virtual environment.  This blog post examines how three systems have recently been in our toolset.

Collaborative Tools in the Virtual Workplace

Recently I worked on upgrading a non-profit organization’s Basecamp environment from version 2 to 3. It was effortless. I also migrated a Slack environment to repair a minor issue with a URL. That was also, very easy. The non-profit used Google Business Suite, so Hangouts Chat was also a default. However, the team rarely used G-Chat because of the constant flux of team players who brought with them a different balance of technical skills. More importantly, they had experiences in many types of work environments that utilized a reasonably big array of collaboration tools within the Microsoft or Google experience. Some opinions of those various tools can be very, well, passionate.

Why aren’t we using Skype? We need to get Slack. I hate Google Chat. I shouldn’t have to use another username and password. Why are we using this tool, Twist is better. Microsoft for teams is the best. I’d prefer not to use Slack. How can I turn this off? If possible, I’d like to avoid using tools that are always on. Basecamp? I’m not a project manager!

Virtual Versus Office Environments

Switching from office environments to 100% virtual ones can be jarring. The working from home ideology can quickly fade in its luster after a few weeks of isolation and lack of self-discipline. There are only a few ways organizations can combat losing good resources to that isolation if they harness the power of collaborative technology. The issue here, hence the subject, is the overload of project collaboration tools and systems. Working in the virtual environment can sometimes falsely communicate the always-on beacon no matter what technology you subscribe to. That is to say, keeping web browsers open with login credentials, or mobile apps installed and synced up can give a false impression that you are ready to receive communication.

Collaborative Gamification

On the other hand, when that chatter is smoothed to a low point in the virtual workplace, one may suddenly feel isolated. This is where I like to play a video game I have imagined called “Forsaken Operative.” In this new game I designed, the protagonist has to battle a powerful nemesis called Isolation. Isolation has materialized many magic spells that rendered the Land of Engagement to waste. The people of Engagement cannot speak after Isolation’s magic ripped through the land and they can only hear a very close sound. As the Forsaken Operative, I receive a magic scroll in the form of electronic messages that I can use to help the people battle Isolation. We have to use this magic strategically because if we make too many scrolls, it will have dire consequences: too many scroll casts on the people cause them to disappear (much like the end of Infinity Wars). Forsaken Operative is a video game we need to develop for virtual team members, so the concept of collaboration becomes visible in an invisible workplace.

conquering project collaboration overload

The Future of Collaboration

I see the future of augmented reality that has me powering up my work desk each morning, putting on my glasses (because I’m already used to wearing one type for monitors), and seeing my colleagues during their office hours. They, in turn, can see me during my pre-identified hours and we can even work together, and it feels like my colleague is sitting at the desk with me working on a project plan.

augmented reality meeting project collaboration overload
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Basecamp, Slack, and Google Hangouts Chat

Of course, if you get this far, you wonder why I mentioned Basecamp with Slack and Google Chat. Basecamp is considered a project management suite while the other two are focused primarily on subject and theme related text communications in a group environment. Slack isn’t necessarily project collaboration based, but many project managers are familiar with it.  No, Basecamp can’t do that necessarily; however, because of my project management background, I found the system compelling me to organize. First, acknowledge that everything your organization does revolves around an effort. Now chat about it (at the campfire). Slack thinks that collaboration needs to surround a subject and subsequent threads. Basecamp thinks that collaboration needs to encompass teams and efforts.

The latter versions of Basecamp allowed the team and subject-based information versus defining everything around a project. Many organizations get wrapped around axles defining what or more importantly, what isn’t, a project. I say it’s any short or long term goal that draws on resources. If I go to work at 8:00 AM, I am working on an effort. I may work on many efforts throughout the day, but hopefully, I’ve kept it to a few. Slack makes you feel as if you have to dial in too many.  Employees are already distracted and costing your company! In many business environments, funding levels or return on investment determine projects, but the reality is that risk should. That is another blog post.

Physical Clues in the Workplace

In the non-virtual world, chat communication provides an additional conduit to colleagues on your teams in a day to day working environment. Sometimes in conference room meetings, it becomes the private way to alert someone (surreptitiously sending catty remarks about the speaker or diverting attention to other more important matters like the news). In the virtual world, it’s practically the only one. As you, in your corporate environment, sit in your cubicle farm and look around, there are certain colleagues you can approach and those you cannot. You can usually guess that by watching for earphones, phone up to the ear, or they appear deep in concentration. Maybe they aren’t even at their desk, so you check the organization’s instant messaging system and it shows they are in a meeting. Maybe you schedule a quick 15-30 minutes with the said employee by looking at their calendar and alert them that you want to talk about a particular subject. Why Google Hangouts Chat hasn’t remedied this specific nuance, I am not sure. Why should I have to manually turn off notifications when most business practice cultures tend to leave people alone when their status depicts their current situation?

Never Ending Subscriptions, Bots, and Nudges

The question becomes, why would I be a G-Suite business user and ask for additional nudges by use of a conversational app like Slack? Also, every time I find a useful tool for Slack I end up in yet another subscription spiral. At the very least Google Hangouts Chat is what it is and doesn’t constantly tempt me with bots and apps that are going to double or triple the number of notifications and yet again request access to my credentials. I pose that if you counted the number of notifications, you get daily with the virtual work environment multiply that by 15 minutes. That’s how much time your team are impacted.

Turn off your notifications in the virtual world for too long, and you may be asking for trouble. Remember the game? That nemesis, Isolation, may come wandering back in and just when you are entirely out of magic scrolls! Notification switches should be easy, like Windows focus assist. The problem is Windows focus assist won’t touch Google Hangouts Chat or any other web-enabled collaborative tool. The fix there is installing the apps versus using web-based and thus focus assist works great. Then again, you need to remember to turn that back on as well.

Getting. Stuff. Done.

Did you know that 65 of the Fortune 500 use Slack? Here’s a little not-so-secret: all that chatter doesn’t amount to anything unless stuff gets done. Even if stuff gets done; how are you linking to the increasing costs of Slack? It’s free for us you might say: yes until you start spiraling into the plugins and bots. Most of them look pretty innocuous until one day you log in and the bot says, “Your free trial period is over. Subscribe today!” But this isn’t about a cost per user in cash; what I’m talking about is employee time and exposure to risk. I’ve read several articles on how free chatter can sometimes spiral out of control. I can also say from a very tumultuous career that all that internal chatter can expose your company to additional risks. As well, if you have several “conversations” in Slack, how the heck are you getting anything done?

Conversations Do Not Equal Organization

If I had just started a company with 2-3 employees, I would use Basecamp and practically nothing else. In my requirements design, instead of having the campfire or real-time chat; I may integrate more tightly with Google Hangouts Chat (except for 1-to-1 chats) and thus bridge that insanely irritating gap that brings every conversation concerning an effort into one place. That’s where Basecamp shines: organization around teams and projects. In the Google or Slack world: “Hey, I remember us discussing what we were going to do with xyz but I forget what we decided.” The response, “Oh yea, I forgot to link Google with Slack/Basecamp.” I’m not willing to pay for subscriptions to manage the things I need to be done for those extra Slack plugins; not when I can get a base price of Basecamp and not worry about having too many employees.

If you have to find a how-to to minimize Slack’s invasiveness, then I believe you are struggling with being interrupted and are finding it distracting. Isn’t Google Hangouts Chat invasive? Well, if you are a Google Chrome user who knows how to create two profiles, associate the Google accounts appropriately, and only open the second one inside your office hours, or during meetings then I disagree. I have a personal profile and a work profile. When I look at my Chrome tabs, I can see what belongs to who–better yet, when it’s time to close up shop I close the work one. It works for me because Google also makes it very easy for me to shut off mobile alerts if I install chat on my mobile. (I don’t.)

Collaborative Tool Decisions Include Organization Examination

Finally, and yes, this is almost over, I’m delighted you stayed this long. Look at Slack and Basecamp as companies. Have you seen the Basecamp team? Don’t let the cartoons fool you; it appears they have 95 fun and smart employees. Have you read some of Jason’s books? Basecamp is a company that understands the virtual environment because they live it. Not only do they live it but they are passionate about what they do and who they serve. Recently they had an outage and instead of being quiet? They explained in real terms what went wrong and offered up details.

When I read about Slack, I only get financially related material about how Slack is valued. When I supported the non-profit with initializing Slack, I found it helpful in some ways, but as a Google Business user, I felt it was like a new tinker toy with lots of cool tools to be installed and added on but the value back to the organization without distracting from work I didn’t find value. I believe this puts Slack in an excellent position to be subsumed by the Isolation demon at some point and it disappears into the all-consuming Googalian Pit of Despair.

I’ll always have the magic scroll ready to toss at any Isolation Demon!

a scary isolation in collaborative environments
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

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