Digital leadership – focus vs. team spirit


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Dilemma: A leader in a global virtual team appreciates chatting with her team about everything and nothing privately and professionally. Everything is communicated in a big jumble. She does it to make them feel like a team across the distance. Her employees feel compelled to participate, even though it is difficult for them to do any concrete work in the meantime. Because in the middle of a story about her new house, an important message comes in relation to their work. So, if they are not part of the chat, they will not get crucial professional information.

Just like other global tech organizations, theres plenty to do for the employees. They actually have a hard time keeping up. This challenges the fact that when they have to chat, they cant focus and concentrate on work tasks. 

What are they going to do then, you might think?

Focus is a mental state

It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to become focused and get into deep concentration. This means that you have to spend 20 minutes more to get into the same focus mode when you are interrupted by e.g., a chat, an email notification, a colleague who wants to talk or a text message. Moreover, it uses mental energy to be interrupted. Mental energy is not an exhaustible resource. Something we sometimes overlook. According to research from Cambridge University, your brain uses about 20% of your total daily energy expenditure. 

Digital team spirit

Distance management is a management discipline that puts many managers to the test because there is less room for loose chat on a conference call or an email. But among other things it’s the informal chat that binds people together. When we are not together physically, we also lose many signals from each other. For about 90% of what we say, we say with the body. The leader is therefore in a dilemma. 

That is why being aware of when it is time for chatting and when it isn’t is a game changer. Many people – that we work with – benefit of having focus time blocked in their calendar where no one and nothing can interrupt. This means that all notifications are paused, and the phone is on silent mode. It is a method worth trying but also asking yourself and your team a question.   

Digital leadership

Digitizing our work processes is a path to increased productivity but if we dont use our tools correctly, the efficiency of knowledge workers decreases. Because we simply get too disturbed. People’s ability to concentrate is declining partly due to technological disruptions. As mentioned earlier, it takes 20 min. to get into focus, but just 10 years ago it took 17 min. We have therefore become less able to concentrate.

More and more teams will need to work together virtually, globally, as this team does. Therefore, it is recommended that you as a leader ask yourself or your team the following question: How do you as a leader balance personalized chat and focus time? It is a question that you can either reflect on yourself as a leader or even better ask your team so that together you can find out what works for you.

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