Abstract:Our data-saturated age enables us to examine our work habits and office quirks with a scrutiny that our cubicle-bound forebears could only dream of. Today, on corporate campuses and within university laboratories, psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are devoting themselves to studying everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to make employees into faster, better and more productive versions of themselves. ‘‘We’re living through a golden age of understanding personal productivity,’’ says Marshall Van Alstyne, a professor at Boston University who studies how people share information. ‘‘All of a sudden, we can pick apart the small choices that all of us make, decisions most of us don’t even notice, and figure out why some people are so much more effective than everyone else.’’
Yet many of today’s most valuable firms have come to realize that analyzing and improving individual workers — a practice known as ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ — isn’t enough. As commerce becomes increasingly global and complex, the bulk of modern work is more and more team-based. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review last month, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.