Last week, I started a tricky conversation with my coworkers. I stated that I prefer to work independently.

Sometimes, it’s so much better to work alone – and in a private environment.

individual-work-teamwork

At Toggl, we have a very cool office – and the option to work remotely as well. When we’re in the office we enjoy a large, open space that facilitates engagement and communication. However, with all this freedom and community, some of us feel the need to work alone (or at least, in separate boxes).
When people have lots of freedom and contact with others, some of us crave a little privacy.

After talking with my colleagues about the pros and cons of teamwork and independent work, I decided to share our insights with you.

Working as Part of a Team

Extroverts with engaging personalities gain energy the more they interact with others. These folks typically enjoy working in groups. They communicate well with others and thrive in active, high-energy workplace

If you like to work as a team, you love teamwork. You thrive in cooperative, integrative, and friendly work environments. You rely on your team members to help you solve problems, answer questions, and increase your work efficiency. You share struggles and successes with your peers – and celebrate group achievements.

Working as a team pays off handsomely for many groups. As they say, “Two heads are better than one.”

Each person has a limited set of skills and a finite knowledge base. We need others’ help (and unique perspectives) to solve difficult problems and see beyond our blind spots. Team members benefit greatly from sharing challenges and ideas.

We’re all individuals; we each offer our special talents to our organizations. However, we don’t need to work alone to shine. By working closely with others, we share our various work experiences, educational backgrounds, and creative impulses.

We work in groups to gain the many benefits of group work: unified perspectives, combined strength, and collective brainstorming. When people apply their unique skills to a common task, they often create more effective solutions than independent workers. Teamwork also improves employee relations.

True, individual team members don’t always get appropriate levels of credit for their contributions. However, groups are more than the sums of their parts – and a rising tide lifts all boats.

It is amazing how much people can get done if they do not worry about who gets the credit.

– Sandra Swinney

Working Independently

When you read the section above, did you find yourself thinking., “I work alone! I understand the advantages of teamwork, but it just isn’t for me. I’m an independent person, not a team worker.”

Yes, teams create great results. Group members compensate for each other’s weaknesses and share broad perspectives. Teamwork at work is what organizational strength is all about – but it isn’t the only way.

However, working alone has many clear benefits – both for workers and the organizations/clients they serve. Many people dream of being their own bosses (or managers); they feel free to their best when they don’t have to justify their actions to others.

So, do you seek out jobs where you work alone? Do you notice some of your co-workers are at their happiest and most productive when they skirt the edge of your team’s social circle?

It’s a matter of motivation structures and personality. Some people dig in and work hard when they know they alone have responsibility for a project. They know they’ll get all the credit for their achievements – and all the blame for their failures. They won’t be held back by others – and can act in the ways they know to be best.

Not everyone has the ability to work independently, but those who do find it easy to focus and concentrate when they block out all distractions – including interactions with coworkers. They shine when insulated from the interruptions of a hectic workplace. Because introverts spend more energy accommodating others than they gain from group interactions, they can put their whole hearts into their work.

When working independently, people must embrace an interesting trade-off. People who like to be alone enjoy a free-flowing work style that requires a higher amount of motivation, discipline, and self-awareness. No one is working alongside them (or looking over their shoulder) to make sure they’re on task – and on the right task.

However, many people find the freedom of independent work well worth this added layer of self-management. They determine their own goals, milestones, and schedules. They decide what to do – and when. Even if managers and clients determine these workers’ responsibilities, these independent people get to shape their workflows.

People with unique personalities who don’t fit into a “normal” workplace culture can excel if given the freedom to adapt their work environments to suit their strengths and weaknesses. And, perhaps the greatest strength of independent workers is their ability to cast off “group think” and present unique solutions.

Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…
― Leo Tolstoy

Putting It All Together

Smart managers know their team members. They identify who “plays well” with whom. They know when certain people need a break from the group to work alone – and when everyone needs to pull together.

Independent workers do miss out on the advantages of teamwork. Group workers do compromise with others and tend toward “group think.” Luckily, the independent/teamwork debate isn’t black and white – savvy managers provide opportunities for their workers to enjoy both approaches.

By understanding your colleagues’ individual strengths, weaknesses, and personality types, you can create optimal environments for worker satisfaction, productivity, efficiency, and innovation.

When tracking groups and individual employees side-by-side in your organization, you need a powerful platform for analyzing timesheet data. Toggl provides a robust and easy-to-use suite of report-generation tools so you can understand your team members’ unique contributions at a glance.

With Toggl, you can track and appreciate the contributions of every worker – whether they work well in groups, function better alone – or enjoy a combination of the two.