The future of work needs consolidation & communication

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Over the past two years, many companies have shifted to a hybrid working (opens in new tab) approach. Yet how we collaborate both virtually and in person remains unclear and businesses continue to face a critical set of potential benefits and risks. 

About the author

Simon O'Kane is Head of International at Asana (opens in new tab).

With restrictions and work from home guidance in constant flux, now is the time to consider how we can avoid digital miscommunication and provide teams with alignment and clarity, no matter if they’re fully remote, returning to office, or something in between.

A sudden shift

For many organizations, the abrupt shift to remote work felt like a transformation. Almost overnight, companies set up a swath of new tools, systems, and policies to try and create cohesion between dispersed teams.

With organizations simply prioritizing ‘keeping the lights on’, this shift was more reactive than proactive, resulting in a swath of new tools and inefficiencies. Today, we are more experienced and have time to design an intentional hybrid work model that meets our teams’ needs. As companies continue to adopt different working models in response to ever-changing guidelines, there is an opportunity to do better than we did before.

Despite more digital tools at our disposal, teams aren’t actually more connected. Legacy tools and techniques we’ve failed to ditch—like using spreadsheets (opens in new tab) to track project progress—and new tools we’ve hastily onboarded, are creating silos and confusion. What we need is connection and clarity. We must break down silos and optimize our tech stacks if we are to avoid low productivity (opens in new tab), disengaged employees (opens in new tab), and disconnected teams.

How silos slow productivity

According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work research, last year employees lost an average of 227 hours to duplicated work, or tasks that are no longer relevant. The result? Longer working days, and increased burnout.

A risk of duplicated work is also significant when we don’t have sight of what’s taking place in the wider business. It is frustrating, avoidable, and damaging both to productivity and morale. Nobody wants to spend the day working on something only to find another team member has already completed the task.

The solution here is increased transparency. Employees need clarity over their role and how it connects to their teammates and shared organizational missions. However, too often transparency becomes confused with information overload.

The distraction of context switching

Teams with good intentions can easily end up oversharing in an attempt to create transparency. Think of all-company emails and mass meeting invites.

Without the right tools to organize information and prioritize tasks, every member of every team receiving everything that’s going on in the business is overwhelming and counterproductive. This challenge is only being exacerbated by our growing tech stacks, with workers in the UK now using an average of 10 different apps at work, and switching between them 25 times per day.

Context switching - such as using multiple apps- drains focus and makes it harder for teams to create an impact through skilled, deep work. Ironically, this increasing digital noise is having the opposite effect to what was intended. Teams struggle to navigate through the information they need, and as a result, silos remain entrenched while productivity suffers.

How to prep for the future

So, in an age of continued hybrid work, how do we start uniting our teams without overloading them?

Firstly, as we’ve seen, we can’t just add more apps. We need to be selective and intentional about the ones we onboard for our team, while simultaneously eliminating legacy tools which increase information silos, such as internal email.

What businesses require is purpose-built work management tools that integrate with a company’s entire tech stack and gives everyone, across the company, clarity over who is doing what by when. These tools can align individuals, teams, and entire organizations around shared tasks, and demonstrate how individual performance contributes to overarching business goals.

Meanwhile, these platforms can bring all the information workers need into a single shared space, providing not just clarity over roles and deadlines, but also relevant documents, resources and integrations with other apps. By bringing all the required information, resources and integrations into one place, time lost to context switching goes down, and focus goes up.

We have seen clearly that government guidelines will continue to fluctuate, and we must be agile in how we respond to them; confident that any chosen work model will bring about the same level of productivity.

For the future of work, (whether remote, office based, or a mix of the two) to be a success, we must enable employees to work smarter. By consolidating the tech stack, uniting people through a shared purpose and providing clarity over who is doing what by when, individuals, teams, and entire organizations can begin to raise performance even higher and accelerate growth.

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Simon O’Kane, Head of EMEA at Asana.