The pandemic has forced organisations of all sizes to rethink how they work. A year of remote working has yielded benefits for some, but also presented countless challenges – including longer hours, missed deadlines and an increased risk of burnout.
Based on a survey of 13,000 professionals, Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 explores how these issues have affected creatives and other knowledge workers worldwide and presents some solutions for how organisations can thrive in a hybrid-working future.
ESCAPE FROM ADMIN OVERLOAD
Asana’s survey reveals that we spent as much as 60% of our time in 2020 coordinating the working day, leaving just 40% to apply our creative and strategic skills. A surge in ‘work about work’ – meetings, check-ins, research and general admin – has damaged productivity.
Structuring meetings properly and being clear about objectives helps keep things structured, yet open and transparent despite physical distance
“It takes a lot more work to plan and run jobs when you’re not together in one room,” confirms Gemma Ballinger, Managing Director at London-based design agency Output. “It’s been much more intense.”
There’s too much chasing, too many messages to respond to, and ultimately just too much work to do. Globally, more than a quarter of deadlines were missed each week in 2020. One worrying trend is an increase in duplicated work: according to the report, due to a lack of clarity about who owns what task, in 2020 as much as 13% of the working day was spent on tasks that have already been done by someone else – up from 10% in 2019.
Clarity is key. Aligning everyone’s work streams into one unified productivity tool – such as Asana – can help teams plan, organise, and prioritise. “Structuring meetings properly and being clear about objectives helps keep things structured, yet open and transparent despite physical distance,” adds Maddie Fortescue, Chief People Officer at global creative agency Moving Brands, which operates studios in London, Zurich, San Francisco and New York. “We’ve stuck to the same rituals and behaviours, despite the strange circumstances.”
CRACK DOWN ON WORKING LATE
Almost 90% of survey respondents globally have been working an extra two hours per day on average, with half saying that overworking is the main factor contributing to burnout.
In the UK, working late is a particular issue: 86% of those surveyed admit to doing it, up from 78% in 2019. According to the Anatomy of Work Index 2021, greater clarity over job roles and responsibilities could save the average person almost 300 hours per year.
If something must be ‘out of hours’, we always recognise someone’s willingness to be flexible and stress the need to reclaim the time
After a busy year in which long hours became an issue, Output tackled the working-late culture head-on by shifting the whole studio’s mindset, putting more emphasis on hitting project milestones while being more flexible with individual people’s working hours.
“We gave everyone a day off, resetting with these new hours and ways of working when we came back,” explains Ballinger. “People are seeing the benefits, particularly now they can actually get out and make the most of their weekends.”
With four offices across multiple time zones, Moving Brands works hard to respect working hours in each location. “If something must be ‘out of hours’, we always recognise someone’s willingness to be flexible and stress the need to reclaim the time,” says Fortescue. “We trust people to self-manage this, but if they don’t, we’re not afraid to intervene to urge self-care.”
CANCEL THOSE UNNECESSARY MEETINGS
Remote-working teams may have had fewer impromptu conversations, but this hasn’t resulted in shorter working days. In place of casual desk-side chats and quick questions, there has been a rise in unnecessary video meetings that, according to Asana’s report, have cost the average worker over 150 hours in productive working time.
If you’re in meetings all morning, it doesn’t feel like you’ve achieved anything by lunch
Collaborative tools that enable more fluid, conversational exchanges during the day can help – reducing the need to schedule fixed windows to discuss in a formal meeting. Moving Brands and Output both use Slack, one of many tools that can be integrated with Asana. “Whilst it’s not the same as addressing a question to colleagues in the open studio, when you may get three or more opinions, it has worked out really well,” explains Fortescue.
Ballinger advocates making every meeting count. Besides regular Monday kick-offs, she aims to keep Output’s all-team meetings to the afternoons. “If you’re in meetings all morning, it doesn’t feel like you’ve achieved anything by lunch,” she explains. To stay connected, the team often work collaboratively in Figma, another Asana-compatible tool.
LOOK AFTER EVERYONE’S MENTAL HEALTH
Asana’s research also reveals that almost 80% of people who started new roles in the pandemic reported imposter syndrome, as well as almost 60% of people who were already employed. Burnout is another key concern: in the UK, as many as 75% of those surveyed have experienced it in some form.
“It’s been hard for our team, particularly the less experienced ones,” says Ballinger. “They have really missed being around each other. Being in touch with each individual as much as possible is key: regular checks on work, feedback and debriefs so they are clear what is needed and how it’s being received.”
Moving Brands has a mental health support programme in place, which includes free access to external telephone counselling if needed. “A mental health day should be treated the same as a day off for any other ailment,” adds Fortescue.
FIND THE PERFECT BALANCE
As organisations around the world consider how to learn from the past year and adapt on a longer-term basis, Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 makes it clear that less ‘work about work’ will increase productivity and reduce stress across the board.
Less than half of those surveyed globally described themselves as ‘optimistic’ for the year ahead, dropping to just 39% in the UK. But over two-thirds believe that having clear processes to manage work will help them reach their targets in 2021.
Whether it’s being honest about which meetings are unnecessary, streamlining processes or being more flexible to accommodate different working patterns, to stay resilient organisations must build a supportive, people-centric culture that fosters healthy productivity, even as professional and personal boundaries continue to blur for all of us.
Download the full global version of Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 here