Covid-19 has forced organisations around the world to rethink the workplace. Remote work has quickly become synonymous with greater flexibility, and has accelerated digital transformation strategies, enabling teams to collaborate through global lockdowns.
Twitter, and other companies, have vowed that employees can work from home ‘forever’.
But is a remote-only workplace a mistake?
Our teams work together across the world, and as a global company we’ll naturally facilitate remote and hybrid work going forward. But we’ve also seen that collaboration and trust are spurred by shared daily experiences, face-to-face communication, and opportunity for impromptu co-creation. For that reason, we’ll be prioritising an office-centric approach as soon as it’s safe to do so for our global teams.
The workplace has fundamentally changed. And there’s no denying that organisations need to be flexible in the months and years ahead to thrive in a distributed world.
However when it is safe to do so, could returning to the office be the best decision your team makes? At Asana — we believe it is.
Remote work fuels context-switching and burnout
Despite many organisations’ herculean efforts in rolling out technology to help their teams navigate lockdown, productivity is waning.
Knowledge workers spend the majority of their day doing work about work — tasks including searching for information, chasing for updates and attending unnecessary meetings. This time drain is exacerbated by excessive context switching. Workers are using an average of 10 apps and switching between them 25 times a day just to do their job, creating more chaos rather than clarity.
In an office, what would be an informal five minute chat to clear something up is forced to become a 30 minute scheduled video call — with further time wasted switching between apps to schedule the meeting in the first place.
Not only is virtual meeting fatigue a real phenomenon, office workers are having to log extra hours to compensate which is leading to troubling levels of burnout: 75% of knowledge workers in the UK experienced burnout in 2020.
Now that organisations have the opportunity to open up their offices, and have time to plan for a successful return, it is critical that business leaders focus on building a workplace environment that has longevity for its people. Office spaces can be redesigned to foster opportunities for ad hoc connection and co-creation through inclusive common spaces.
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Virtual offices miss real human connection
Returning to the office isn’t just about reducing burnout or work about work. It’s about allowing opportunities for greater creativity and innovation.
Physically sharing a space creates opportunities for impromptu discovery and co-creation, building collaboration and trust.
There’s nothing like bouncing ideas off someone in front of you when you’re putting together a pitch or trying to rethink company strategy. There’s currently no tech substitute for this spark of in-person connection.
“When you’re face-to-face it’s easier to spot if someone is approaching burnout and easier for them to admit it.”
The in-person connection an office provides is also crucial in safeguarding your team’s mental health. When you’re face-to-face it’s easier to spot if someone is approaching burnout and easier for them to admit it. With your team right in front of you, you can better identify if a company process isn’t working or is putting undue pressure on anyone, rather than the problems being disguised behind a screen.
This helps you stop burnout in its tracks and take the structural steps needed to prevent it snowballing.
Learning from lockdown to thrive a distributed world
That’s not to say we should ignore the learnings of the past 14 months.
The response to Covid-19 has shown the benefits that remote and flexible working can bring, from supporting parents and caregivers to making work more accessible to employees with disabilities.
As we reunite our teams at Asana, we’ll incorporate additional flexibility that adds hybrid elements to our office-centric culture, such as ‘Work from Home Wednesday’. With this shift, our employees can synchronise in-person collaboration and the time needed for focus and individual flow, either at home or in the office, which enhances the value we get from both.
The past year has also highlighted that organisations are resilient and that teams have found new ways to carry on, and even flourish, in difficult times.
Just as there wasn’t a blueprint for remote working, there isn’t one for returning back to the office either. These remote working lessons should help inform strategies and enable teams to acclimatise to a post-pandemic world.
Whether companies choose to go back to the office — like we are at Asana — work remotely or adopt a hybrid approach, the new workplace needs to ensure that employee health and wellbeing is at the heart of that decision.
Simon O’Kane is Asana’s head of EMEA.