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As businesses navigate economic uncertainty, leaders need their teams to be empowered to spend more time on work that matters. This means ensuring that their time is spent on the most strategic and impactful initiatives that quickly address business pressures and deliver increased value to customers.
Yet today, teams are spending a significant portion of the working week not on the work that matters but rather on the coordination cost of work: searching for information, switching between apps, managing shifting priorities and chasing the status of work. This not only impacts productivity, but employee experience as more workers find their ability to make a meaningful impact hampered by duplicated work and wasted time.
Remote work is the culprit
The cause can be traced back to the shift to remote work during the pandemic, which was a huge democratizer of workplace technology choices that previously hadn’t been necessary for most businesses. Employees adopted apps that suited their personal working styles, but to meet the sudden needs of distributed working, they often did so rapidly with little strategy.
Today, this means a workplace filled with multiple apps and screens, draining employee focus and leaving them with little idea of who’s meant to be working on what, or by when. Most importantly, they are unclear on how their work impacts the company’s goals and objectives.
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What can help solve this? Having business leaders rethink how they are designing an updated and intentional tech stack — one focused on employee experience and business outcomes For a long time, businesses have thought that “more is better” in terms of tech. But leaders need to take a critical look at that assumption and be more strategic about selecting the tools that have the most impact. Technology should decrease the coordination cost of work, not add to it.
So, given the problem started with an overabundance of technology, how can businesses ensure they are building the right kind of tech stack?
Disrupting the meeting norm
Without eliminating the coordination cost, businesses risk a less productive — and less fulfilled — workforce. A tech stack fit for today’s workplace can change all that, not only by streamlining workflows and improving processes, but by removing the need for time-consuming meetings and calls to check in on the status of tasks.
Often, breaking away from legacy habits of working requires teams to take the plunge for them to see the benefits. For instance, The Work Innovation Lab at Asana asked a group of participants in a “Meeting Reset” study to cancel the small (fewer than five people) recurring meetings in their calendar for 48 hours, and then redesign what the meetings looked like from scratch.
This led to participants challenging their core assumptions about the design of meetings while returning hours to their day in the process. This tells us that it’s not just the meetings themselves that need to change, but how we think about them. We’re so well-practiced at meetings going into calendars and hardly questioning it that you might even say, at our worst, we’re complacent in how we value time.
Businesses need to shift their company mentality to show that clarity is the end goal — and when reached with fewer meetings, even better. This means taking a step back and deciding what the purpose of a meeting or a call is before having it.
We assume teams know what a good meeting looks like, but leaders should ask themselves what they want to get out of it and, crucially, whether their tech stack can do a better job. Because this way, we shift certain coordination and communication activities away from meetings and create asynchronous modes of collaboration that are often more inclusive and more intentional.
Clarity gets the job done
A key feature of the modern workplace is enabling people to work how they work best while ensuring that clarity isn’t lost in the process. Silos can stand in the way of this, as can restricted ways of working, meaning workplaces risk their teams not having the visibility, the headspace or the time to properly communicate, absorb, and update.
Missing out on this information can be bad news for a team’s productivity as more time is then spent on duplicate, or even unnecessary, work. At a time when the majority of generations are disengaged in the workplace, more must be done to ensure meaningful activities are replacing unnecessary work.
Organizations can do this by shifting goals away from meetings and email and giving teams the strategic platform they need to see things clearly. Businesses should look to break clarity free of the synchronous structure we’ve long imposed upon it, and support its transition to becoming more intuitive and natural.
This gives the green light to productive and creative contributions. Empowering teams to work how they want to achieve their goals will, in turn, grow their confidence and their engagement.
Get change management right
Better connecting technology strategy with overarching business strategy will ultimately move a company forward. But the key word here is “strategy.” Regular context-switching and unnecessary meetings mean there’s a great deal of brain power being misplaced within the working day.
Simply throwing more tech at the problem won’t help, and without a roadmap that offers a game plan, the more coordination cost of work you stand to create. Tools drafted to help alleviate the pressure on workers risk amplifying the number of pings interrupting their day, leading to greater feelings of pressure and anxiety. At a time when burnout in the workplace remains high, more must be done to help employees reset their burnout levels.
‘Tool fatigue’ is not just a sucker punch for your employees’ work-life balance, but their productivity too. This is why, in building a tech stack for the modern age, businesses should aim to reduce the number of tools in the process. This means there’s less context switching expected from your team, making it easier to stay focused and collaborative, and freeing them up from digital whiplash.
It can be a hard balance to strike. Teams become attached to their tech. But this is why change management is so crucial. In an uncertain macroeconomic environment, leaders need to confidently share, “I value your time and talent; we’re doing this to be more effective.” And then demonstrate to their teams, through first-hand experience, how enjoyable and productive the change can be.
The workplace has undergone a technological revolution that has changed how and where we all work. But the hard work doesn’t stop here.
The workplace is evolving every day and the same goes for technology. Business leaders must keep checking in and matching this evolution with the tools employees need to remain productive — akin to an ongoing temperature check. The pressure comes from the fact that it’s not just productivity that’s on the line, but the future of the workplace.
Anne Raimondi is COO and head of business at Asana.
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