Startup Life/Opinion/

Remote work hasn’t got anything on the office

Why allowing employees to work from home forever is a mistake.

Simon O'Kane

By Simon O'Kane

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.

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.

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Chrissie
Chrissie

The irony about this guy is the fact that Asana makes it extremely easy to collaborate with people with never having to see them. We used Asana at my previous employer and I eventually stopped going to the office before COVID was a thing because I could collaborate at home. This guy is either an extrovert who needs the office time or was told by his boss what to write because clearly they need to justify their shitty investment into their office building. Remote work hasn’t burned anyone out. In fact, many people have avoided being fired or quitting because… Read more »

Richard Bradley
Richard Bradley

Nothing you are saying is actually true. I have worked from home for six years in IT. I don’t have people stopping at my desk for issues without opening tickets. I don’t have people stealing my lunches forcing me to leave the office to forage. I do not have people chatting in cubicles next to me and distracting me. I save money in not commuting. I get my work done on time and have time for stuff I didn’t in the office.

S G
S G

The term *corporate shill* comes to mind when reading this…

Mz Cardinal
Mz Cardinal

This article is bullshit. My employees have been even more productive and collaborative without all of the office bs. I understand that an office that isn’t occupied isn’t cost-effective but you all really need to come up with better answers or else you’re going to lose your people.

Rich
Rich

Got it. Don’t work for asana.

Wildebohe
Wildebohe

Where do these authors get these asinine ideas? Remote work causes burnout? In what universe?? Before 2020, I was incredibly burnt out all the time, having to commute 45min each way, to sit in an office twiddling my thumbs most of the time waiting for what I needed from others to get my job done, wishing I could be home, then coming home having to cook dinner, then lunch for the next day, clean, do dishes, laundry or anything else I had to do, then log on for my freelance job at night. I barely had time to think or… Read more »

Chrissie
Chrissie

Exactly. Abuse, control and micromanagement of employees. Employees have a lot of power now with the great resignation and employers can’t stand it

FangerZero
FangerZero

I couldn’t read this article because it’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever read. Instead of using 10 apps they’re using 25 so you’re saying the apps need to be more efficient. What could be a 5 minute conversation is now a 25 minute meeting. Then you’re doing it wrong. Do you not know how to screen share? Do you not know how to pick up a phone? Those still exist you know. How do/did global companies work, they’re remote so something clearly remote works. This author would’ve been better off with well extroverts can’t blah blah. Welcome to what my… Read more »

Brian
Brian

This is exactly what I wanted to say and didn’t even have to say it.

Shawn starr
Shawn starr

Nah.. we already switch between many apps and windows wherever we work. And digital whiteboards are far easier to share and maintain than a physical one. More burnt out driving

Marc S Gordon
Marc S Gordon

Ironically my bank rank out of space and we were required to start working remotely two or three days per week. Then Covid-19 became an issue. I have been working remotely since that time. Here are a few suggestions. Start using multiple tools. I switch between zoom and beacon meetings. Prior to video meetings was Skype that has been replaced by teams. In addition, pick up the phone and call. I can’t stand zoom. I dread hearing that corporate drone every time I call in. Take a walk at lunch or maybe get a quick lunch. Life is all around… Read more »

Vladimir
Vladimir

Asana has determined to bring employees to the office and wrote this article without through research to back up their arguments. Why don’t you ask or survey your employees to see what they really want? People did their jobs well in the pandemic working from home and it was good for the companies to still be able to keep the company afloat thanks to technology… Now they are afraid that people found they can have better quality of life by not commuting hours to get to work… Companies that don’t adjust to this new reality will suffer.

Sue
Sue

Here’s the ridiculous and quite frankly stupid thing about all these articles pushing the author’s own personal agenda/opinion about the negatives from working from home — mandatory working from home was never proposed. It is merely granting the freedom of choice to members of the public that is being considered. Most journalists opposing this move are writing only about their own experience. Their own productivity. Don’t be so selfish. We aren’t all in the same circumstances and we certainly aren’t all of exactly the same capabilities. Some can manage themselves and their time with ease, others really can’t. And that’s… Read more »

stevw
stevw

Every study has shown that remote workers are more productive. Did you do any research before coming to your conclusions?

Paul Larripa
Paul Larripa

Can’t understand why organitzations are so afraid of adopting a 100% free hybrid modality of working: some days working from the office, some days working from home, fully linked to the employee’s needs/preferences. If you really care about the employee health and wellbeing that much you should consider letting the employee decide daily what’s best for him/her to carry on with his/her tasks.

Gave Ferguson
Gave Ferguson

It makes so much sense, but they just want to be able to walk right up to you and interrupt you the second they have a thought or need something like a two year old. It’s about impatience and control.