Q&A with Asana’s Head of Product: How Asana is building a navigation system for the future workplace
July 22nd, 2021
The past year has seen flexibility and adaptation in the face of large-scale changes—with companies investing in tools like chat, content, scheduling, and more to collaborate. That said, organisations haven’t seen a meaningful uptick in productivity. That’s because all those tools aren’t doing what they’re supposed to—helping teams manage and coordinate work. Instead, they can lead to unnecessary meetings and endless notifications, which deplete focus and sideline the work that really matters.
In a recent conversation with Computer Weekly, Alex Hood, Head of Product at Asana, shared how Asana helps organisations achieve clarity, makes it easier for knowledge workers to align their attention with their intention, and creates a single source of truth that enables teams to navigate work.
Let’s dive in.
Why is work management important to the future of business?
When you think about it, in many situations the tools teams use to work sit in different containers—they may be suited for a single piece of work or type of task, but they operate in silos and don’t connect well with other tools. These tool silos, combined with the increase in remote, distributed, and hybrid work, mean organisations struggle to coordinate. Rather than transparent collaboration, work is actually fragmented between individuals, teams, departments, and tools.
In Asana, a work management platform, teams not only assign and complete work together, they can collaborate extensively via comments, status updates, conversations and likes, projects, tasks, and subtasks. Integrations bring key information from other software into this collaborative space, while calendars or timelines show who is responsible for what, key deadlines, dependencies, and potential conflicts.
By collaborating and working in one place, teams can create a more natural and intuitive way of managing work—a way that brings all the information and tools employees use together, creating clarity over what needs to be done, by when.
What tools have people been using to manage work over the past year? Have you seen new issues arise because of them?
Because of the pandemic, teams have fast-tracked their digital transformation strategies, investing in messaging apps or video conferencing tools. But this hasn’t had a meaningful positive impact on productivity or employee engagement. That’s because, rather than rethinking how we manage work, those tools are mainly being used to digitise in-person processes and create unnecessary noise around work.
For example, where we might have had a five-minute conversation with a coworker by their desk, now we’re holding a 30-minute video call and losing additional time going back and forth to get that in the calendar. We also know teams don’t need more apps for the sake of it. According to our research, on average UK workers use 10 apps a day and switch between them 26 times a day. Rather than adding to that noise, we need more time for the work that matters.
Beyond the clear rise in digital tools, we’ve also seen that hybrid work has accelerated the need to break out of digital silos. Without the physical shared office, it’s even easier for teams to lose sight of co-workers and the bigger mission. Not only does this create disengagement, but a lack of visibility can also lead to duplicated work. In fact, in the same study, we found that duplicated work costs the average UK worker 227 hours a year.
This lack of clarity is only made worse by using legacy tools like spreadsheets to track our work and goals, as people update those documents inconsistently or in different formats. When you’re working asynchronously or in a distributed team, you can’t afford to not know who is working on what by when. However, the answer isn’t more video calls and more messages—we need to fundamentally rethink how we manage work.
As Head of Product at Asana, what are some of the ways you’re looking to address those challenges and how is Asana different?
At a base level, teams need clarity over roles and responsibilities to execute their work effectively, and legacy tools are hindering that. Work management stands out from other solutions that are designed to solve single challenges, like scheduling and attending video calls. Best-in class work management instead creates clarity by aligning teams across all aspects of work, not just a single task or function.
“Best-in class work management instead creates clarity by aligning teams across all aspects of work, not just a single task or function.”
There are a couple of elements to Asana’s approach that make us uniquely able to help businesses achieve clarity and address challenges like duplicated work and information overload. One of the most distinguishing features is the Work Graph.
The Work Graph data model is the underlying technology that powers Asana. It connects all the information from your tasks, goals, and relationships to personalise your workflows—making you more productive and efficient by understanding how you work best.
Our platform connects the members of a team to their Work Graph data model. All of the units of work—like tasks, goals, and agenda items—plus work that happens in other tools—like Zoom, Google Workspace, or Microsoft Office—are brought together in one place. This creates a single source of truth about project progress.
Part of the Work Graph’s power is that many different views and workflows can be built around it. In contrast, our competitors use a container model, where units of work exist only within one view, like a single kanban board. That works well for small projects, but doesn’t scale to run an entire department or organisation, nor does it address issues of duplicated work between different projects and teams.
We also recognise that business users don’t want tools that are unengaging or unintuitive. We aim to delight users who have never used a work management platform or are used to spreadsheets. Meanwhile, by providing administrative controls like data residency in the EU, integrations, and security that the enterprise demands, we are also ensuring we can deliver work management at scale, with the depth of features such scale demands.
At an organisational level, how does a focus on boosting visibility, streamlining processes, and increasing organisational clarity create a tangible business impact?
As we’ve touched on, there’s a real risk that organisations overload employees with too much information, too many apps, and too many meetings, particularly in a hybrid environment. All of this overload can lead to a lack of alignment and duplicated work.
Focusing on visibility, streamlining processes, and increasing organisational clarity isn’t about everyone having to know everything. It’s about people having access to who is doing what by when, understanding how their work slots into the bigger picture, and putting the information and tools they need to achieve that work at their fingertips. At an organisational level, that means more time back in people’s day to focus on that work that really matters. It means less time lost to what we call ‘work about work’, which takes up 61% of people’s time in the UK.
What advice do you have for organisations that want to get started with work management?
There’s a huge range of technology out there targeted at making businesses more efficient or productive and it’s important that organisations have confidence on the return they’ll get from their investment in work management. We’re confident almost any business that hasn’t yet explored work management will benefit from reducing dependencies on tools like email or spreadsheets, and by discovering new ways to manage work that focus on creating organisational clarity, alignment, and engagement.
My advice is that, if people are interested, they should trial work management with one team and see how they can coordinate work more effectively. Once you’ve piloted work management and have (hopefully) seen the benefits, the great thing is that’s only the start. The more of the team’s and organisation’s work that is orchestrated using a work management platform like Asana, the more benefits you’ll continue to unlock.
Want to hear Alex’s conversation with Computer Weekly? Watch the 15-minute video now.