Industry Insights

Overcoming disruption in a distributed world: Insights from the Anatomy of Work Index 2021

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Every knowledge worker—all 1.25 billion of them worldwide—has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, for many, the abrupt shift to remote work triggered an increase in the adoption of collaboration tools and an acceleration of digital transformations.

In 2019, we released our first Anatomy of Work Index to analyze how people spend time at work and the factors shaping those habits. Last spring, we launched the Anatomy of Work: Remote Teams Survey to examine how knowledge workers were coping with the sudden switch to remote and distributed work.

Today, we’re launching the Anatomy of Work Index 2021, building off our previous surveys and taking into account all that has changed—or stayed the same. In this report, we investigate how work has transformed in a world still grappling with the effects of the global pandemic and what steps must be taken for resilience moving forward.

To understand how the office has transformed, what’s working and what’s not, and to shine a light on better approaches, we analyzed the attitudes and behaviors of over 13,000 knowledge workers in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the U.K., and the U.S. 

The Asana Anatomy of Work Index 2021 explores how individuals, teams, and entire organizations can bring clarity to the chaos of work, reset for resilience, and flourish as they continue to adapt. Here’s a look at some of the key insights from around the world.

Growing workloads and longer days

In a world that has changed so much this past year, work about work continues to dominate. Even with the shift to remote work for so many, knowledge workers continue to spend 60% of their day on work about work—not the skilled job they were hired to do.

What else has stayed the same—or not—year-over-year? According to respondents, the top barrier to productivity in 2020 was their growing workload rather than too many emails and messages to respond to, which was the case in previous years.

Piling on top of growing workloads are longer days spent working. While we found that teams have fewer ad-hoc conversations, like hallway catch-ups, this hasn’t resulted in shorter working days. Casual chats have instead been replaced with unnecessary meetings, costing individuals 157 hours in the past year. 

Although knowledge workers around the world had to adapt to similar challenges regarding remote and distributed work, each country had several unique responses:

  • Employees in Australia and New Zealand are more likely than average to feel heard by their organization, and are more optimistic about the year ahead in work.
  • French workers are spending the most time on work about work each week (nearly 66% of their time), and are also experiencing more difficulties in switching off at the end of the day due to remote work.
  • Only 13% of German employees feel completely heard by their organization, with one in three (32%) wanting more flexible hours when working remotely.
  • Japanese workers rely on written communication more than any other country and, as a result, grapple with messages and emails as their number one distraction.
  • Knowledge workers in Singapore have the longest working week (over 42 hours) and are the country most likely to work beyond 5:30 p.m.
  • The U.K. misses the fewest deadlines out of all countries, but indexes high on likelihood to have experienced imposter syndrome in the past year. 
  • The highest of all countries, nearly nine in ten (89%) knowledge workers in the U.S. experienced burnout in 2020, with employees missing 36% of all deadlines each week.

Looking ahead: How will we work in 2021?

The new year marks a chance for new beginnings and is also an opportunity to better equip individuals and teams by providing meaningful job engagement and opportunities to accelerate their careers. 

So what will work look like in 2021?

On the individual level, employees want work that’s personally and professionally fulfilling, no matter where they are working from. Respondents in the survey cite engaging and enjoyable work as the number one motivator to achieve their best work, followed by adding value to the business and progressing their career in the new year. On an organizational level, providing clarity—from the top to the bottom—and a consolidation of tools will be key for success.

“Before COVID-19, there was a rapidly rising business imperative for increased clarity and alignment. Clarity is really difficult for teams to achieve even when they’re in the office, but it’s particularly challenging when working remotely,” said Dustin Moskovitz, CEO, Asana. “Going forward, some companies will continue working from home, some will return to the office, and some will do everything else in between. Across that entire spectrum, Asana has an important role to play in driving clarity for teams, no matter where they do their work.”

How to become a resilient, agile organization in 2021

While the reality of where and when we work has transformed, 2020 has shown us how the way we manage work has failed to keep up. Teams and organizations have struggled to coordinate. Work about work has remained prevalent, creating chaos, confusion, and burnout. This misalignment, in turn, is making it difficult for everyone to do their best work and for organizations to succeed.

To build agility and resilience, organizations must confront these issues and adapt in the year ahead. Moving forward, work management is a critical tool for workplaces to flourish.

“With Asana, we’ve been able to cut meetings by 90% and improve productivity of the team by 40%.”

Mark Fazio, General Manager, MATE

By empowering entire organizations with the core tenants of teamwork—clarity, transparency, and accountability—work management can help take us from surviving to thriving in the year ahead.

To learn more, download the entire Anatomy of Work Index 2021.

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