Right tech could be the saviour of global productivity

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, a quarter of a century ago, offered up the dictum: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it’s almost everything.” Today, productivity is a concern for businesses globally. The UK struggles to navigate a productivity puzzle of its very own, though. Productivity levels dropped in the third quarter, despite the number of working hours actually increasing.

The so-called productivity challenge has many asking if humanity is running out of ideas, and whether we’re losing our ability to turn new technologies into rising incomes and economic growth. Recently, chancellor Philip Hammond, mentioned this issue six times in his UK Budget speech. A lack of investment, particularly in technology, is being touted as one of the root causes.

“Organisations are questioning productivity at a time when there is a whole paradigm shift going on in the way we do work,” explains Chris Farinacci, head of business at Asana, a leading global work management platform.

“There’s been an exponential increase in human collaboration, at the same time as a proliferation in the tools and the technologies we
use; combine this with a rise in the complexity of work itself. All this can stifle productivity.”

When individuals and teams are working towards the same mission, productivity levels will inevitably rise

When the first industrial revolution kicked in, the market for coal was cheap, yet labour was expensive. Enterprises then invented novel ways to use coal-fired, steam machines to make the most out of their workers. Fast forward to the 21st century, as the digital revolution roots itself firmly in the global economy, software firms are now trying to do exactly the same by making the most of human effort through new technologies.

“This message is now resounding well with the C-suite, including chief information officers and chief technology officers. As businesses and the worlds they operate in evolve, they must move quickly to stay competitive. Leaders are beginning to acknowledge that teams need the right technology to do this,” explains Mr Farinacci, whose company now has 50,000 paying customers and more than one million organisations that have signed up for its free product in 194 countries.

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, with depressed wages, in the UK and United States for instance, it has made sense for many corporations to rely on labour rather than pumping money into capital to boost output. This involves hiring someone to do a job rather than, say, buying a software solution or capital equipment. However, at this point in the economic cycle, with wages starting to climb, it makes more sense to invest in technology that makes workers more valuable and their office hours more productive.

According to a study by Asana, roughly two thirds of employees at UK companies (63 per cent) spend more than eight hours a week, or the equivalent of the average working day, looking for information or trying to understand the status of work they should be doing, instead of actually getting work done. “It is a huge issue that goes to the very top of every business,” says Mr Farinacci whose product is used by Sky News, Financial Times and London’s National Gallery, to manage everything from marketing campaigns to the goals of sales teams and product launches.

One of Asana’s main objectives is to eradicate the “work about work” that many of us get sucked into on a daily basis, including endless emails and meetings, phone conferences and project updates. Mr Farinacci says: “Asana does this by acting as the GPS for your organisation, ensuring everyone knows the plan of record and is updated as each piece comes together. We know the best teams have clarity of purpose, plan and responsibility. Work about work is what happens when these elements are absent and teams fail to achieve what they’re capable of.”

When the co-founders of Asana, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, began developing the tool a decade ago, collaboration in the workplace was still very much in its infancy. Now it’s everywhere. Teams collaborate across many platforms, many of which are siloed, and with numerous different teams and individuals. As a result, we’re now grappling with more information at work than ever before. Content hubs give us places to house and organise our information, and communication tools enable teams to collaborate in real-time with ease. Yet they fail adequately to address the next step of effective collaboration: co-ordination.

“We believe Asana is the missing piece of this collaboration puzzle. It helps people spend less time co-ordinating information, so they can focus on the tasks that really matter and be more productive,” says Mr Farinacci.

With increasing ways to collaborate around work, maintaining clarity is imperative. Asana’s research reveals that 51 per cent of UK employees say they would be more productive if they saw how their work aligned with overall business objectives. Tools such as Asana encourage new behaviours towards transparency around work, where everyone in a business or team knows who is doing what, by when and, most importantly, why.

“By giving teams and individuals absolute clarity of purpose, plan and responsibility, in that order, employees will complete their best work. Without these considerations, it’s near on impossible to get every employee in an organisation aligned,” says Mr Farinacci. “When individuals and teams are working towards the same mission, productivity levels will inevitably rise.”

The next frontier in managing workflows is to employ artificial intelligence and machine-learning to help humans function better. Asana is developing algorithms and software tools that will enable corporations to run optimally.

In 2019, Asana plans to launch a new product update called Workload. Drawing on intelligence around an individual’s unique and variable skills, interests and schedule, Workload will enable team leads to optimise resources based on human attributes. Mr Farinacci concludes: “We envision a future where every team member is completing the work they’re best suited to. The result will be happier teams and optimum levels
of productivity.”

We could soon see a new phase in productivity growth. Watch this space.

For further information please visit www.asana.com