Asana, study from Stanford University

Asana has unveiled a host of new features for its work management platform, aiming to eliminate distractions and boost worker focus — with an emphasis on asynchronous video communication.

“The rapid shift to distributed work has fuelled distraction and destruction for a billion and a quarter information workers, with messaging and meetings at an all-time high,” said Alex Hood, chief product officer at Asana, stressing that the new features better align worker attention with intention.

Asana’s Video Messaging, for instance, is designed to help users cut back on meetings and minimise video fatigue; with intelligent My Tasks, workers can better prioritise tasks; and with a Smart Calendar assistant, users can better focus on what they’re doing.

“Focused work has fallen by the wayside and in our own surveys of UK information workers, 80 per cent of folks tell us that they really work out of their inbox and have their communication apps open all the time, while 75 per cent feel pressured to multi-task,” Hood said. “Seven out of 10, and I’m surprised it’s not more frankly, have experienced burnout in 2020.”

Wayne Kurtzman, research director for social and collaboration at IDC, said that by targeting  communications and workflows, Asana can help customers get a better sense of who is doing what and when, while bolstering the platform’s ease of use.

“These features improve the work experience for every user and that helps the hybrid workforce. Based on the feature velocity of Asana, there is a lot more to come,” he said.

Promise of asynchronous communication

With today’s announcement, Asana is pushing the benefits of asynchronous communication. Hood argued that a lot of lost work time comes from things like Zoom calls, which can turn what would have been a five-minute conversation in the office kitchen into a half-hour video chat.

“That’s the way software works, it creates these calendar slots,” he said. “So we’ve created a new take on video communication in this new world, which is async video communication.”

Asana, study from Stanford University

The Video Messaging feature offers the engagement of live video while undercutting the need for more meetings. Working with Vimeo, Video Messaging “converts communication into accountability and action, with the ability to share updates and show work to teammates — anytime and anywhere,” the company said.

Video Messaging lets users record short videos of themselves and/or their screen directly in Asana to help document important initiatives across teams and time zones. Automated video transcripts are housed in Asana’s proprietary Work Graph data model, allowing users to search for and share audio transcripts, better convey context and exchange ideas.

Hood acknowledged that video fatigue has been a real issue in the past year – as reflected in a study from Stanford University — which is what Video Messaging important. “In a way, that [burnout] is one of the problems we’re solving here,” he said.

“By introducing async video to Asana customers, we will reduce the overall amount of video consumption required to do their job,” Hood explains. “In three minutes, folks can explain themselves and the full conveyance of what they seek to communicate, without having to call a 30-minute meeting.”

It will also allow people to better understand what the plan is and who’s doing what by when, meaning users don’t have to jot down notes or have a follow up meeting.

Kurtzman said Asana is early to market with the asynchronous communications effort, and while it might be a love-it-or-hate it feature for some people, he expects its use to grow over time — with rival platforms rushing to do the same.

“The sync and async communications will take getting used to for some, but long term, it enables the right tool for the moment and potentially saves meetings and emails. And it feeds the Asana Work Graph as each is part of the team record,” Kurtzman said. “Performative Exhaustion (a.k.a. video fatigue) is real. But, when we have control of our own camera, like in selfies, it’s not as bad. There’s something to be said for that.”

Asana’s other productivity tools

Hood said My Tasks is a personal prioritisation system that combines users’ to-do lists with their broader team’s work. Asama customers can organise their work in Kanban, list, and calendar versions of their personal tasks to focus their attention while using automation to stay on track.

For example, automation rules can organise users’ tasks based on a due date or alert them when a teammate has completed work that unblocks a dependent task.

The new Smart Calendar Assistant Integration aims to reduce clashes between focused work time and demanding activities such as meetings and video calls. Asana now integrates with Clockwise, a leading smart calendar assistant, to easily schedule tasks into focus time without leaving Asana.

By entering a time of day and the amount of time needed to complete a task, Clockwise will automatically reserve focus time. Once that’s been scheduled, customers will see the calendar event directly in their Google Calendar.

As for the introduction of an Asana desktop app, that came after strong customer interest. Hood called it “the no. 1 requested customer feature” and said it should help users block out distractions from other programs and avoid having to switch between multiple tabs.

Asana also rolled out a new Dark Mode feature on desktop, mobile, and web to help reduce eye strain, making it easier to focus on work.

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