More than ever, work is in flux. Each year brings a slew of new business apps — technology that replaces outdated solutions such as filing cabinets and spreadsheets. This transformation brings many upsides in the form of increased automation, but it also comes with a new set of problems in the form of a digital crisis. Functions and teams often become disconnected and fail to execute together, work processes operate at different paces across a single organization, and data is trapped in silos.
We explore these issues in our annual State of Work Report — now in its fifth year. This year we surveyed more than 2,000 knowledge workers in the US and more than 2,000 workers in the UK to better understand current views on work. We gathered hundreds of data points in the process and found a workforce that believes their work matters but is sometimes frustrated by the changes that come with the digital transformation.
Download the US and UK reports for free. No form fill required.
As you read the State of Work, you might ask whether the data describes you or your team members — or both. Do you know someone who has lost a job because of automation? Do you feel so swamped with day-to-day tasks that you don’t have time to think? Are you looking for digital management tools? If so, this data should help you feel understood. You’re not alone.
Below, we’ve outlined seven recommendations for you and your team based on the findings in the State of Work. We hope you can immediately put the data to use to make your workday easier and entirely avoid the headache that can come with a digital transformation.
1. Improve your productivity by spending more time on your primary tasks.
Our data shows that emails and pointless meetings topped the list of things that keep knowledge workers from getting work done. In this vein, according to the State of Work data, we say we spend only 40% of our workday on primary tasks.
How can you optimize work to spend more time on what’s most important?
First, you might list all the activities you do at work today, whether it be answering emails, responding to notifications, sitting in meetings, and so on.
Second, divide your full list of tasks into primary, secondary, and tertiary tasks.
Third, estimate the percent of your work week that you spend on each type of task (primary, secondary, and tertiary).
With a clear sense of how your time shakes out, see what you can do to eliminate secondary tasks in favor of primary tasks. Can you make the default for all meetings 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes? Can you unsubscribe from all unnecessary emails? Can you practice time blocking? Can you rearrange your schedule so you have more time to work in an interruption-free environment? What about finding a work management tool that will automate as many menial tasks as possible?
How much would your work output improve if you were to focus, say, 80% of your time on your primary tasks? Why not do what it takes to get there?
2. Deliberately carve out time for innovation.
While 64% of workers say their workplace regularly asks employees to think of how they can do things in a completely new way, a full 58% say they’re so swamped with getting day-to-day work done that they don’t have time to think beyond their daily to-do list.
You want to innovate. To do that, you need time to innovate. So, if you’re in a management position, encourage your team to schedule ample time to brainstorm and reflect on ways to reach extraordinary goals by doing their work in a completely new way. Remember that the point isn’t to have a team that seems busy. The point is to reach results that wildly exceed prior expectations. That requires innovation.
When the writer and work futurist Sophie Wade saw this data, she said, “Managers are recognizing that it is increasingly important for their employees to participate and be involved in transformations. They want workers to synthesize data inputs, conceive and test new ideas and practices, and adapt in order for the business to stay competitive in the tech-accelerated evolving marketplace. However, Workfront’s research indicates a concerning disconnect — that the majority of managers are not proactively supporting their teams with coaching or identifying specific time to develop new concepts, transition to new practices, and be effective in their new work environment.”
In light of Wade’s comments, the key is to make innovation part of your culture from top to bottom.
3. Check in with your colleagues.
Our report found that 86% of us don’t have a clear sense of what our colleagues are working on. In addition, we consistently rank ourselves as the most productive employees at work — ahead of co-workers and even more ahead of company leadership.
How does your team compare? Try an anonymous, simple survey like this to set a baseline for improvement for years to come.
Another approach is to provide visibility into the work everyone’s doing so that team members can realize how much work their team members do. If you have a way to track all the work that’s happening across your company, your team will have a clearer sense for who deserves respect and who doesn’t. You’ll also be better able to celebrate success and accomplishments, which will in turn improve employee morale. When team members can see and celebrate the work their co-workers are doing, you’ll end up with a far stronger team dynamic and get more work done in the process.
4. Help your team find purpose.
On average, we say that 61% of the work we do matters to us personally, with Baby Boomers being more likely than Millennials to say so (67% vs. 53%).
Is your team above or below those averages?
To find out, ask your employees what percentage of their work they feel matters to them personally. If you discover that people don’t sense that their work has purpose, the answer might be as simple as clearly spelling out (either in a weekly update against goals, or in your quarterly planning) exactly how each project ties to the purpose of the company.
You might also invite team members who have a clear sense of purpose to give a presentation on the topic. Their enthusiasm might be contagious. A small tweak here and there might spell the difference between someone excelling at their job and someone despairing over it.
5. Embrace automation.
86% of U.S. workers believe that the rise of automation will help us think of work in new and innovative ways. Still, the landscape is changing quickly, as 48% of workers say they know people who have already lost jobs because of automation.
In the digital age, there’s no excuse to not embrace technology to help you solve problems and improve productivity — especially in instances where you can use tech solutions rather than adding headcount. So do what it takes to do your due diligence and find the right technology to automate menial tasks. This will enable you to show your team members how automation can free their day for more meaningful and strategic work, which will in turn improve their sense of purpose.
About these data points on automation in the State of Work report, the UK work futurist Sharon O'Dea commented, “With automation becoming more sophisticated, it’s no surprise so many report knowing people who have lost jobs as a result of it. But it’s rarely as simple as “robots are taking our jobs.” Rather, it’s often the result of changes to technology and consumer preference happening side by side. In banking, for instance, many processes and interactions which were previously done by humans are now automated. That has made banking quicker, easier and more convenient, but fewer people visiting bank branches has led to closures and job losses. However, this same automation is creating new, fast-growing companies — and new jobs. I’m confident that, as in previous waves of automation, for every job lost new possibilities will be created elsewhere.”
On this note, know that no one wants to feel like their job is on the cusp of being automated. So if you’re a leader, train your employees in new skill sets that will get them ahead of the technology curve and keep them as genuine contributors to your business. If you train them properly now, they will likely grow their respect for you and be more committed to your cause.
6. Find digital tools to manage modern work.
51% of respondents say they’re not using a work management tool but would like to.
At the same time, perhaps surprisingly, very few people (4%) say they’re looking for more data. Instead, they say they’re drowning in data. In light of this, see if you can make better use of the data you have rather than focusing on gathering more of it for the sake of having more data.
You might also teach people how to use an operational system of record (OSR) so that your team can work faster for years going forward. Find ways to make sure everyone on your team knows exactly when work has been assigned to them so they can get to work on it right away.
7. Prepare for the future of work.
Only 34% of U.S. workers believe that within 5 years their company will be able to track almost all work that is being done in the company, and even fewer believe they’ll be able to see how their work tracks to their company’s strategic initiatives (26%) or the bottom line (24%).
In light of this, you should work to get ahead of tracking work across your company. With a third or fewer workers saying that they believe companies will be able to track how work aligns with initiatives, you have the opportunity to stand out by doing just that.
You might also use small teams to experiment with cutting-edge technology so you can analyze the tradeoffs before fully committing. In this same vein, you can start laying the foundation for remote work, as 38% of employees believe it will be commonplace within 5 years. You might run a trial period to become familiar with the tradeoffs of remote work and see if you can effectively manage the situation as a team.
After seeing this data about the future, the speaker Brian Fanzo said, “To truly scale and leverage the changing workforce we must shift how we measure the success of today's workers as most companies have embraced and empowered today's workers to work where they want and how they want while still measuring the same data of the past. This shift also requires a new level of transparency between the company and workforce as much of the issues today revolve around the workforce not knowing what they're being measured on just as much as the measurement not matching up with the changing future of work.”
To work smarter, know the state of work.
Put simply, the more you understand the state of work today, the better chance you’ll have to improve your work abilities and get the upper hand on your competitors. That’s a primary reason we created this report five years ago and continue to do so. We’re interested in anything that can improve the state of enterprise work during the digital transformation.
Get Blog updates straight to your inbox