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The State of Work in 2023

A new global survey highlights the many obstacles to productivity facing desk workers today – and the new, better ways that leaders can support them

By the team at Slack23rd June 2023Illustration by Viet Huynh

When we released our first State of Work report in 2019, the biggest issue facing organisations seemed relatively simple: aligning workers around a common set of goals. While the challenge of alignment persists, strong economic headwinds and advancements in workplace tools have leaders asking a far more pressing question: How can I make my organisation more productive?

To answer that question, Slack commissioned a global survey that explores how companies are navigating productivity, automation and flexibility today. We partnered with Qualtrics to survey more than 18,000 desk workers in nine countries at every rung of the corporate ladder. We discovered antiquated ways of working, misaligned perceptions between employers and employees, unexpected barriers to productivity and more.

Take a look at some of our findings below, and head over to State of Work to download the full report.

We need to redefine productivity

The word ‘productivity’ sends mixed messages. For some executives, productivity implies a desire to maximise worker output to increase profit. But for the majority of desk workers, pressures around productivity bring to mind images of long nights and work-filled weekends, leaving many focused on showing the ‘effort’ going into their work instead of the results coming out of it.

Desk workers are validated in their concerns. Our survey found that, in practice, productivity is more about generating high inputs (such as resources used, time spent at work and code written) to appear productive, versus outputs (including goals met and revenue generated).

  • 27%

    of executives rely on visibility and activity metrics to measure productivity

  • 53%

    of desk workers feel pressure to respond to messages quickly, even if sent after working hours

  • 63%

    make an effort to keep their status active online, even if they’re not working at the moment

According to Prashanth Chandrasekar, the CEO of software developer platform Stack Overflow, smart leaders will develop productivity metrics that assess both inputs and outputs. ‘Anyone can game a single metric,’ he says, ‘so you must consider a blend of leading and lagging indicators. The lagging indicator is what happened. It’s “reading the news”, and if you look at it in isolation, it’s not very helpful – whereas leading indicators give you a proactive look at the speed and progress the company is making.’

Technology has advanced beyond the way that we work today

AI and automation have long promised to help organisations operate more efficiently, and they have seized the spotlight thanks to major leaps in recent months. But few workers are actually using these innovations to drive productivity.

  • 3.6

    hours are saved each week by those using automations at work

  • 77%

    say that being able to automate routine tasks would greatly improve their productivity

  • 27%

    of desk workers say that they use AI today, and they are...

  • 90%

    ...more likely to report higher levels of productivity than those who have not adopted AI

Organisational adoption lags behind employee interest in using innovations such as AI and automation, and could cost companies that don’t move quickly enough to align.

Headshot of Lidiane Jones, CEO of Slack

We’ve already seen hints of the incredible productivity that generative AI (trained on public data) can unlock at work. The real power of this technology will be realised when companies’ AI tools can also analyse and act on the valuable knowledge that they’ve curated internally about their own customers, people and projects.

Lidiane JonesCEO, Slack

Flexibility in when you work matters

In the age of hybrid work, flexibility consistently ranks first for what desk workers want. While conversations on workplace flexibility often centre on work location, more than half (52%) of desk workers say that a flexible work schedule is one of the best ways that employers can support their productivity. However, the issue is far more nuanced than giving people free rein over their schedules and specific working locations. The key is to create workplace policies with intention. Is it useful to be in the office when no one else on your team is there? Are there certain tasks that benefit from an office setting?

  • 45%

    of desk workers say that brainstorming is more productive when done in the office

  • 71%

    say that working the same hours as their teammates improves their productivity

  • 60%

    think that being in the office at the same time as those outside their team improves their productivity

  • 28%

    think that ‘shallow work’, such as answering emails, is better done in the office

As we evolve beyond the abrupt office policies that were a reaction to the pandemic, it is time to figure out the right way to commit to the future of work. At Salesforce and Slack, we practice Maker Weeks, conduct asynchronous discussions whenever possible and have anchor days, when employees agree within their teams to come into the office.

‘Each organisation needs its own “scientists” who are running experiments and studying the organisation. This has to be done together, because everything is symbiotic. It’s not about changing the individual, it’s about changing the team,’ says Leslie Perlow, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership in the Organisational Behaviour Unit at Harvard Business School.

Employee happiness pays off

Think employee happiness and productivity aren’t related? According to the survey, those who reported feeling more productive today than before the pandemic have a few things in common: they’re happy and engaged, and they understand how their roles fit into the company’s mission at large.

  • 82%

    say that feeling happy and engaged at work is a key driver of their productivity

  • 22%

    say that too much chaos at work is negatively impacting their ability to be productive

  • 67%

    say that having predictable blocks of time when everyone is disconnected (such as after 18:00 and on weekends) would improve their productivity

On the surface, these may seem like intangibles, but employee experience matters in myriad ways: talent retention, company culture and business unit performance among them. When rethinking this experience, make sure that you have the right tools and thought-out perks that empower employees to reach their productive potential.

Where do we go from here?

Modern work has reached a new inflection point. While many of us face economic uncertainties and tighter operating constraints, we’re also seeing the acceleration of new technologies such as generative AI, access to low-code and no-code automation, and the rise of productivity platforms.

To seize the potential of all these new technologies, leaders need to apply lessons from the grand work experiment of the past four years and adopt policies that embrace a new, more nuanced definition of productivity.

Ready to unlock more productivity within your organisation? Download the full 2023 State of Work report for critical insights, data and best practices.

An infographic with statistics about modern work, productivity and automation adoption

 

Footnotes

  1. Slack conducted this unbranded, global survey in partnership with Qualtrics between 24th February and 21st March 2023. The total sample size was 18,149 desk workers and executives across sectors in the following countries: the United States (3,115), Australia (2,034), France (2,039), Germany (2,032), the United Kingdom (2,027), India (2,039), Singapore (1,341), Japan (1,658) and South Korea (1,864).

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