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A new report from Slack reveals that companies worldwide are not taking full advantage of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation that could unlock new levels of employee productivity. Based on responses from more than 18,000 desk workers globally, the Slack State of Work report found that only 23% of companies invest in technology to improve productivity, and only 27% use AI tools to achieve this goal.
According to the study, many organizations still operate with outdated work practices, tools, and approaches that prevent employees from reaching their full potential.
“Many companies are stuck in old ways of thinking about productivity,” Christina Janzer, SVP at Slack research and analytics, told VentureBeat. “Part of the confusion comes from a growing schism between leaders and teams over how to properly define and measure productivity in today’s environment. Organizations need to take a more holistic approach, and that includes enabling employees to experiment with tools and technology to drive better results.”
Three trends shaping modern workplaces
The report aims to highlight three trends that are shaping the modern workplace and driving employee productivity: the underutilization of new technologies such as AI and automation, the transformation of office work and design in the era of hybrid work, and the direct influence of employee engagement and talent development on productivity.
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Slack found that companies that have embraced AI are 90% more likely to report increased productivity levels than those that have not. In addition, the majority of employees surveyed (77%) believe that automating routine tasks, such as obtaining expense report approvals, would enhance their productivity.
Despite this potential, 60% of employees report that their company has not implemented AI tools to support their productivity, and 43% say that their team has not adopted any means of automation to make their work processes more efficient or easier.
“We’re just beginning to tap into the potential of AI at work,” said Janzer. “However, our survey shows a majority of employees are interested in testing it out. Fifty-three percent of workers said using generative AI would improve their productivity, even though most aren’t currently using it at work.”
The worldwide survey was conducted as part of a collaborative effort between experience management platform Qualtrics and Salesforce’s Slack from February 24 to March 21, 2023. The sample size comprised 18,149 individuals from various industries including both desk workers and executives from regions including the U.S. (3,115), Australia (2,034), France (2,039), Germany (2,032), the UK (2,027), India (2,039), Singapore (1,341), Japan (1,658) and South Korea (1,864).
The essence of AI and automation for streamlining productivity
Janzer highlighted that most respondents (77%) acknowledge the benefits of automating repetitive tasks in enhancing productivity. However, the study shows that only 45% of teams have implemented automation to simplify or optimize their work processes.
“That’s a mismatch, and it could cost companies that don’t move quickly to catch up,” she said.
The survey findings indicate that several companies still depend on antiquated methods to enhance productivity and monitor employee performance. Employees spend approximately 32% of their time on tasks that do not align with company objectives.
“Companies like Stack Overflow look at a blend of inputs and outputs to measure their progress,” said Janzer. “Because, regardless of how much performative work you eliminate, most of us can think of some repetitive work that we do that isn’t valuable but has to be done in our jobs. That’s where AI and automation become extremely valuable.”
Missed productivity gains
Janzer explained that numerous organizations neglect the potential of utilizing AI and automation to optimize and simplify tedious tasks, leading to missed productivity gains. This is significant, as desk workers who have implemented automation report saving up to one month of work per year.
“Companies like LG AI Research in Seoul are using generative AI to improve knowledge workers’ efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, providing insights and recommendations for decision-making, and enabling better collaboration so that their employees can focus on tasks that require human intelligence and creativity,” Janzer added. “We’re learning more about the potential benefits of these tools every day. So, companies who may not have jumped on board yet will want to catch up fast to keep up.”
Slack cited the success of music platform Spotify’s advertising team, which utilized automated workflows to bolster collaboration across account teams. This initiative resulted in a 40% increase in productivity by mitigating the need for frequent meetings and reducing email traffic.
Janzer emphasized that it is crucial to prioritize trust and safety when utilizing AI or any other work tool as we continue to uncover the benefits of these technologies. To support the responsible use of AI among customers Salesforce has developed a strong focus on building tools that prioritize accuracy, safety, honesty, empowerment and sustainability.
Moreover, Janzer said that Salesforce has established an office of ethical and humane use to address inquiries and apprehensions about the use of technologies, AI included.
Effective ways to enhance workplace collaboration
The study shows that one-third of executives track metrics like work hours and email communication, which only 15% of employees perceive as helpful in improving productivity.
“There’s much more to productivity than inputs alone,” said Janzer. “It’s key to build a culture that measures performance based on results instead of solely tracking inputs like hours worked or emails sent.”
The report also emphasizes the significance of enabling effective hybrid work by providing employees with innovative means to collaborate and communicate. According to the survey, employees require a flexible work schedule (52%), a distinct workspace with more meeting rooms and quiet areas (32%) and superior technology to collaborate from any location (80%) to boost productivity.
However, only 21% of executives are modifying the physical office to enhance productivity, and merely 19% encourage asynchronous work, which assists in reducing meeting times.
The post-pandemic office role
The role of the office has shifted in the post-pandemic world, said Janzer. In the past, the office was the primary location for all work, but now, employees primarily want to use the space to collaborate.
“The crucial factor is to create workplace policies with purposeful intent,” she added. “That includes defining core collaboration hours, a block of time when teammates are expected to be available for meetings and real-time responses, as well as time when people have more flexibility to work in a way that’s best for them — whether that’s stepping away from their computer to whiteboard, or doing heads-down focus work.”
Janzer mentioned that integrating apps directly into Slack can help teams reduce context switching and complete all their work in a single tool, regardless of their location. Additionally, Slack’s upcoming generative AI feature SlackGPT will allow employees to summarize conversations and huddles, making catching up on unread messages received during working hours easier, especially for distributed teams.
The importance of mental well-being for productivity
Another intriguing finding from the survey was that job satisfaction, engagement and mental wellness are top factors that contribute to productivity.
As a result, Salesforce recommends that leaders should focus on both productivity and wellness to achieve optimal results and believes that incorporating AI and automation tools can be a critical component in attaining this goal.
“Transparent, two-way conversations between leaders and employees help companies understand how people feel about their work and workload and whether they have the proper environment to thrive, said Janzer. “Setting employees up for success includes creating clarity around expectations, setting up a time for focus work, and adopting the right tools and technology. So, do not overlook the importance of motivating teams to create a healthy and productive environment.”
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