man holding head in frustration
Workfront dove into the impact of automation for the first time in its fourth "State of Enterprise Work" report PHOTO: Jeremiah

Whatever you do, don't ask your employees to "think outside the box."

Forty-seven percent of respondents in "The State of Enterprise Work" called that phrase the most overused in the workplace.

The survey covered a wide range of digital workplace topics and uncovered some common threads, including working from home at least one day a week is now the norm for many and four out of five workers believe digital transformation strategies and automated work will permanently change the workplace.

In fact, the digital workplace is changing so rapidly, 34 percent of respondents to the Workfront survey believed they will soon have to compete with robots, machines and artificial intelligence for jobs. Lehi, Utah-based enterprise and project management software provider Workfront conducted a survey from June to July 2017 of 2001 US knowledge workers from businesses with over 500 employees. 

With such a large survey sample a wide range of conclusions and insights is to be expected. One look at the full report proves that was the case.

Meetings and Email Named Biggest Time Sucks

The research shows, for example, that 69 percent of workers believe automation using machine learning and AI will enable workers to focus on higher work, with only 44 percent currently spending their time focusing on the reason they were employed in the first place.

The two biggest obstacles to work were wasteful meetings (57 percent) and excessive emails (53 percent).

The email findings are significant. The research indicated the real problem was not with emails per se, but the fact that 94 percent of workers used email applications to manage their day-to-day work instead of using project management tools to track accountability, visibility and work.

At this point it's good to remember the business Workfront is in.

“The findings should act as a wakeup call for leadership. Broken down, we saw that of all the emails workers received per day, 30 percent will be junk mail and nearly 40 percent will demand answer or action,” Steven ZoBell, CTO of Workfront said.

“And to take an even deeper look at the root problem of email, this year’s research found that most workers (55 percent) say that the main problem with email is the inability it creates to convey or find critical information as they are having to search for the necessary information.”

Remote Work on the Rise

AI and automation aren't the only factors disrupting the workplace. While remote working isn't anything new, it is becoming more commonplace.

“One could argue that Governors of the British Empire or the Imperial Provinces of the Roman Empire could have been called remote worker. But now it is becoming the norm for the first time,” Shootman added.

“That’s due to the ability we have as humans today to connect and collaborate virtually. We studied worker’s perception of the 'office of the future,' and found 63 percent of respondents said they anticipate 'employers will encourage greater use of collaboration technology (Slack, Yammer, social media, work management software).'”

Already, many workers work at least one day a week away from the office, with 53 percent of respondents saying they believe more work will be done remotely in the future.

Fifty-one percent of workers reported using their mobile phones as mobile offices. Video conferencing also plays a supporting role for remote workers.

Alex Shootman, CEO of Workfront, explained the research aimed to uncover what is happening in the workplace now. It also aimed to identify what kind of technologies workers are using and will use in the future.

“We’re seeing huge transformations to the way we get work done and even how we think about the work we do (purpose and meaning). That’s primarily due to generational changes in the workplace and advancements in technology,” he told CMSWire.

Already Seeing the Effects of Automation

This is the company's fourth annual State of Work report. According to Shootman, though, it is the first time they asked about the role of automation. The responses show an irrefutable shift in how work is being done thanks to an evolution in technology and the people behind the computer. Shootman added:

“Not only do Millennials, and soon-to-be Gen Z, expect to use the latest technology at work, but they’re urging organizations to think about work differently. That means: out with manual data input, status meetings and bottleneck review process, and in with things like automated project creation, approval workflows, critical compliance workflows and updates/notifications.”

ZoBell points out knowledge workers are already using automation at work without realizing it. Those tools include automated status updates, systems that learn the desired patterns and outcomes of work or work templates that use past work to eliminate reinventing the wheel

“A common fear of automation is that artificial intelligence will take away jobs. But we see through this research that workers still believe there will always be the need for 'human touch' in their respective industry and it allows workers to use their true intellectual capacity. Knowledge workers are understanding that an automated workforce doesn’t mean the extinction of humans at work, it means the work we do will be redefined,” Shootman said.

3 Emerging Digital Workplace Trends

ZoBell said the research identified three major trends taking shape:

  1. Email overhaul (it is still the primary tool we’re using, but people can’t stand it)
  2. Scattered sharing tools becoming more streamlined
  3. Overall generational differences on the expectations and adaptation to technology. Major obstacles are potentially overcoming fears of automation.

“We found that knowledge workers overall are ready for more automation at work in the 2017-18 State of Work report, but organizations are still often slow to adapt. The biggest thing to remember is to start small and figure out how work automation can work best for your business,” he said.


Workfront digital workplace infographic
Digital workplace infographicPHOTO: Workfront