Employees Seek Right Tools, Practices, Leadership to Do Best Work

eWEEK IT MANAGEMENT ANALYSIS: Many companies have turned to digital tools and apps for help, yet 42% of employees feel the number of apps their companies provide actually make them less productive.


More than ever, employees are under pressure to work faster and more efficiently. While technology is driving much of the change, it can also be a hindrance to getting work done. The same tools that enable communication and collaboration are affecting productivity.

Findings from Workfront's 2020 State of Work report show the modern workforce is ready to move forward toward greater productivity. At the same time, employees want to be more engaged with their jobs and make a strategic impact, rather than simply working for a paycheck. The majority (89%) of those surveyed in the report said their role matters and that they feel a great responsibility to their jobs.

Companies with the happiest and most productive employees share four fundamental attributes, according to Workfront. First, leaders define their company strategy at all levels of the organization. Second, they actively manage work. Third, they invest in technologies that help employees get work done. Fourth, they focus on organizational agility as opposed to just making work easier.

Workfront surveyed 3,750 office workers at companies with 500 or more employees who work on a computer and collaborate with others. The survey was conducted internationally between July 8 and July 12, 2019, across Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S. This is the sixth year Workfront ran the survey to understand how people perform and collaborate in large companies and how technology is affecting work.

Let’s dive into the 2020 State of Work report’s main findings.

Employees Want to Make an Impact

When Workfront asked its survey participants to choose a word that best describes the job they do, the majority chose “accountable.” Out of those respondents, 91% said they take pride in their work, and 78% said their job represents more than a paycheck.

Still, companies can do more when it comes to recognizing their employees’ hard work. Instead of focusing on deliverables, 65% of employees wish they were rewarded more on results. In the U.S. and the U.K., nearly seven out of 10 employees expressed the need for more recognition.

Digital Tools Are Interrupting Work

One thing that hasn’t changed is how much time employees spend on low-value activity. During the past six years, Workfront consistently found only 40% of the workday is dedicated to primary job duties and the rest is spent on tasks that surround work. Wasteful meetings are the biggest problem, but poor work prioritization is also to blame.

Many companies have turned to digital tools and apps for help, yet 42% of employees feel the number of apps their companies provide actually make them less productive. Email, instant messaging and social media are all reasons why workers are interrupted on an average of 13.9 times a day. Employees in a constant state of interruption are more likely to feel stressed and less likely to focus on their work.

Companies Can Do Better With Tech

Having digital tools in place is not enough. According to Workfront’s report, 87% of employees want their company leaders to reconsider how technology is being used and do better. Company leaders should ask themselves: “How can I help my employees become more productive with the tools we have?”

Meanwhile, 84% of respondents think companies are missing opportunities by not moving to modern tech. In fact, 91% crave modern tech solutions and 88% see technology as an important part of work.

Today’s workers want the same user experience and personalization that they’ve come to expect as consumers. Workfront found 86% of employees want technology that resembles Amazon and Instagram, while 94% said searching at work should be as simple as using Google.

Work Management Is Necessary

The right technology can make a big difference. Employees think of work as strategic and wish they had one centralized place to see all work across the company. That’s why 71% of respondents want a single destination for seeing and managing work; however, 69% don’t have that type of solution.

Workfront’s report results confirm that it’s time for companies to consider work management as a practice and begin treating work as an important asset. Companies already manage their assets through human resources management, financial management and customer relationship management. So, why not work management?

New Leadership Wanted

If it were up to employees, work management would be an executive leadership role. The biggest difference from last year’s report findings is employees want an executive-level position that orchestrates and drives work, instead of having technology for technology’s sake.

Workfront asked respondents how they would feel about having a Chief Work Officer to coordinate people, work, content, process and performance, and oversee the entire experience of working. The results show 67% of respondents want a Chief Work Officer, but 66% said their company has yet to hire such a person. 

There appears to be a disconnect between how companies are currently approaching the work experience and what employees need to boost productivity. Here are my recommendations based on the needs expressed in the report:

  • Focus on ensuring visibility. Know exactly what the company strives to achieve and make the strategy clear to each employee. This information has to be backed by data and well-communicated, so each person recognizes their role in the company.
  • Use data to make decisions. Less than half (46%) of employees surveyed by Workfront said company decisions are made based on data. The rest aren’t exactly sure how decisions are made. Data is key to tracking the performance of teams and projects, and decisions are based on real-time information.
  • Elevate work to a more strategic level. Company leaders should align multifaceted projects around a common goal and focus on results, not just managing tasks.
  • Invest in tools to manage modern work. A modern work management application platform that combines project management, intelligent work automation and in-context collaboration can give every person on a team a clearer understanding of what they must do, so they can get started faster.
  • Reward your employees. Workers want to make an impact and take pride in what they do. It’s fine to focus on project milestones, tasks and individual deliverables. But it’s just as important to incentivize and reward employees for accomplishing tasks, finishing projects or achieving a positive outcome for the company.

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.