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Productivity killer: This workplace distraction ranked worst by Microsoft

By Joey Chini, CTVNews.ca Writer-Producer

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    Calgary, Alberta (CTV Network) — How much work do you actually do in a day?

A new report from Microsoft shows employees spend more time on emails, meetings and chats than doing the rest of their jobs – suggesting communication takes up more than half of workers’ time.

The results are based on a survey of workers in various industries around the world, as well as and international usage data collected from the company’s Microsoft 365 apps such as Teams, Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The report, published by Microsoft on May 9, says the constant influx of data, emails, meetings and notifications has outpaced our ability to process that information.

Microsoft says people are in three times as many meetings and calls per week (192 per cent more) as they were in February 2020.

Nearly two-thirds of people (64 per cent) said they have trouble maintaining the time and energy needed to do their jobs, and those same people are 3.5 times more likely to struggle with innovation and strategic thinking, according to the report.

Additionally, 60 per cent of leaders said “a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a concern.”

Microsoft calls the idea that employees can’t keep up with emails, meetings and chats “digital debt.” The report says people spend more time trying “to get out of the red” and get caught up on communication than they do actually doing their jobs.

“There are only so many minutes in the day—and every minute we spend managing this digital debt is a minute not spent on the creative work that leads to innovation. In a world where creativity is the new productivity, digital debt is more than an inconvenience—it’s impacting business,” the report reads.

Sixty-eight per cent of survey respondents said work communications like emails, meetings and chats usually get in their way during the workday, and they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time to do their jobs. Most people (62 per cent) said it takes too much time for find information they need at work.

Microsoft says the average employee spends more than half (57 per cent) of their time on communications and 43 per cent of their time creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

The top 25 per cent of heavy email users spend 8.8 hours a week in their inbox, and the top 25 per cent of people heavily involved in meetings spend 7.5 hours per week in a video or audio call.

Survey respondents also ranked “inefficient meetings” as the No. 1 obstacle to their day-to-day productivity. Lacking clear goals, having too many meetings, feeling uninspired and not easily finding the information they need rounded out the top five productivity disruptors, according to the survey.

Most people (58 per cent) said they find it difficult to brainstorm during a virtual meeting, while 57 per cent said it’s hard to catch up if they joined a meeting late. More than half (55 per cent) of survey respondents said the next steps at the end of a meeting are unclear, while 56 per cent said it’s hard to summarize what happened during a meeting.

But when it comes to strategies that could reduce the time spent in these meetings, just over one in three people (35 per cent) said they think they would be missed if they didn’t attend, while most respondents said meetings are made worthwhile because they “will receive information that will help (them) do (their) job better.”

Microsoft is not the first company to suggest excessive meetings are hindering work productivity. Big changes at Shopify earlier this year acknowledged an increase in the number of meetings during the pandemic, and slashed the amount of calls significantly in an attempt to free up its employees.

HOW WILL AI AFFECT THE WORKDAY? In March, Microsoft announced it would be incorporating the AI technology behind ChatGPT into its developer tools, which enables people to create applications with little to no coding.

Amid the rise of generative AI are concerns that the software could replace people in the workplace.

According to Microsoft, more people are excited to have AI tools to help “lift the weight of work” than they are afraid of losing their position to AI.

Just under half (49 per cent) of survey respondents said they are worried about AI taking their jobs, while 70 per cent said they would delegate as many tasks as possible to the software to lessen their workload.

Microsoft says 76 per cent of people would be fine using AI for administrative tasks, 79 per cent said they would be comfortable using the software for analytical work, and 73 per cent said they’d use it for creative work. Most people also said they would use AI to find the right information they need (86 per cent), summarize their meetings (80 per cent) and plan their day (77 per cent).

According to the report, most folks believe AI can “enhance creativity” by coming up with ideas for their work (76 per cent) and editing their work (75 per cent). Microsoft also says if people are more familiar with AI they will be more likely to see its potential to help throughout the workday. A vast majority (87 per cent) or survey respondents who said they are extremely familiar with AI said they would use AI for creative aspects of their job.

Employers are two times as interested in using AI to increase productivity rather than cut their workforce, according the report. Leaders told Microsoft “reducing headcount was last on the list” of what they would value from using AI at work.

“After ‘increasing productivity,’ leaders’ top hopes for AI are to: help employees with necessary but repetitive tasks, increase employee wellbeing, eliminate employee time spent on low-value activities, enhance employees’ capabilities, and accelerate employees’ pace of work,” according to Microsoft.

While Microsoft’s survey results appear to complement its investment in AI technology, others, including the so-called Godfather of AI are less sold on the concept, with warnings including “smart things can outsmart us.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE When asked about how they think AI would change the workplace by 2030, 33 per cent of people said work could be done in half the time, about one quarter said they would be able to understand the most valuable ways to spend their time (26 per cent) and energy (25 per cent), and 23 per cent said they would never have to absorb unnecessary or irrelevant information again.

Microsoft adds adapting to using AI as a “co-pilot” at work in the future requires understanding the software. The tech giant says using AI “will be as inherent to how we work as the internet and the PC.” Leaders told Microsoft it’s crucial for employees to learn how to write great prompts, evaluate creative work and check for bias in order to leverage AI properly.

Three in five survey respondents said they don’t have the right capabilities to do their work, and Microsoft thinks AI can remedy that.

“AI will open new paths for learning, and success depends on leaders equipping employees for an AI-powered future,” the company said.

More than four in five leaders (82 per cent) said their employees will need to learn new skills to be ready for AI in the workplace, and AI appears to be coming fast. Microsoft says there are 33 times as many posts on LinkedIn mentioning generative AI and GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) than there were one year ago. As of March 2023, Microsoft says “the share of U.S. job postings on LinkedIn mentioning GPT are already up 79 per cent year-over-year.”

The tech giant appears to be betting big on AI being incorporated into the workplace, the company says “AI won’t simply ‘fix’ work—it will create a whole new way of working.”

METHODOLOGY The Work Trend Index survey was conducted by an independent research firm, Edelman Data x Intelligence, among 31,000 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets between February 1, 2023, and March 14, 2023. This survey was 20 minutes in length and conducted online, in either the English language or translated into a local language across markets. One thousand full-time workers were surveyed in each market, and global results have been aggregated across all responses to provide an average. Each market is evenly weighted within the global average. Each market was sampled to be representative of the full-time workforce across age, gender, and region; each sample included a mix of work environments (in-person, remote vs. non-remote, office settings vs. non-office settings, etc.), industries, company sizes, tenures and job levels.

Markets surveyed include:

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.

Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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