More than two-thirds (68%) said they didn’t have enough uninterrupted time to focus on the job they were being paid to do. Image: Unsplash/Ales Nesetril
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- Work is getting harder as employees drown in digital overload, finds a Microsoft survey.
- Yet artificial intelligence is set to be an unlikely ally, taking away the drudgery and freeing up our creativity.
- Almost three-quarters of global companies surveyed for the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 said they planned to adopt AI within the next five years.
Do you feel as though your job is getting harder? If so, you’re not alone, as a study commissioned by Microsoft has shown.
The tech giant surveyed 31,000 people in 31 countries for the 2023 Work Trend Index: Annual Report and analyzed trillions of activities carried out in Microsoft 365 software. As well as explaining why work is getting harder, the report also suggests a way to “fix work”.
Put simply, the survey found that workers are drowning in the demands of the digital age. Data, emails, meetings – virtual and in real life – together with growing numbers of digital notifications pour in upon us at a rate that outpaces our ability to process them.
Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they struggled to have the time and energy to do their jobs, and they found it hard to be innovative. The survey found that the amount of time spent in virtual meetings and on calls had tripled since 2020.
Emails, meetings and digital chat consume an average of 57% of the working day, the survey found, leaving just 43% of time for creative work. More than two-thirds (68%) said they didn’t have enough uninterrupted time to focus on the job they were being paid to do.
“We spend more and more of our days separating the signal from the noise – at the expense of creativity. And the tax on individual productivity is compounding, undermining organizational productivity and global GDP,” said the survey team.
Technology is the problem – and the answer
But if technology is the source of the problem, Microsoft says it is also the solution. New developments in artificial intelligence (AI) mean that what Microsoft calls next-generation AI “copilots” can work alongside us, helping to lift the burden and fuelling innovation.
“This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s Chairman and CEO. “There's an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to … empower employees.”
The study found ambivalent attitudes to AI. Almost half of those surveyed (49%) worried that AI would replace them. But 70% said they would be willing to delegate to AI to lessen their workloads.
Almost three-quarters of the more than 800 global companies surveyed for The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 said they planned to adopt AI within the next five years.
And the Forum’s report Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2023 added: “With the correct controls in place, generative AI can provide more time for creativity, demonstrate the boundaries of knowledge, and act as a sparring partner to challenge conventional thinking”.
How is the World Economic Forum creating guardrails for Artificial Intelligence?
So let’s look at the key findings of the Microsoft Work Trend Index about why work is getting harder and discover how AI can help empower us to innovate and enjoy our jobs again.
AI can help us be more productive
The number one issue raised in the survey was inefficient meetings, with too many meetings close behind. More than half say it’s often not clear what the next steps are from a meeting and 56% say they would struggle to summarize what the meeting was about.
A quarter of people, including frontline workers, said they spent as much as seven and a half hours a week in meetings. The heaviest users spent nearly nine hours on email. Almost two-thirds said they spent too much time searching for information.
Microsoft says AI can help with all these challenges by analyzing and sorting information and making meetings more focused. “AI can tip the balance in people’s favour to reclaim time and energy for the important work that fuels innovation,” the researchers say.
AI can increase our job satisfaction
The survey team asked employees which changes they would like to see that would improve their working lives. They then matched their answers to things AI could do. They found AI could free up time and increase job satisfaction in all aspects of working life.
They also asked employers what they saw as the benefits of AI. Only 16% thought AI would lead to job losses, while almost a third said it would make people more productive and eliminate mundane tasks; a quarter believed AI would increase employee wellbeing.
Most employees said they would be happy to use AI for administrative work and a majority said they would use AI for analytical or even creative tasks, as well as searching for information, summarizing meetings and even planning their day.
A paradigm shift in the workplace
Working alongside AI will bring about a “paradigm shift” in the world of work as significant as the introduction of the PC and internet, says the report. But unlike computers, which need coded software, we will ask generative AI to do things in everyday natural language.
Eight out of ten employers said their workers would need new skills to work with AI – citing critical thinking, analytical judgement, complex problem solving, creativity and originality, as among the most important.
“AI won’t simply ‘fix’ work – it will create a whole new way of working. Leaders will need to help employees learn to work responsibly alongside AI to reap the rewards of the AI-employee alliance: more value creation for businesses and a brighter, more fulfilling future of work for everyone,” the report concludes.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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