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The Dark Matter of Work: Backstopping Disengagement and Productivity Loss

November 15, 2022 Digital Workplace
David Barry
By David Barry

Business leaders are assessing the effectiveness of new working models with an eye towards productivity and lingering questions around whether remote work is sustainable over the long term. And tech vendors have stepped up their efforts to respond to these challenges, both through research and new and updated productivity tools. San Jose, Calif.-based project management software provider Wrike is one of those companies.

After cutting loose from parent company Citrix earlier this fall, Wrike announced a new platform release designed to "cut out wasted time and save your organization’s bottom line," the company's blog reads, referring to the "Dark Matter of Work" as those lost profits from productivity.

So, is your company letting revenue slip through the cracks — and can software help?

The Dark Matter of Work

Wrike's Dark Matter of Work study, published in July, posits that organizations are being held back by inefficient processes and the challenges posed by trying to work in too many apps, windows and passwords at the same time.

The research found that, on average, employees spend 89 of their annual working days and five days of their personal life doing wasted work, which the report estimates costs $16.5k per employee/year — or $52 million for a midsized company of 3,000 employees.

The dark matter of work, in this context, is a nod to the astrophysical dark matter, which CERN describes as the “invisible” content that makes up 85% of the mass of the universe.

In the context of business, the dark matter of work is the content that lives in synchronous applications and unstructured work, such as instant message threads and video calls, as well as the gaps between systems and applications that aren’t integrated.

"Without a single work platform that is powerful and versatile enough to track, manage, action and align all work to goals across an organization, there exists a dangerously low level of visibility amongst knowledge workers and leaders," the company claims.

In response to this challenge, Wrike has added capabilities to its work management portfolio with various insights that can help leaders see deeper into what is happening in the workplace. 

Related Article: Explosion of Apps Stymying, Not Streamlining, Productivity

Streamlining the Post-Pandemic Workflow

The way we work today looks dramatically different than before the pandemic — that's a given. Flexible workplaces provide many benefits, but the new environments also introduce work complexities, such as app sprawl, that are making it difficult for teams to focus on work. Adopting a vast number of apps and workplace tools to boost productivity, for instance, has proven to be a tricky solution, at best.

In an interview with Reworked, Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of Wrike, explained that as part of accelerated digital transformations, organizations have adopted a vast number of apps to make flexible work successful. The Dark Matter study found that employees now use up to 14 apps to get work done and handle an average of 295 messages each day.

This has had an overwhelming effect on workers. Many are grappling with how to redefine work-life boundaries when technology makes it so easy to be perpetually online and available.

From a company perspective, Filev said it has also become more difficult to maintain the same sense of company culture and energy and productivity levels as before the pandemic. Many workers, for instance, are facing burnout. Inflation and recession fears have added to the challenges, prompting some companies to cut budgets or reduce their workforce.

“All of this has come to a boiling point where employees are faced with increased pressure to work more efficiently and at the same productivity levels they were at before the pandemic,” Filev said.

Related Article: Where the Next Productivity Boost Will Come From

A Single Platform for Greater Efficiency and Engagement

The goal for many organizations is to enable work on a single platform. The challenge, however, is ensuring organizations aren't compromising the quality of their technical product for what Filev describes as a shiny, colorful and playful interface with perceived ease of use.

This also entails picking a solution that does not introduce unnecessary complexity up front or overcomplicate the interface to the point that only certified project managers and technical process experts can effectively use it.

Because there's more than productivity at stake. Leaders must also consider the user experience. Wrike's Dark Matter of Work research found some work efforts on the part of employees often slip through the cracks of meetings, one-off calls or Slack messages that can all contribute to wasted employee time or burnout.

According to the study, 22% of knowledge workers get frustrated from repetitive work and 68% have missed a pay raise or promotion because their contribution to a project was not recognized. That frustration can lead to higher quit rates and turnover, and cost the organization both financially and from a labor pool perspective.

“All of these factors can lead to lower levels of employee engagement,”  Filev said. “With so much work flying under the radar in instant message threads, video calls, emails or in the gaps between systems and applications that aren’t integrated, organizational productivity has naturally taken a hit and is having a damaging effect on the workforce.”

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