The State of Work in 2020

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Employees have needs. And goals. And desires. And companies that recognize and address these are often more successful than those that don’t.

These are some of the key takeaways from the State of Work 2020, Workfront’s sixth annual survey-based report on work around the world today. For this latest report, Workfront surveyed 3,750 respondents in the United States (1,500), the United Kingdom (1,000), Germany (750), and the Netherlands (500). All work for companies of at least 500 employees, work on a computer and collaborate with other people on projects. Here are some top takeaways from the survey results.

Work Is More Than Just a Job

Workers worldwide consider their jobs to be more than paychecks and time clocks. Most survey respondents believe their work matters and are proud of the jobs they do.

Love the Work, Not the Workplace

Given the survey results summarized above, one might think workers are content with their lots. But they are not. And survey respondents cite three top reasons for their dissatisfaction – too many pointless meetings, too many non-essential emails, and too much unnecessary oversight.

Apparently, even workers who believe they already get too many emails would gladly accept more if it meant fewer unnecessary meetings and faster review and approval cycles. Other obstacles to productive work cited by survey respondents included poor work prioritization, a lack of standard workflow processes, and poor delegation from above. Respondents also mentioned a lack of collaboration within teams and a lack of alignment between teams and corporate goals.

A Better Workplace Needs Better Technology

Too many meetings, emails, and micromanagers may be frustrating to many respondents. However, even more of them cite technological limitations as serious impediments to their productivity and satisfaction. Many are even convinced out-of-date technologies are causing their organizations and others to miss significant business opportunities.

The percentage of respondents who believe their companies do not make good decisions about technology for workers ranges from slightly more than 40 in Germany to more than 60 in the United Kingdom (UK). Across all regions, however, respondents agree information at work should be as easy to find as information on Google. And between 79 and 90 percent of respondents believe the next generation of workers are going to expect their technologies at work to be as easy to use as Amazon, Google, and Instagram. Clearly, employers around the world have their work cut out for them where IT is concerned.

Job #1: Work Management

A majority of survey respondents see direct links between modern technologies and the ability of organizations to attract and retain top talent. And if survey respondents have a specific immediate goal for the modern technologies they want at work, it just might be work management. This includes consistent management of work and collaboration processes and consolidated management of work-related information. Unfortunately, more workers want a “one-stop-shop” for work management than have one.

Work Management: Technology Plus Leadership

While survey respondents want better technologies to manage their work and information, they also want more. They want leadership that understands how best to choose and deploy technologies that align workers’ efforts more closely with business goals. And as with work management technologies, more want that leadership than have it.

When asked if it would be important to have a “Chief Work Officer” to oversee all things work-related at their organizations, some two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents agreed that it would. However, almost exactly the same percentage of respondents (66 percent) said their organizations had not yet assigned anyone to that role.

Fortunately, decision-makers quoted in the State of Work 2020 report are moving in directions aligned with worker desires, goals, and needs. “Corporations will need to offer more than a paycheck and traditional benefits to attract and retain employees,” said Whitnee Hawthorne, Director of Strategic Execution for Technology at the US-based airline JetBlue. “They will need to drive personal investment in the work by championing innovations that align with corporate goals, and helping employees understand the ‘why’ behind the company by linking it to a greater good in the world.”

It is also critical for corporate leadership to view the journey to effective work management as both a marathon and a sprint. “The speed of technological change that is, in turn, driving cultural and societal change can be frightening,” said Paul Tasker, Director of Marketing Technology & Demand Operations at business software provider Sage. “The expectations of someone joining the workforce today—versus their mother or father—plays into everything from a platform design or UX [user experience] to the company’s ways of working. Companies that fail to recognize and adapt to this dynamic environment will quickly be left behind.”

The efforts to achieve effective work management are significant, but worthwhile, for workers, the organization, and the leaders themselves. “While we are still on a journey, we have experienced significant revelations toward making work more strategic,” said Phil Oster, Vice President of Information Technology at hair styling products provider John Paul Mitchell Systems. “By elevating work to a more strategic level and platforming it, we are gaining the ability to align complex, cross-department projects around one common goal (say a launch for example) and minimize the management overhead. This enables leaders to focus on results—not just being busy managing lists of tasks.”

Work Management: How to Get It Right

The State of Work 2020 report identifies six questions leaders at every organization pursuing effective work management must ask and answer.

  • “Does every person in my organization understand our company strategy and their role in our success?
  • “Do leaders in our organization work to ensure people and teams can focus on the work they’ve been hired to lead, drive, and accomplish?
  • “Are we measuring and incentivizing our people for accomplishing tasks and finishing projects, or achieving strategic outcomes?
  • “Are the technology tools we use helping people accomplish their strategic objectives?
  • “Do we provide all of our team members with the ‘why’ behind their work?”
  • “Are we helping our people and teams align with strategic decisions?”

In addition, the report identifies four things that companies pursuing work management successfully consistently do well.

“They start with visibility and context.” Leaders at those companies actively, frequently, and clearly communicate information about company strategy and goals and employee roles, across the entire organization. The result? Every worker “understands their own context: the role they play in company achievement.” Visibility and context help to get and keep individual workers’ goals and satisfaction aligned with business goals and success.

“They actively manage work.” Companies that manage work processes enjoy “the ability to put relentless pressure on work performance while simultaneously creating a culture that is positive, open, and honest. People and teams operate with confidence, not fear.” Effective work management empowers both workers and their organizations.

“They deploy technology to help people get work done.” The most successful organizations “support their people with the applications and systems they want and need, anything from instant messaging to product design tools or the latest creative suite.” Those companies also consistently execute a directly related task. Each implements “a digital backbone that ties together individual tools into an orchestrated whole, supporting dynamic work processes, and capturing information that supports visibility and context.” Such a backbone can enable a company to deploy modern technologies rapidly, consistently, and securely, and be able to adapt to rapid technological change effectively with minimal operational disruption.

“They focus on agility as a core competency.” Successful companies go beyond simply making work “easier or more fluid.”  Those companies pursue “a more dynamic approach, working across departmental seams, changing more often, empowering new leaders, and redeploying themselves at the individual, team, or even organizational level to drive new market opportunities.” Agility is treated not as a business goal, but as a business requirement.

Workfront found these four attributes of “organizations that lead” share a common goal. Each “starts with a focus on helping people—each individual—get their best work done.” This aligns with the goals and desires of most workers, as identified in this year’s survey.

Some Final Thoughts

Abraham Maslow, a pioneer of “humanist” psychology, self-actualization, or the hierarchy of needs, applied many of these principles to how businesses are managed. In short, Maslow found the goal of every enlightened organization is to maximize the opportunity for every individual to feel and be empowered to contribute. Further, enlightened management assumes that everyone has the desire and potential to achieve, and behaves and evolves in ways that encourage individual achievement and contribution.

Maslow put it this way. “Proper management of the work lives of human beings, of the way in which they earn their living, can improve them and improve the world and in this sense be a utopian or revolutionary technique.” While perhaps more grounded in the here and now, concepts such as continuous improvement (CI), and the results of the State of Work 2020 survey, echo Maslow’s ideas.

The State of Work report should be essential reading for all business leaders. You can download the full report at

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William Goddard

William Goddard is the founder and Chief Motivator at IT Chronicles. His passion for anything remotely associated with IT and the value it delivers to the business through people and technology is almost like a sickness. He gets it! And wants the world to understand the value of being a technology focused business in a technological world.

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