We’re far enough into 2023 to realize it’s another year of unique opportunities and challenges. We’ve gone from a sudden, unprecedented shift to digital transformation and hybrid work models to managing a volatile economic landscape.

In this era, business as usual no longer stands. Inflation is up, budgets are down, and workloads have almost doubled. Organizations are racing, not for “growth at all costs” but for efficiency, which has emerged as the linchpin of success. Earlier this year, the folks at Gartner pointed out economic uncertainty is the most significant business challenge of 2023.

As organizations traverse this challenging economic environment, our primary focus should be understanding the most impactful ways to improve efficiency. The measures making headlines — such as budget cuts and layoffs — create efficiency gains in the short term but will only get you so far. Organizations must shed light on modern work complexities uncovered last year and strategize more diligently for long-term digital transformations. In doing so, they can increase visibility and alignment across their entire organization, reduce wasted efforts, and deliver outcomes faster.

The unseen challenges

Last year, we unveiled the “Dark Matter of Work,” which symbolizes the obscured part of our work ecosystem. It includes undocumented video calls, instant message threads, and break room conversations — activities often invisibly shaping the success and productivity of our organizations. Struggling with the Dark Matter of Work leads to wasted efforts and delays in projects and reportedly costs organizations a whopping $60 million per year. To combat this pervasive issue, we need to illuminate the hidden corners of our work processes — understanding how we can optimize our routines for efficient productivity.

To do so, we examined how business leaders strategize for and prioritize efficiency. We wanted to understand their approaches to improve efficiency, including consolidation and AI, and how successful they have been and will be. 

We also looked at efficiency from a knowledge worker’s perspective to uncover how they handle the stress of increased workloads and changes in how they work — for better or worse. 

We conducted our research with Sapio Research, which surveyed 1,005 business leaders and 2,002 knowledge workers across the UK and the US. In both cases, we targeted individuals working in companies with 250+ employees. 

Let’s look at our findings, which provide valuable insights into how businesses navigate this complex landscape and highlight the persistent presence of the Dark Matter of Work.

The elusive Dark Matter of Work

Our findings reveal that 42% of workers’ actions are still not visible to their team leaders — only a 4% improvement since last year. This lack of transparency forms the bulk of the elusive Dark Matter of Work. Compounded by the convoluted web of software applications used throughout the workday, it’s no wonder our productivity takes a hit.

While efforts to reduce the Dark Matter include cutting the number of software applications used, there has only been a slight improvement in organizations’ operational efficiency ratios since last year. This may be because app integrations have stayed relatively the same (going from 41% in 2022 to 45% in 2023), continuing to create Dark Matter. This is evident in the causes of inefficiencies organizations face this year. 

The top three causes of inefficiency are:

  • Poor communication and collaboration across an organization
  • Time wasted on activities like meetings and duplicative work
  • Poorly designed or outdated processes
Download the full report for the top six!

Challenging times ahead

While grappling with the labyrinth of Dark Matter, we’re simultaneously facing a global economic crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook report, growth is expected to fall from 3.4% in 2022 to 2.8% in 2023. And it’s even worse news for advanced economies, where growth may fall below 1%. The decline in economic growth is impacting organizations and employees alike.

According to knowledge workers, the top three ways the current economic climate impacted their organizations’ business decisions include:

  1. Reducing budgets
  2. Increasing prices
  3. Reducing staff numbers

While helpful for organizations in the short term, these efficiency measures will hurt the workforce in the long term if they are not followed closely by additional, more strategic measures. 56% of knowledge workers say they have taken on the workload of colleagues that have since left their organization in the past year, and their workload has increased by a concerning 45%, intensifying stress levels.

A stress crisis upon us

The economic crisis, amplified by increasing workloads, is causing workplace stress and even burnout among knowledge workers. Our data shows that 51% of knowledge workers are tired of hearing the phrase “do more with less,” and 71% experienced burnout in the past six months. Unfortunately, nearly half of business leaders say they are under too much pressure to improve efficiency in their team and department to prioritize reducing feelings of burnout. Recovery is primarily left to employees’ discretion, and organizations must step up and lighten the load.

With 77% of organizations prioritizing efficiency this year, let’s take a look at the most effective measures and see how those can help. 

According to business leaders, the most effective ways to improve efficiency include: 

Download the full report for more!

Digital transformation, but make it strategic

Organizations have begun investing in new software and accelerating digital transformation this year. Nearly three-quarters of business leaders say their organization’s digital transformation efforts have accelerated again in 2023 as a response to the challenging economic climate. While this sounds promising, we must remain vigilant: adding software systems without ensuring they simplify our work will only increase complexity and contribute to the Dark Matter.

On a positive note, most organizations are forward-looking, predicting IT budget increases despite recent cutbacks. Forty-six percent of business leaders said their IT budgets have increased compared to 37% of business leaders who expressed their general budget increased. Specifically, they’re focusing on work management software designed to streamline workload management and reduce the Dark Matter of Work’s influence.

Consolidation is key

The consistent message from the report’s findings is that knowledge workers yearn for simplicity. According to 48% of knowledge workers, “The number of different software applications we use makes it difficult to work efficiently,” and 80% say that a single source of truth will improve their efficiency at work.

System overload results in stress and creates invisible tasks leading us away from productivity. If we consolidate our IT infrastructure and create a single source of truth, we can enhance efficiency, improve collaboration, reduce stress, and more effectively achieve results.

Wrike is actually solving for this with the introduction of Wrike Integrate Lite – a new streamlined version of its robust integration platform to address the need for more integrations between applications. This curated tool is tailored for customers seeking swift and significant value and offers the benefits of Wrike Integrate with a few simple differences. Wrike Integrate Lite is more cost-effective for budget-conscious teams. Additionally, customers have access to one pre-selected connector package with full functionality. This comprehensive package covers a CRM use case, featuring connectors like Salesforce and HubSpot. 

AI: The Dark Matter’s nemesis

In addition to consolidation, something new brewing will shake things up for efficiency and productivity and combat the Dark Matter. Enter AI. Integrated into key software platforms like collaborative work management systems, AI can act as a personal digital assistant, reducing time spent on manual tasks, automating workflows, and upskilling employees. Almost nine in 10 leaders plan to deploy AI technologies, and 83% of business leaders and 61% of knowledge workers say AI must be built into the software applications their team and department use or plan to use. 

Change may be difficult, but embracing and learning from it is part of progress. With challenges come opportunities and, armed with these insights, we can navigate a challenging economic landscape, reduce the Dark Matter of Work, and strive for efficiency correctly. Join us on the road to efficiency! 

For more insights from Wrike’s 2023 Efficiency Report, visit here.