I recently experienced an “Aha moment” as I was reading an article on physics and came across an interesting statistic from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN states that only 5% of the matter in the universe is visible to us. The rest is dark. I couldn’t help but think, the same could be said about work these days. With hundreds of messages, calls, and files sent and received every day, we feel overwhelmed. At the same time, there isn’t a lot of visibility into that work at the team or company level.
The digital era and the acceleration of remote and hybrid work over the past two years has made work more distributed, more mobile and, yes, more invisible and mysterious. I define the Dark Matter of Work as the vast amount of work that isn’t captured, tracked, or measured against goals because it takes place in communication tools and unstructured files.
The time when leaders and teams would be able to provide instant feedback, solve roadblocks in face-to-face meetings and closely collaborate on progress are quickly becoming a distant memory. Today, the growing complexity in the way we work is preventing business leaders from seeing more than a tiny fraction of the work their employees are doing. This, in turn, makes it hard to empower employees with the right guidance and recognition they need to do their best work. Is it any wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced the largest decline in quarterly productivity since 1947?
Work is Becoming Complex and Unmanageable
Today’s employees have to juggle dozens of systems and applications in an effort to get work done. They feel the gravitational mass of work in their stress levels, yet there’s no clear unified system of record for it. It travels through space and time in instant messages, video calls, and other unstructured ways that are hard to track, report on, and scale.
At Wrike, we wanted to investigate the impact of this new complexity and the severity of its impact on businesses, teams, and individuals. We commissioned research, surveyed 2,800 business leaders and knowledge workers, and compiled a report “Dark Matter of Work: The Hidden Cost of Work Complexities” to share our findings.
Understanding the Dark Matter of Work Exists, an Important First Step
Our research uncovered that 61% of workers are stressed because they don’t have all the information they need to do their job, and up to 55% of the work that takes place within an organization is not visible to key stakeholders. This is costing organizations up to $60 million a year in wasted time, delayed or canceled projects, and employee churn (based on an average surveyed team size of 3,200).
Where is this low visibility coming from? The increased use of synchronous applications and other remote collaboration and communication platforms, along with existing systems, has created a vast amount of data, paths, and workflows that are unruly and often hidden, counterproductive in many cases, and not intuitive. This lack of visibility makes it hard for business leaders to track progress, provide guidance, and motivate employees — leading to missed deadlines, inferior outcomes, wasted opportunities, and a general lack of productivity. Our report explores how to understand and identify Dark Matter of Work and, most importantly, how to begin to take action to prevent it, making employees and organizations more productive and less stressed.
Human and Hard Costs are Real
The Dark Matter of Work is a major source of stress for employees. It deprives them of personal time while adding confusion and inefficiencies. Today, 60% of knowledge workers are stressed because their work is eating into their personal life. The research shows that the Dark Matter of Work is costing employees five days of personal time to compensate for wasted time. Additionally, they feel their work is not getting the credit it deserves due to poor visibility. We found that 57% of knowledge workers believe their employers don’t understand how hard they work, and 68% have missed out on a pay rise or promotion because their contribution to a project wasn’t recognized. This has led to burnout and churn, costing organizations approximately $427,000.
Furthermore, the Dark Matter of Work has a financial impact through a number of activities, from repeating work that has already been done to attending unproductive meetings or following up on actions. All of these activities waste time and can cost businesses $52 million each year. For organizations with 100 employees, they stand to lose $1.65 million annually, and those with 100,000 stand to lose $1.65 billion.
Lastly, the lack of visibility and full understanding of work prevents businesses from anticipating, preparing, or reacting to risks. Today, 65% of business function leaders encounter problems with projects at least every week that could be avoided with real-time insight into project status, which costs them $8.2 million in delayed or canceled projects.
Shedding Light on the Dark Matter of Work: A single source of truth
The organizations that succeed in this turbulent economic climate will be the companies that are able to understand, uncover, and harness the Dark Matter of Work. Gaining this visibility requires connecting teams on a single platform that is able to capture all projects and workflows across departments and use cases. This will allow leaders to govern, connect, and supervise the numerous and complex workflows that guide the work — leading to happy, productive employees. Imagine this: 94% of knowledge workers say that a single source of truth for information would reduce stress in their teams. That alone is worth the effort.