Understanding the modern working professional is a challenge for every business, and for good reason. Digital tools have transformed today’s workplace, making it more global and flexible than ever before. 

According to Saadia Zahidi, managing director and head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society, the core tasks needed to perform the average job will change by 42% over the next three years.

In 2020, almost half of people’s day-to-day duties will look profoundly different. 

And as automation rises, the work that’s left over will require a decidedly human touch.

The knock-on-effect is what we wanted to investigate. Has better technology and different ways of doing things transformed the way modern professionals feel about work? And if so, how?

Our new data set uncovers the hidden truths behind today’s knowledge workers¹ unveiling workplace behaviors, attitudes and perceptions globally.

Leveraging a dedicated panel of professionals across 10 markets, from over 40 industries, you can get a definitive, 360-degree view of today’s workplace.

Using this data, our latest report in collaboration with Slack Technologies puts the spotlight on today’s State of Work.

These are the fundamental truths that stand out.

1. Workplace culture is a chief concern for knowledge workers worldwide.

Workplace culture matters – period. It was the most frequently cited “management and culture” challenge globally, topping the country-specific list for France and India.

While each country experiences its own challenges, 

It’s clear that developing a positive culture, boosting morale, and retaining engaged people is a global concern.

Unaligned workers² especially have lost sight of their company’s vision and struggle with poor morale in the workplace.

The majority say their company has a hierarchical structure, and more than half feel that their company does not have the tools, systems or structures in place to adapt to industry changes.

There’s also a direct correlation between monthly communication of strategy and workers rating a company highly for career progression, collaboration, communication, productivity, morale, training, work-life balance, and culture.

What people want—and need—is to feel part of the bigger plan.

Workers everywhere want more transparency, frequent communication and a clear understanding of how their roles relate to others. Being kept in the loop contributes to workers’ sense of belonging, crucial for positive workplace culture.

Whether or not employees feel aligned with their company’s vision is a competitive advantage available to every worker and every company. 

Companies that take specific measures to improve the wellbeing of employees in the workplace can reshape their trajectories toward a happier and more engaged workplace culture, resulting in increased innovation, growth and revenue.

2. 11% don’t feel aligned with their company’s vision. 

From strongly aligned, to strongly unaligned, alignment exists along a continuum.

Majority of knowledge workers globally (69%) fall somewhere in the middle, but 11% place themselves in the “unaligned” category, making them at odds with their company’s strategy, vision and operating principles.

‘Unaligned’ workers represent an estimated 38.5 million knowledge workers globally – from skilled/semi-skilled workers and office staff to senior executives.

And when workers understand their company’s strategy:

  • 84% feel aligned with their company’s vision, values and operating principles
  • 88% know how their day-today work contributes to their company’s strategy

In contrast, when workers don’t understand their company’s strategy:

  • Only 22% feel aligned with their company’s vision, values and operating principles
  • And only a third – 33% – know how their day-to-day work contributes to their company’s strategy

The good news is that alignment isn’t finite, because it’s never stagnant. It’s a resource available to all people and organizations, and can be facilitated by focusing on things like effective, frequent and context-rich communication.

Workers’ needs are surprisingly basic: greater transparency, clearer documentation of responsibilities, more cross-team collaboration and open access to leadership.

But the onus isn’t all on them – they need organizational support, clear communication, effective tools and a strategic vision to follow. 

In this new era of work, understanding the big picture is no longer the domain of the C-suite. Workers at every level want to connect to their organization’s vision, and without insight into what that vision is and what it stands for, there’s a tendency for people to become disheartened, or disengage.

3. They feel most aligned when they communicate with colleagues hourly.

There isn’t a simple solution to achieving alignment, but there are strategies that can enable an aligned workforce. 

Communication is one strategy that really stands out.

There’s a direct correlation between alignment and how frequently knowledge workers communicate with their colleagues.

Our data shows the inverse also applies: alignment drops as the frequency of communication decreases, and this is especially true for non-management workers.

Interestingly, aligned workers have more meetings than unaligned workers across the board. (In comparison, unaligned workers are twice as likely as aligned workers to have no daily meetings.)

But filling workers’ calendars without consideration isn’t the answer. 

Three or four meetings per day is seen as the happy medium. 

After four meetings, we see alignment dip for non-managers and managers alike.

Aligned workers thrive on open communication—around strategic goals, with their colleagues and from leadership. But the key thing to note is that the quality of that communication matters as much as, if not more than, the frequency.

4. Among those that are aligned, there’s a productivity shortfall. 

Aligned workers³ are most likely to have 10+ meetings a day, and most likely to be using more apps than ever before:

  • 81% of aligned employees report using more apps than they did five years ago.
  • 73% of aligned employees expect the number of apps they need to use to increase further.

Exacerbating productivity challenges, 64% of aligned workers report spending 30 minutes or more switching between apps each day. 

That half hour of lost productivity appears sky high when looked at across an entire company. For example, an enterprise with 2,500 employees working 260 days a year, could lose 325,000 hours of productivity annually.

There’s an urgent need for management to provide clear direction so aligned workers understand how to use their time more effectively.

What’s now apparent, is that knowledge workers need better (not more) software.

Knowledge workers often find their attention divided across multiple avenues. It’s somewhat ironic that workplace software designed to enhance productivity can also contribute to fragmentation of attention.

Adding more software and communication tools isn’t the answer—workers need better solutions, solutions which work harder. 

But despite their obvious loss of productivity, aligned workers have a stronger sense of optimistic purpose, compared to unaligned workers who seem more adrift. 

5. Alignment affects the bottom line.

There are clear benefits to investing time, effort and resources into building an aligned workforce—because aligned workers drive business forward.

They approach their company’s future with a greater sense of purpose and are nearly twice as likely as unaligned workers to believe that teams at their company are working toward a common goal. 

They’re also nearly twice as likely as unaligned workers to anticipate “significant growth” in their company’s revenue and workforce. 

What’s more, their feelings of optimism inspire them to act: 

Three-quarters of aligned workers feel empowered to make strategic business decisions or pursue new business opportunities. 

Aligned workers use this mindset to their advantage – proposing new product features and pilot new marketing strategies, for example. 

In stark contrast, unaligned workers are less likely to pursue entrepreneurial feats. They’re seven times as likely to report they don’t feel empowered to pursue new business opportunities, and 12 times more likely to rate morale and employee satisfaction at their companies as “very poor.”

Unaligned workers are bogged down by workplace politics and are twice as likely as aligned workers to cite poor management decisions as a challenge that hinders their day-to-day.

Critically, aligned workers choose to engross themselves with high-impact, strategic work, such as competitive intelligence, effective use of technology, and innovation.

Different workers experience the workplace in profoundly different ways

For better or for worse, peoples’ experiences impact their organizations.

When knowledge workers understand their company’s overall strategy, they’re much more likely to know how their work fits into the wider picture and to feel aligned with their company’s direction. 

Companies covet – and need – workers who are connected, collaborative and optimistic about the future. This is why it becomes so important for organizations to understand why certain workers find themselves disconnected from the wider corporate vision.

The pace of change is faster than it’s been at any other time in history, but the true state of work is more people-powered people give credit to.

In a world of increasing automation, disruption and complexity, a human-first approach is still the most effective of all.

¹A knowledge worker is anyone who holds an office position and/or works with data, analyzes information or thinks creatively in a typical workweek.

²Unaligned workers, by contrast, are disconnected from their company’s strategic objectives and more pessimistic about its future. They are more likely to operate in silos and feel less empowered to seize business opportunities

³Aligned workers are defined as those who feel connected to their company’s vision and strategy. Equipped with this insight into the bigger picture, they approach their work with optimistic purpose and feel empowered to take action.

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