2023: The Start of a Global Shift in Workplace Dynamics?

Every year, CCS Insight surveys employees in the US and Europe about their use of technology in the workplace. We explore topics such as privacy, travel and sustainability, revealing attitudes to hybrid and remote working, established and emerging technologies and major technology brands in the enterprise sector.

The world has changed dramatically since our 2022 survey, especially since pandemic restrictions were lifted. Consumer activity was stifled by the cost-of-living crisis, brought on by the war in Ukraine, and the global economic slowdown has exposed new challenges for the workplace.

Another crucial theme in this year’s survey is the appetite for artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI support, looking to establish how employees and their management leaders see the benefits and challenges of this emerging technology in the workforce.

Here I provide an overview of some of the most significant findings from this year’s survey. The full report is available to clients now (see Employee Workplace Technology Survey, 2023).

A Hybrid Paradox

Our survey revealed a paradox in attitudes to hybrid and remote working. More than 50% of employees have now returned to the office full-time, a stark departure from the resounding desire for remote work expressed by 90% of employees surveyed in 2022.

The uncertain economy has led to a series of mass layoffs over the past 12 months, and many large firms such as Google, Apple and Zoom have recalled employees to the office with a push from executives who believe the move will increase productivity, collaboration and sense of corporate culture. Public comments by some leaders, particularly in the financial sector, have also perpetuated the belief that remote workers aren’t as productive and are more easily distracted. Our survey showed that over a third of senior executives listed the impact on company culture as their top concern with hybrid working.

During the pandemic, companies had to quickly adjust their practices to support remote working. Two years on, 65% of employees agree that their company is well-equipped for hybrid practices. However, the results from both our 2022 and 2023 studies reveal not only a hunger for in-person connection and collaboration, but also a push to reestablish the office as the epicentre of productivity.

Desire for Social Interaction

The main challenges of hybrid practices underscore the importance of human interaction, with 33% of employees highlighting a limited ability to build work relationships as their top concern. Aligning to this view, social interaction and a sense of community was rated as the most important advantage of returning to the corporate offices, with over half of all employees ranking it top.

Social interaction was also rated very highly as a factor for a positive working environment and preferences for meetings. Our study shows that less time is being spent on work devices than in 2022, potentially reflecting the shift to in-person working. This could also be a result of senior executives pressing to reduce screen time in a bid for people to be more present at work.

The corporate workplace offers opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, raising the premium on in-person interaction and helping to explain increased full-time office work. Employee experience became a greater priority for businesses following the move to hybrid working, but with more people now confronting the reality of reduced in-person contact, businesses will need to ensure they acknowledge the challenges of remote work and foster more face-to-face interaction.

New Technologies Boost Productivity, Quality and Collaboration

The integration of innovative technologies is reshaping the way employees operate, and our survey paints a convincing picture of a workforce gradually embracing generative AI and AI as integral work tools. It’s still early days, but adoption is already yielding substantial enhancements in employee productivity and the quality of work. Over half of employees are incorporating AI and generative AI into their daily workflows, and for those who undergo extensive training, the impact is even more pronounced. A staggering 56% of employees with extensive training in using generative AI report significant improvements in both productivity and work quality.

Employees are also open to receiving training on how to use generative AI tools, with 29% saying that they would like guidance. This willingness to obtain some level of training shows a recognition of the importance that the technology is likely to play in the workplace of the future. This chimes well with a CCS Insight prediction that proficiency in generative AI will be a common feature of job adverts for knowledge workers by 2025 (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2024 and Beyond).

Generative AI is used in a range of applications, but it isn’t surprising to see that analysing data, creating or drafting reports, and generating e-mail responses or replies in chat top the bill as the most common uses. The conversational prompt feature and large language modelling capability make the technology user-friendly and intuitive.

Harnessing the power of this technology responsibly requires clear and fair regulation. Different regions are at various stages of the process and favour different approaches. Our survey shows that lack of regulation is the top challenge for businesses looking to use AI in the workplace, with respondents in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands ranking this over any other factor. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the extensive data gathering at the heart of AI and generative AI, the security and privacy of data tops the list of concerns for employees at 39%.

Since 2022, we have seen a significant drop in the proportion of respondents who have used or would consider using low-code tools at work. For those not keen on exploring low-code tools, the top reason is that they are simply not interested in doing so, and for workers already overloaded in the wake of the pandemic, this isn’t surprising. Without clear indicators of the personal benefits or opportunities that could come from the investment, employees aren’t compelled to change practices.

Virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a potentially transformative technology in the workplace, offering a more engaging alternative to traditional online meetings. Of the 31% of respondents who had taken part in a VR meeting at work, half expressed positive sentiments about their experience and a whopping 85% found VR more engaging than online or video meetings. Innovation is moving at a rapid pace and, coupled with the increasing need for organizations to improve employee collaboration and productivity, we expect that widespread adoption of immersive workplace technologies is looming.

Robust Networks Remain the Pillars of Connectivity

As technologies continue to advance, connectivity is pivotal. However, this year we saw a surge in employees frustrated with poor connectivity, up from 18% in 2022 to 27%. This signals a critical need for businesses to address and enhance their connectivity solutions. Wi-Fi is still the dominant connectivity method, but its convenience is overshadowed by speed, with slow networks highlighted by over half of employees whether working in the office or at home.

Connectivity concerns also extend to mobile signal and coverage, frustrating 52% of employees who work and travel. As businesses look to future-proof the workplace in an evolving terrain of remote and flexible work, addressing these connectivity problems becomes paramount for optimal productivity and maintaining a positive employee experience.

The Dynamic Landscape of Work in 2024 and Beyond

The year 2023 has unfolded as a pivotal chapter as the workplace continues to transform, propelled by employee preferences, technological advancements and the ongoing quest for the best balance between remote and in-person work. In a world transformed by the pandemic, economic challenges and global uncertainties, the workplace has undergone a significant shift.

There have also been shifts in the dominant enterprise technology providers. Competition between companies is intensifying, with rivals making significant strides and narrowing the gap between the traditional leaders. The impact of innovations in the past year is becoming evident, making the market a hot one to watch in 2024.

As technology continues to embed itself into the fabric of the workplace, the choices being made today are shaping the future of work, with organizations and employees alike at the forefront of what could prove to be a dynamic technological revolution. As businesses navigate these shifts, they must manage the delicate balance between technological advancements, social interaction and connectivity solutions with their implications on our work, collaboration and well-being.