Businesses Waste 89 Days a Year on “Dark Matter”, Report Reveals

A new study has uncovered that companies - and employees - are not coping with the increasing complexities of knowledge work.
Aaron Drapkin

A new report produced by project management software provider Wrike has concluded that the “dark matter” of work – activities and information that team leaders have no visibility over and are hard to track – accounts for 89 days worth of an average business’s time every year.

The hybrid working boom has muddied the waters increasingly, with video conferencing apps, and other tech that allows us to communicate from different locations, adding to the complexity and technologization of knowledge-based roles.

The worrying thing for businesses is that this not only wastes time, but millions of dollars every year – but there may be a solution in centralization.

What Is the “Dark Matter of Work”?

The report – which surveyed 2,807 US and UK-based workers at companies with over 1000+ employees – defines the “Dark Matter of Work” as “activity and information that we can’t immediately see, but that has a powerful influence on everything around it.”

Inspired by CERN’s definition of the dark matter present in the universe – The Dark Matter of Work exists “in texts, apps, video calls, spreadsheets, and conversations” and can “easily pull business and projects in the wrong direction.”

Crucially, it's the kind of unquantifiable work, often of a logistical, organizational or administrative nature, that is both hard to track and takes up valuable working time.

Business leaders are privy to this — according to the report, they believe they only have visibility over 54% of work that occurs, meaning 46% is “dark matter”. Employees, on the other hand, think up to 55% of their work isn’t visible.

Hybrid Work Made Jobs More Complex

Although workplace dark matter existed long before the pandemic, the mass shift to remote and hybrid working arrangements – of which 84% of business function leaders think is “irreversible” – has increased the complexity of our working lives, and reduced working visibility further.

One key area where this can be seen is in the uptake of new applications.

Since March 2020, the average marketing team has seen around 10 new non-communication tools added to the arsenal of existing applications they use for work, plus three new communication and collaboration tools.

According to the report, creative agencies have had to get to grips with 12 new non-communication apps in the same time period, and on top of that, three new communication tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Juggling an increased number of tools takes time, especially when they're unfamiliar tools, but adjustment periods were not possible for many businesses thrust into hybrid and remote scenarios by the pandemic.

Teams that made the shift took an average transition time of just 10.5 days, compared to a process which most companies would predict to take around 15 months pre-pandemic. This left little time to review the impact of new applications needed to facilitate working from home.

It’s not surprising, then, that 70% of knowledge workers said they are “stressed having to juggle multiple tasks, systems and applications,” with 60% thinking there were already too many before the pandemic struck.

Business leaders aren’t naive to the stress the explosion of applications has caused – 79% know there are too many, but don’t foresee any other way that work could be completed.

They’re still some disconnect, however. For instance, business leaders believe that, on average, their employees use 10 applications a day – employees report they use around 14.

The Spread of Dark Matter Activity

The mass shift to remote working has facilitated dark matter activity, underpinned by the increasing complexity of work carried out in digital spaces.

A good testament to this is the fact that a knowledge worker now sends an average of 295 messages a day, all of which take time to write and are going to be essential to collaboration on projects and other work, yet these messages are completely ‘invisible’, unquantifiable and hard to track against team or business goals.

This can be classified as unstructured work, of which “the purpose and benefits are not clear, documented, communicated, or tangible.”

Another issue is meetings. According to the report, knowledge workers spend an average of 2.79 hours a week in meetings, whilst 78% of businesses surveyed agreed that “too many of the meetings (they) attend could be easily replaced with an email.”

Tragically, 69% of business function leaders want to reduce the time their employees spend in meetings but don’t know how.

The Consequences of Dark Matter: Time Wasted, Money Lost

According to Wrike, this explosion of workplace dark matter means businesses with knowledge workers are wasting around 13.7 hours a week, or 89 days a year. Per knowledge worker, that wasted time costs around $16.5k – but the margins are even more dramatic on a business level.

“Time wasted on activities, such as repeating work that’s already been done, attending unproductive meetings, or following up on actions and statuses” the report explains, “costs the average enterprise millions.”

For businesses with around 3,200 employees, the average total costs of wasted time, delayed/canceled projects combined, and employee churn (often spurred on by issues that come hand-in-hand with increases in workplace dark matter) is around $60.76 million per year.

The Solution: a “Single Source of Truth”

Wrike suggests that, in order to “harness” the Dark Matter of Work, business leaders must create single sources of truth for their organizations.

The report concludes that such a solution must be “robust enough to manage and orchestrate complex workflows, while also being simple enough for regular employees to use.”

Wrike's own platform would, of course, be their suggestion, but regardless of provider there is clearly a need for businesses to adopt some sort of “Work OS” to reduce wasted time and money.

Whatever the long-term cure, it's clear that untracked dark matter in the workplace has spiraled out of control – and for both businesses' and employees' sake, it needs to be dealt with.

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Aaron Drapkin is a Senior Writer at Tech.co. He has been researching and writing about technology, politics, and society in print and online publications since graduating with a Philosophy degree from the University of Bristol three years ago. As a writer, Aaron takes a special interest in VPNs and project management software. He has been quoted in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Daily Mail, Computer Weekly, and the Silicon Republic speaking on various privacy and cybersecurity issues, and has articles published in Wired, Vice, Metro, The Week, and Politics.co.uk covering a wide range of topics.

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