AI to unleash productivity by lifting the weight of work, Microsoft report finds

The pace of work is outpacing human’s ability to keep up and ultimately impacting innovation and strategic thinking, according to a new study by Microsoft. The findings from the 2023 Australian Work Trend Index report: “Will AI fix Work?” revealed 68% of Australian workers struggle to have enough time and energy to get their work done, while two-thirds of Australian leaders say they are concerned about a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas.

What were the findings of Microsoft’s survey?

The 2023 Australian Work Trend Index report shares three key insights for business leaders as they look to understand and responsibly adopt artificial intelligence for their organisation:

  • Digital debt is costing us innovation: Over half of Australians (57%) have struggled with finding time and energy to get their work done, and those workers are 3.4 times more likely to say they struggle with innovation, with two-thirds of business leaders expressing their concerns around this.
  • An unexpected AI-employee alliance emerges: While 46% of Australian workers say they’re worried AI will end up replacing their jobs, 2 in 3 people are comfortable using AI to support their role.

Additionally, 64% of Australians said they would delegate as much work to AI as possible to lessen their workloads, suggesting they are optimistic about the role of AI in the workplace. Business leaders also indicated AI would be of value to the workplace, helping to boost productivity rather than cutting headcount (in fact that was ranked last).

  • Work will demand a new AI aptitude: Findings revealed employees feel they need to be educated with new core competencies in AI, saying they currently don’t have the right capabilities to get their work done (56%). Leaders throughout Australia (85%) say employees they hire will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI.

Other findings of the global report show:

  • Communication takes up to 57% of employees’ time, while creation represents the other 43%.
  • The top three skills for the Era of AI are: analytical judgement (30%), flexibility (29%) and emotional intelligence (27%).
  • Asked to imagine work in 2030, people say the most valuable changes are those that save them time producing high-quality work and learning new skills.
  • Managers expect that the three most valuable benefits generated by AI are: increased productivity (31%), helping employees with repetitive/mundane tasks (29%) and increased employee wellbeing (26%).
  • The three least valued benefits were removing the coordination challenges of hybrid work (20%), increasing inclusivity (18%), and reducing headcounts (16%).

What are Microsoft’s thoughts on the findings?

Jane Mackarell, Modern Work and Surface Business Group Director at Microsoft ANZ
Jane Mackarell, Modern Work and Surface Business Group Director at Microsoft ANZ

“In a world where creativity is the new productivity, the time we spend in meetings, chats, and, managing emails is more than an inconvenience. It heavily impacts business results,” said Jane Mackarell, Microsoft ANZ’s Modern Work and Surface Business Group Director.

“There’s an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to help lift the weight of work and not only empower employees with greater productivity but bring them back to what I call ‘the soul of work’ – work that is more fulfilling, creative, and impactful. When we free the mind, we give ourselves space to think strategically, and thus, feel more fulfilled in our work.”

“It’s fascinating to see that while there is still fear around AI potentially eliminating jobs, people are actually more excited about AI rescuing them from burnout,” said Mackarell.

“Next-generation AI will lift the weight of work, and organisations that move first to embrace it will increase creativity and productivity for everyone. Microsoft 365 Copilot was launched earlier this year, bringing powerful new generative AI capabilities to apps people use every day like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Microsoft Teams and more,” said Jane.

To empower businesses in the AI era, Microsoft is also introducing the Microsoft 365 Copilot Early Access Program with an initial wave of 600 enterprise clients in an invitation-only paid preview program. New capabilities will be added to Microsoft 365 Copilot and Microsoft Viva.

The 2023 report derived results from an external study of 31,000 people in 31 countries, including 1,000 Australians across multiple industries. It unearthed key insights business leaders should consider as they look to understand and responsibly adopt AI for their firm.