From YouTube to Slack – here are the most-used unproductive apps at work in 2021

Krista Krumina 28.04.2022

The average office worker wastes a staggering 26 days per year doing work-unrelated things while on the clock – mostly surfing the web and spending time on unproductive websites. 

Which are the most-used apps that have nothing to do with work yet steal hundreds of hours every year? That’s what we decided to find out.

We pulled data on more than 422k DeskTime users and listed their most-used productive and unproductive websites and apps in 2021. Here’s what we found.

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Most-used unproductive websites of 2021

The term ”unproductive” is relative – what may be useful for some is a complete time-waster for others. That’s why on DeskTime employee computer monitoring software, people can label different apps and websites according to how they perceive them: as productive or unproductive.

We took a look at 2021’s most-used apps categorized as unproductive and compiled a top 10 list. To give you an idea of how behavior has changed over time, the right-hand column lists the most-used unproductive apps from the year before.

6TwitterVLC Media Player
7SpotifyWindows Media Player
8VLC Media playerSpotify

Now, here’s what this data tells us.

The holy trinity of unproductivity – Youtube, Facebook, WhatsApp

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things when it comes to how we work, but it hasn’t changed where office workers waste their time. 

DeskTime data shows that Youtube, Facebook, and Whatsapp still rank at the top of most-used unproductive apps at work. In fact, Facebook and Youtube haven’t left the top since our first study in 2014 – and neither have Twitter, Netflix, and Amazon. 

What does this mean?

That years go by, but employees’ unproductive habits remain – we just can’t resist socializing, watching videos, and shopping during working hours.

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The rise of unproductive chatting

What seems surprising is to see messaging apps, such as Skype and Slack, among the most-used unproductive apps in 2021. During the first year of the pandemic, these apps became the central element for online collaboration. Now, they’ve been recategorized as ”unproductive”.

This could be related to pandemic-related fatigue. 

Look – tools like Slack and Skype, for the most part, have been helpful additional tools for interpersonal collaboration. Messaging apps make it possible to chat with multiple colleagues at once, easily share links, and quickly receive feedback – all without leaving the desk. 

Before the pandemic, leaving the desk and chatting with colleagues in person was still an option. Then, in the new remote reality of 2021, these digital communication tools became the only method for communication with the team. As a result, people started to spend increasingly more time on messaging apps, and Slack even reported a global average of 20% increase in messages sent per user per day

Every message is a distraction, and a 20% increase in messages sent means a lot more distractions for one workday. Hence, it comes as no surprise that by marking the messaging apps ”unproductive”, managers are trying to limit their use and, that way, protect deep work times.

Watching Netflix during work hours – a perk of remote work?

Watching movies and TV shows during working hours seems to be a growing trend. In 2020, Netflix ranked 9th. A year later – 5th, with the total time spent on this video streaming platform having increased by 17.3%.

It’s not uncommon for work-from-home employees to turn on Netflix while preparing and having lunch or when taking a break. It’s a way to disconnect from work for some time, which, as many people report, is quite the challenge when working from home. 

Then, there are others who admit to watching movies and shows in the background while they work. In fact, in one survey from 2021, 73% of respondents said they watch television while they work.

The fact that Netflix is among the most-used unproductive apps isn’t a surprise per se, as it was on the list eight years ago, too. What’s changed is the time spent on it and that has a lot to do with the new setting – remote work has made it easier to watch Netflix at any time and do it without drawing unwanted attention from supervisors, which is certainly more difficult in an office environment. 

Most-used productive apps of 2021

This overview wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at the top productive apps used at work. Again, let’s compare the results from 2021 vs. 2020.

1MS OutlookMS Outlook
2MS ExcelGoogle
3GmailMS Excel
4Google DocsGmail
5MS TeamsGoogle Docs
6SkypeMS Remote Office
7MS Remote OfficeSlack
9MS WordMS Word
10SlackMS Teams

The list is dominated by typical office and work-related apps – a variety of Microsoft and Google products, email servers, and writing applications.

While nearly identical in top apps, there are a few changes that indicate the times we’re currently living in. 

For one, MS Teams – the Microsoft video conferencing software – has significantly jumped in use. Last year, MS Teams barely made the top, while in 2021, it ranked 5th and the time spent on it had increased by 132.6%. Meanwhile, Google Meets and Zoom, the app that reported a 326% year-over-year revenue growth during the pandemic, ranked 11th and 13th in 2021, respectively.

And two – seeing Slack and Skype among 2021’s top unproductive and productive apps may seem contradictory, but it just goes to show that there is no consensus on whether these tools improve or hamper productivity. Apparently, there’s a significant number of companies and individuals that have categorized Slack and Skype as ”unproductive”, and as many users that find their use ”productive”.

As times change, so do our apps

It’s only natural that as times change, so do our needs, and eventually – the apps we use at work.

While none of this is necessarily surprising, it’s always interesting to see how our habits shape our workdays and vice versa. What will 2022 have in store? We can start making bets. With the rise of Meta, perhaps next year’s list will see the emergence of virtual reality!

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