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    « Culture Change or the Gig Economy: You probably can choose only one | Main | What Will Happen if we Move the Company: The Limits of Data »

    SURVEY: Depressingly, Email remains the most important technology at work

    One of my go-to places for news, data, and research on technology adoption, usage, and trends is the Pew Research Internet Project. Towards the end of 2014, the folks at Pew released a short research report titled Technology's Impact on Workers, a look at how and which kinds of technologies are effecting work and workforces. It is a pretty interesting and easily digestible report, but since I know you are really busy and might not have time to read the entire research report, I wanted to call out one data point, and then we can, together, pause, reflect, and lament for a moment.

    First the data point, take a look at the chart below that displays survey responses to the question of which technologies workers (separated into office workers and non-office workers), consider 'very important' to their jobs:

    Two things stand out from this data. First, and the obvious one (and still exceedingly depressing), is that email remains the most important type of technology cited by office workers for helping them perform their jobs. Despite its relative maturity (and that is putting it nicely, as far as technology goes, email at about 30 years old should have been brought out behind the barn and put out of its misery decades ago), email continues to hold its vise-like death grip on modern office work. I hope I live (or at least work) long enough to see email finally disrupted from this position, but so far alternate workplace communication and collaboration options have not been able to accomplish what (ironically), almost everyone desires - the end of being slaves to email all day.

    The other bit of data from the Pew survey comes from the bottom portion of the chart - the kinds of technologies that workers find not 'very important' to them in getting their jobs done. And in a result that will make the social networking aficionados cringe (and many CIOs who would prefer to block these kinds of things from corporate networks happy), social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were cited as 'very important' by a measly 7 percent of office workers and 2 percent of non-office workers. Now that doesn't mean that these networks are 'not important', based on the way the question was phrased, but certainly the vast disparity in the stated importance of social networks in getting work done compared to email, (general) internet availability, and phones paints a pretty clear picture. For most folks, technology use at work is dominated by email, with web access and phones, (land and mobile), rounding out about 90% of the technology picture.

    I will close with a quote from the Pew report, and then sulk away with my head bowed, dreaming of a better future for our children...

    This high standing for email has not changed since Pew Research began studying technology in the workplace. Email’s vital role has withstood major changes in other communications channels such as social media, texting, and video chatting. Email has also survived potential threats like phishing, hacking and spam and dire warnings by commentators and workplace analysts about lost productivity and email overuse.


    Happy Wednesday.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    Interesting findings Steve. For me email is a perfect example of a great tool that has been stretched well beyond its capabilities. Modern requirements ask too much of it - e.g. it's not the best way to recruit internally or to send files.

    We're starting to see an 'unbundling' of the email platform, with new companies emerging to lighten the load - tools like Slack are far better for internal communication, Dropbox is better for file transfers.

    Other tools understand the power of email but recognise the need to create a better workflow for companies. Asana, RelateIQ (and hopefully our product at Seed) make it easier to handle task management, sales and recruitment respectively - harnessing the power of email, but using a web-app to give it greatly enhanced capabilities.

    Additional plugins like Yesware and Boomerang are also helping email become more effective and giving users a greater functionality from their inbox.

    Because so many companies are hitching their products to email I don't think we are going to ever see a real decline in it's importance - we may be able to make it more effective though!

    January 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBen Slater

    Thanks Ben for those comments. I think at the end of this, still the single largest barrier to more widespread migration from Email to other, and better kinds of communication and collaboration platforms is the three decades plus amount of inertia and mass that email has developed. Change is just hard to sell, hard to sustain, and hard to communicate. I for one, would like to see more communication moving to Text or even SnapChat-like tools. Keeps the messages short, keeps them on point, reduces the formality of email, etc.

    January 15, 2015 | Registered CommenterSteve

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