Information workers turn 'inbox workers'
Information workers' reliance on e-mail is turning them into 'inbox workers' who spend the majority of their time on e-mail and shun social media at work.
This is according to research by Mimecast. The research - the second in Mimecast's Shape of E-mail series - surveyed 2 500 information workers in the US, UK and SA to explore the average employee's attitudes to, and frustrations with, e-mail.
It found that, on average, an information worker will use e-mail for four hours per day, equivalent to more than 37 full 24-hour days over a working year, 111 working days, or 888 working hours.
However, Mimecast notes that users are also frustrated by the limitations of e-mail. Just one in four users report high levels of satisfaction with their e-mail functionality, and one in three expect e-mail and social media to converge in the next five years.
More than a communication tool
According to the company, it is clear that e-mail needs to evolve if it is to cope with the demands of modern-day inbox workers, who view e-mail not just as a communication tool, but as a file store, search engine and a collaboration platform.
"The research shows that the way the average employee uses e-mail at work has changed," says Christelle Hicklin, customer experience manager at Mimecast SA.
"For many people, e-mail is no longer just a messaging system. It has become the primary tool for storing, sharing and searching for information. This is why we are seeing information workers increasingly becoming inbox workers - they rely on e-mail for all aspects of their job, and spend, on average, 50% of their working days using e-mail," she adds.
Ryan Fuller, CEO at VoloMetrix, concurs, saying an average of 145 billion e-mails are sent each day. "While social networks are growing, e-mail and meetings are still the places where more than 95% of the work happens at organisations today, so they are vital components for understanding the whole picture," says Fuller.
Hicklin also points out that the inbox is now being used as a default file server and search tool, adding that it is no longer just a tool for sending and receiving messages.
Inbox workers' e-mail accounts are their default way of storing, filing and searching for documents or information, she notes. Some 86% of e-mail users surveyed noted that they rely on e-mail as a search tool to find documents or information from within their inboxes or archives.
However, Mimecast says, with e-mail systems rarely designed for rapid searching, these searches take two minutes on average, suggesting that a lack of intelligent search capability is contributing to the huge amount of time spent using e-mail every day.
Despite this, one in two (49%) users believe e-mail is reducing the need for other file storage systems.
Email vs social media
Mimecast also believes the use of work e-mail has been unaffected by social media, saying that while inbox workers use social media, it is primarily for personal use. The report found that e-mail is preferred over social media for all forms of workplace collaboration, including documentation exchange (preferred by 91% of respondents), arranging a meeting (preferred by 89%), requesting information (88%) and sharing views and opinions (72%).
Some 78% of e-mail users say social media has not reduced their reliance on e-mail for dealing with customers, and 76% say it has not reduced the need for e-mail when communicating with colleagues.
The report also discovered that 74% of information workers believe information shared in an e-mail is taken more seriously than information shared through social media.
"What is clear is that, despite the huge number of specialist collaboration and social tools that have come to market in recent years, e-mail remains the first choice for the majority of business users," Hicklin says.
"While e-mail is not perfect, it seems that information workers are reluctant to adopt other, more social, tools if it means they have to leave their inboxes behind. Therefore, rather than trying to entice users away from e-mail and onto other platforms, IT teams should look for ways to make their e-mail more efficient by introducing new, inbox-friendly collaboration tools and making the data stored within the archive more accessible."
Bad e-mail behaviour
Mimecast also notes that the love of e-mail can lead to bad habits. With inbox workers relying on e-mail for so much of their working days, their dependence can give rise to bad corporate behaviour, it explains.
While 39% of information workers regularly send and receive workplace e-mail outside of working hours, 25% of e-mail users admit they have sent e-mails late in the evening purely to "show commitment".
Some 75% say they have sent e-mails they have later regretted, with 40% having deleted e-mails they shouldn't have.
Even more worryingly, Mimecast notes, 10% of those surveyed admitted to having read e-mails in other people's inboxes.
According to the study, inbox workers like to be copied in on e-mails, even if they are non-essential messages. Nearly half (45%) of e-mail users believe it is useful to be copied in on e-mails internally, with 35% saying they find Cc e-mail a really useful way of staying on top of external communications. Just one in five (21%) believe Cc e-mail is overused within their companies.