Social media in the workplace? Don’t be silly, we’re ‘Inbox Workers’ says study

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As so-called “Information Workers”, email takes up a lot of our time. A new study takes a stab at exactly why our inboxes have increasingly magnetic qualities, reveals why social media in the workplace hasn’t caught on yet and gives surprising insight into our email habits.

We get a lot of email. Mimecast, a supplier of cloud-based email services, revealed that we receive an average of 39 emails per day — most of it (29 or so), useless. Its Shape of Email Report also indicates that we are repurposing our inboxes as file servers, which can be awkward, as the report estimates that an average message search can take as long as two minutes — companies that have migrated to Google Apps will beg to differ, but they are believed to be in the minority.

The report estimates that it all adds up to an average inbox submergence of four hours per day; equivalent to more than 37 full 24-hour days over a working year, 111 working days, or 888 working hours — we’re changing from Information Workers into what the report calls “Inbox Workers”.

The research – the second in Mimecast’s Shape of Email series — surveyed 2 500 information workers in the US, UK and South Africa to explore the average employee’s attitudes to, and frustrations with, email. Those surveyed indicate a desire for better social media integration and expect email and social media to converge in the next five years. Email is seen as not just as a communications tool anymore, but as a file store, search engine and a collaboration platform.

So, what is an Inbox Worker and how can you tell if you are one?

You use your inbox as a default file server and search tool — No longer just a tool for sending and receiving messages, an Inbox Worker’s email account is their default way of storing, filing and searching for documents or information:

  • 86 percent of users surveyed rely on email as a search tool to find documents or information from within their inbox or archive.
  • However, with email 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 email every day.
  • Despite this, one in two (49 percent) believe that email is reducing the need for other file storage systems.

Your use of work email has been unaffected by social media — Inbox Workers use social media, but it is primarily for personal use. The rise of social media has had little impact on their reliance upon work email:

  • Shape of Email found that email is preferred over social media for all forms of workplace collaboration, including documentation exchange (preferred by 91 percent of respondents), arranging a meeting (preferred by 89 percent), requesting information (88 percent) and sharing views and opinions (72 percent).
  • 78 percent of email users say that social media has not reduced their reliance on email for dealing with customers and 76 percent say that it has not reduced the need for email when communicating with colleagues.
  • 74 percent of information workers believe that information shared in an email is taken more seriously than information shared through social media.

Your love of email can lead to bad habits — With Inbox Workers relying on email for so much of their working day, their dependence can give rise to bad corporate behaviour:

  • While 39 percent of information workers regularly send and receive workplace email outside of working hours, 25 percent of email users admit that they have sent emails late in the evening purely to “show commitment”
  • 75 percent say that they have sent emails they have later regretted, with 40 percent having deleted emails they shouldn’t have
  • Even more worryingly, 10 percent of those surveyed admitted to having read emails in other people’s inboxes

You like to be kept in the loop — Inbox Workers like to be copied on emails, even if they are non-essential messages:

  • Nearly half (45 percent) of email users believe that it is useful to be copied on emails internally with 35 percent saying that they find Cc email a really useful way of staying on top of external communications. Just one in five (21 percent) believe that Cc email is overused within their company
  • This might explain why 40 percent of all emails received are considered to be functional or of low value and just 14 percent of all emails received are considered business critical
  • On average, email users receive 32 emails a day, containing 4.5 megabytes of data in total

Christelle Hicklin, customer experience manager at Mimecast South Africa, says that despite the large number of specialist collaboration and social tools that have come to market in recent years — think Yammer — email remains the first choice for the majority of business users.

“While email is not perfect, it seems that information workers are reluctant to adopt other, more social, tools if it means they have to leave their inbox behind. Therefore, rather than trying to entice users away from email and on to other platforms, IT teams should look for ways to make their email more efficient by introducing new, inbox-friendly collaboration tools and making the data stored within the archive more accessible,” she says.

The findings have been summarised in the infographic below and the full report is available here.


Feature image: Flickr

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  • http://twitter.com/bruikbaar Edwin vande Bospoort

    I found this article quite intriguing, especially because the ESN ‘market’ wants to tell us otherwise. But it’s good to hear these sounds too. Habits are very hard to break, and ‘our generation’ is so used to email, we’re the heavy users. I do see a shift coming though, but as this article points out, the shift might happen much slower than the hype wants us to believe.
    We’ve been working on a social network tool for a while now, respecting the email-habits of our potential users, yet also dragging them a bit into a new era ;-) When interested, feel free to check it out at sciomino.com

  • http://twitter.com/maritzavdh Maritza vd Heuvel

    Although I’m a firm believer in social tools at work, and our company has a highly active and engaged internal social network, I still find myself dealing with a lot of unnecessary email, especially CC mail. But you can’t break the email culture entirely on your own. Although you can try, by insisting on phoning people, talking to them or using the social network to share views and/or documents, if key people in your work group are not doing it, you’ll make hardly a dent. This I find particularly true at more senior levels in the business. There appears to be a general preference for email over using the work social network at senior management and executive level.

    That said, I still think our internal social network rocks and it’s a key part of collaboration for those of us who embrace it fully.

  • Pingback: 9 Tips For E-mail Excellence In The Social Web | Hey Receiver

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