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Guess what? Email isn't going away. Guess what else? According to Pew Research, email is far more popular than social media and texting. The research also shows email is more important to office workers than the broader Internet itself.

The findings also show that email and the Internet are the most important communications and information tools. Among all online workers surveyed, 61 percent rated email as very important to their jobs and 54 percent said the same of the Internet.

As Merlin Mann, the San Francisco-based writer, speaker and broadcaster, has noted, "Email is such a funny thing."

We're Hooked

This is no big surprise, though. Research from Pew at the end of 2013 showed 94 percent of office workers are Internet users, regardless of the industries in which they work or the size of the business in which they work.

The report, Technology’s Impact On Workers, is based on a survey last September of 1,066 Internet users 18 and older, including 535 who use the Internet as a principal work tool. The research is part of a sustained effort by the Pew Research Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan think tank designed to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

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So what did it find about email? The research showed that for most office workers, life on the job means life online. It also showed that despite developments in collaboration or social technologies, most office workers find working, collaborating and communicating by email is easier than other technologies and a core part of their work life.

Of those surveyed, 61 percent rated email as very important to their job while 44 percent said the same of the Internet. In comparison, only 4 percent rated social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn as “very important” to their work.

What is surprising perhaps is that the figures haven’t really changed since Pew started researching email and related technologies in 2002. In fact, in the 2002 research, Pew found that 61 percent of Americans were using email at work, while in 2008, 62 percent of working American adults were “networked workers,” meaning they used the internet or email in the workplace.

Email has proven its worth on the job as the foundational ‘social media’ day by day even as rival technologies arise. It was the killer app 45 years ago for the early ARPANET and it continues to rule workplaces despite threats like spam and phishing and competitors like social networking and texting,” Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew, noted in a statement.

Email And Work Practices

The research showed email is particularly important to workers in traditional white collar office-based occupations — in other words, executives, managers, business owners and clerical workers. This is particularly true of 59 percent of workers that have to work outside the physical boundaries of the enterprises at least occasionally.

It also seems that email is enduring despite threats like phishing, hacking and spam, which continues to clog inboxes, threaten enterprise infrastructure and cause a loss in productivity.

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However, workers themselves don’t feel any such qualms about technology.  Only 7 percent of online adults feel their productivity has dropped because of email or cell phones, while 46 percent say they have become more productive.

Despite the rise of mobile and smartphones, most workers are lukewarm about the impact. One in three workers (35 percent) say landline phones are “very important” to their work, compared with 24 percent who say the same about mobile phones. Asked about the impact email and cell phone has on their work practices:

  • 51 percent said they have expanded the number of people they communicate with outside of the enterprise using email
  • 39 percent say their working hours and practices are more flexible with email
  • 35 percent says that it email and cell phones also increases the number of hours they work

This is not the first time Pew has posed this question either. When it asked the same question in 2008, it found that 33 percent of those surveyed said that the email and cell phones had increased either a lot of some the demands made on them in work hours.

C-Suite Changes

The research also found employers are changing their attitude to how their employees are using email and the Internet. Less than half (46 percent) are now blocking access to certain websites with a similar number saying their organization has regulations about what employees can say or post online.

If that appears small, the figure for those organizations that have or don’t have rules about what employees can do online has nearly doubled since Pew started asking this question in 2006.

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It's hardly surprising that blocking access to websites and establishing rules about posting material are most common among office workers. For workers in skilled or semi-skilled positions working outside of the office, 29 percent are not sure whether their employees are blocking websites or not, while 35 percent don’t even know whether their employers have rules about online posts.

Asked about promoting their company online, 23 percent claimed their companies encourage employees to do so, while more than half (56 percent) stated the opposite.

Title image by Will Lion  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.