December 30, 2014

Email Rules the Workplace

Despite a generation of threats and competitors, email ranks as the most important digital tool for workers who use the internet. Only 4% of these networked workers cite social media as very important on the job
35% say they spend more time working because of the internet and cell phones and 46% say the internet has made them more productive

WASHINGTON (Dec. 30, 2014)—A survey of online workers who use the internet has found that email and the internet are the most important digital tools at the workplace for them. The especially high value of email comes despite the challenges of the past generation, including threats like spam and phishing and competitors like social media and texting.

Some 61% of workers who use the internet say email is very important to their jobs and 54% describe the internet that way.

Surprisingly, landline phones outrank cell phones for these internet-using workers: 34% of online workers cite the landline as very important for work and 24% cite their cell phone or smartphone. Social media is very low in importance, cited by only 4% of jobholders who use the internet as “very important” to their work.

“Email is to the digital age what stone-sharpening tools were in the prehistoric age – good for everything that needs to be done,” noted Lee Rainie, director of internet, science, and technology research at the Pew Research Center. “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.”

These findings come from a survey of workers who use the internet by the Pew Research Center that is part of its year-long series of reports that is tied to the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. The new survey documents a variety of ways that workplaces and the very nature of work have been changed by the internet through the eyes of workers:

  • Working longer and more flexibly: 35% of online workers say the internet has increased the number of hours they work; and 39% say they have more flexibility about their work hours thanks to the internet.
  • Greater productivity: While commentators worry that digital tools can be a distraction in the workplace, many online workers say that is not the case when it comes to their productivity. Just 7% of working online adults feel their productivity has dropped because of the internet, email and cell phones, while 46% feel more productive.
  • New office rules: 46% of online workers say their employer blocks access to certain websites and 46% say their firms have rules about what employees can say or post online. This latter figure has more than doubled since Pew Research began asking about company rules about employees’ online presentation in 2006.
  • Wider contacts: 51% of internet-using workers say the internet has expanded the number of people outside their company that they communicate with.

“These respondents highlight how workplaces in the Knowledge Economy are differently organized and have different connections to customers and competitors from workplaces designed to suit the Industrial Age,” noted Rainie. “Compared with the ‘organization men’ of the mid-20th century and the factory workers before them, these workers describe dramatically different jobs and strikingly different work arrangements. Today’s jobholder is a networked worker.”

About this survey

The analysis in this report is based on an online probability survey conducted September 12-18, 2014 among a sample of 1,066 adult internet users, 18 years of age or older. The survey included 535 adults employed full-time or part-time, who are the basis of this report. The survey was conducted in English by the GfK Group using KnowledgePanel, its nationally representative online research panel. Sampling error for the subsample of 535 working adults is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. For more information on the GfK Privacy Panel, please see the Methods section at the end of this report.