E-mail and the Internet are the most important communications and information tools among online workers, according to a new study from Pew Research. Pew surveyed a sampling of adult Internet users, asking those with jobs questions about the role digital technology plays in their work lives.
Some 61 percent of workers rate e-mail as very important, almost twice as many as those who rate landline phones very important. The Internet -- meaning Internet websites -- was close behind at 54 percent. The value put on e-mail by workers is in spite of threats such as spam and phishing, and competing technologies like social media and texting. In fact, only 4 percent of workers point to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as important information tools. The seemingly ubiquitous cell phone was named by just 24 percent.
Not surprisingly e-mail and the Internet are especially important to adults who work in traditionally white-collar, office-based occupations. Those tools are also crucial for the 59 percent of employed online adults whose jobs take them outside of the physical boundaries of the workplace at least occasionally.
We reached out to Atlanta-based tech analyst Jeff Kagan, who told us push-and-pull between workers and their electronic communications outlets goes back to the first Blackberrys.
"Suddenly the worker could not be separated from the job," Kagan said. "Now workers love this technology because it lets them do business on a completely different level. Today their lives are more in their control."
The survey, conducted by Pew in late 2013, shows that 94 percent of job holders are Internet users who work in a variety of enterprises ranging from technology companies to non-technology firms, from big corporations to small-proprietor operations, and in settings from urban centers to farms.
While there is always worry that digital tools can be distractions in the workplace, many online workers say the gadgets they use don’t affect their productivity. Only 7 percent of working online adults say their productivity has dropped because of the Internet, e-mail and cell phones. On the other hand, 46 percent say those resources make them feel more productive.
How is that increased productivity manifested? Just over half of Internet-using workers say it enabled them to communicate with more people outside their companies; 39 percent say it allows them more flexibility in the hours they work; and 35 percent say it increases the number of hours they work. Each of those effects are felt more among office-based workers than by workers in traditional blue-collar work settings.
It seems bosses are getting used to the changing landscape regarding employees’ uses of the Internet -- to a point. Less than half of the workers surveyed say their employers block access to certain Web sites or enforce rules about what employees can say or post online. The latter stipulation has more than doubled in frequency, however, since Pew Research began asking about company rules about employees’ online presentations in 2006.
"Technology is a double-edged sword," Kagan said. "It helps the employer and it tracks the worker, but there's always a trail to follow. So don't treat workplace technology like it's your own personal toy."
The analysis in the Pew report was based on an online probability survey conducted among a sample of 1,066 adult Internet users, 18 years of age or older.
Posted: 2015-01-08 @ 6:39am PT
@GeekGal: Of course there's overlap between e-mail and the Internet. But the Pew Research report was trying to differentiate between how e-mail use vs website use impact productivity, and the author of this article was reporting on that. It's not a lack of understanding on his part, it's a distinction that was made in the original research.
Posted: 2015-01-08 @ 6:29am PT
Thank you TheZip--my eye was twitching reading this article because I kept thinking, "e-mail is part of the internet, is something you can do via the internet. This author clearly doesn't know what the internet is and isn't."
Dan--you should have taken my Computer Concepts and Applications class before writing this article. Now go and google "internet" and educate thyself.
Posted: 2015-01-02 @ 8:23am PT
Email is part of the internet. This whole email is not part of the internet is kind of silly. Email is just things like smtp, imap, pop, etc. protocols on the internet. Just as things like http, https, nntp, and many more are protocols on the internet.
R. Cardboard VR:
Posted: 2015-01-02 @ 6:57am PT
The upside is: I cannot do my tech job as well without the Internet and I no longer need to maintain a $10K out-of-pocket library of tech books. Searching the internet for a solution is considerably faster than searching thick paperbacks!
Downside: ClickJackers, etc. and having to filter 90% of the returns to find the rough cut gem.