Remote workers have had more choice than ever when it comes to communications software in 2021, but there’s one tool that they keep coming back to: email.
The last 12 months have seen a huge uptake in remote working and productivity software, which has kept businesses and their employees connected during the pandemic.
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The rapid rise of video conferencing is often used as an example of how digital channels have become essential to day-to-day work, yet new research from email security company Egress suggests that we’re still relying on fast, easy and familiar technologies when we want to get real work done.
In a survey of 500 IT leaders and 3,000 remote workers in the UK and US, 55% said email was the channel they used the most while working from home, followed by chat apps (27%) and text-based platforms, such as WhatsApp and SMS (20%).
Use of email has also grown faster than other platforms, the survey found: 85% of respondents said they were using email more while working remotely than they had prior to the pandemic, compared to video-conferencing software (77%) and chat apps like Microsoft Teams (77%).
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Key to this is that remote workers felt email was most conducive to their work. Just under half (46%) of respondents said they felt most productive using email, compared to chat apps (28%) and WhatsApp/SMS (19%).
Comparatively, while video conferencing may have been the ‘breakout’ channel during the pandemic, Egress’s survey found that nearly one-third (29%) of respondents actively disliked using it. It also indicated that workers are reluctant to use WhatsApp and other SMS-style channels in a work setting – 22% of respondents said they disliked using these channels, compared to 19% of those who cited email.
While technology has kept us connected throughout the pandemic, extended bouts of living and working in the same location have made it more difficult to switch off at the end of the day. The assumption that employees are sitting near to their computer and are, therefore, contactable at all times has intensified an ‘always-on’ culture, which has blurred boundaries between employees’ work and home lives.
But not everything about email is good. Egress found email was the biggest culprit when it came to disrupting work-life balance. Forty-six percent of remote workers said they felt pressure to respond to emails out of hours, compared to 41% who didn’t.
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Egress pointed out that email doesn’t require both parties to be online at the same time, such as apps like Zoom or Teams, making it easier to respond to work-related issues outside of work hours. Younger workers, and in particular Millennials, found it most difficult to switch off from work, the survey found.
A year after the big switch to home working, many are still struggling with the same inadequate work environments that they had in March 2020. Only 28% of respondents have sole access to a home office, with the majority of workers (42%) sharing their workspace with another person.
Egress found that there were differences between sectors. Legal professionals were significantly more likely to be working in a shared space (36%), which the software company pointed out had potential implications for client confidentiality.
Richard Mortimer, chief people officer at Egress, said challenges around shared workspaces had been a sticking point for younger remote workers over the past 12 months. “While for some employees, remote working has been a welcome break from the office and the daily commute, for others it has been a different story,” he added.
“With many organizations now contemplating what the future looks like in terms of returning to the office, it’s important that all employees’ voices are heard.”