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Compelling facts about email (ab)use in organizations

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Compelling facts about email (ab)use in organizations

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It has almost become a truism that the average corporate employee spends around 25-30 percent of the workday on email related tasks. For example, McKinsey found that workers spend 28% of their workweek on reading e-mails. By comparison we spend 14 percent of our time, or just 6.4 hours per week, on "communicating and collaborating internally."(1).

According to Mimecast, only 25% of emails we receive are considered essential for work purposes and 14% is of critical importance. 40% of the work-related email is either functional or of low importance. On average, 63% of email is internal, employee-to-employee communication. 13% of the emails we receive at work is personal and not related to our work at all. 7 percent of the emails we receive at work is spam or junk mail. (2)

GigaOM found that over 40 employees claim that the workplace suffers from information overload, and over a third state that email is the number one contributor to that. (3)

According to Basex, information overload costs the US economy ca 900 billion per year, a large part of which is cased by unnecessary interruptions and the time it takes to recover and get back to the task the person was working on before the interruption. Recovery time can be up to 20 times the time of the interruption. (4)

On average knowledge workers waste 28% on their work day on unnecessary interruptions and recovery time. (4)

Internal surveys at Intel showed that the typical Intel employee receives 50-100 emails per day and spends as much as 20 hours per week on email administration. 30 percent of the messages received and managed were unnecessary. (4)

When email was first introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, work wasn’t at all as collaborative, or geographically distributed, as it is today. The type of communication that took place between managers and employees was mostly one-way, so not that much email transformed into many-to-many conversations. In other words, the amount and complexity of many-to-many conversations was very limited compared to today when there’s so much communication happening between employees across time and space. 
Still, when features such as "Reply all" and email lists were introduced in corporate email systems, the software engineers who designed the first corporate email systems knew what it would eventually lead to. They were well aware that email wasn't at all suitable for many-to-many communication; it would create a tsunami of information, causing information overload among information workers, and create oceans of duplicated information that would need to be managed. That's why they considered leaving features such as email lists out, but at some point came a manager to tell them "I want to inform all these people” and, tada! Email lists were introduced. Reply all as well. Looking back, it was like opening Pandora’s box.


(1)” The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies”, by Michael Chui, James Manyika, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Charles Roxburgh, Hugo Sarrazin, Geoffrey Sands and Magdalena Westergren, May 2012
(2)“ The Future of Workplaces”  By Abhijeet Rane & Tavishi Agrawal, Techaisle, GigaOM, 2011
(3)“ The Shape of Email”, Mimecast, June 2012
(4)“ Intel’s War on Information Overload: A Case Study” by Jonathan B Spira & Cody Burje, Basex, August 2009

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