How Have Email and Instant Messaging Use Changed Since 2001?

Osterman Research has been in business nearly 14 years and has tracked the growth and changes in the use of email, instant messaging and other communication tools since our inception. We have focused continually on how individuals and organizations communicate and collaborate using these tools, and how they plan to do so in the future.

Not surprisingly, current Osterman Research surveys have found that email is the dominant communications and collaboration tool in most organizations, and that it serves as the primary method for transporting files – in fact, 98% of the bits that flow through the typical email system are the files that are attached to emails. Our research reveals that the typical information worker currently spends 167 minutes per business day doing work in their email client or Webmail system, such as sending or receiving email, looking for attachments, managing tasks, searching for contacts, and the like. The typical information worker receives 100 emails on a normal workday and sends 30. Moreover, users currently spend about 30 minutes per day working in an instant messaging system, whether a standalone instant messaging solution or one that is integrated with a collaboration platform.

Bucking the conventional wisdom, numerous Osterman Research surveys that email is actually becoming more important to users over time – both in the sheer volume of content sent and received through email, and also in the use of email as the starting point for many of the tasks that information workers undertake during the normal course of their workday.

So, how have things changed for email and instant messaging use since 2001? In some ways things have changed dramatically. For example:

  • An Osterman Research survey conducted in December 2001 found that the average employee sent and received a total of just under 16 Internet-based emails on a typical workday. Compared to today’s traffic volume that averages 130 emails sent and received per day, the result has been a dramatic increase in message volume of roughly 730% over the past 13 years. Given that email systems today include much more functionality and integration with other capabilities than they did in 2001, the amount of time spent in email has risen at even faster pace.
  • While instant messaging is almost universally accepted as a business communications medium today, that was not the case in 2001. For example, a July 2001 Osterman Research survey found that only 21% of organizations were using any form of instant messaging, only 23% of email users employed it, and only 22% of IT organizations supported its use in a workplace context.

In some ways, however, things have not changed all that much:

  • Microsoft Exchange was the market leader in business-grade email in an October 2001 Osterman Research survey, followed by Lotus Notes/Domino – much the same as the market shakes out today – albeit with a smattering 13 years ago of tools like Lotus cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail still accounting for some market share.
  • While Lotus Sametime was the dominant enterprise-grade instant messaging system in mid-2001, the dominant instant messaging systems in use were consumer-grade tools (AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger were the “big three” in 2001).

What we have seen in email and instant messaging use since 2001 has been a steady progression in the volume of emails that users send, an increased reliance on the use of email for both communications and file transport, and growing use of instant messaging. Despite the view by some that email and instant messaging use in the workplace will diminish as social media solutions replace them, as well as the notion that younger workers consider email and instant messaging passé, Osterman Research forecasts that email and instant messaging will remain critical tools in a business context for many years to come.

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