Productivity challenges of modern office workers’ email deluge

Image credit: <a href=''>scanrail / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Possibly the most perplexing picture of the modern office is whether technology has made it more, or less productive. New research by Warwick Business School has found that on average UK office workers deal with 40 emails a day and one in 12 with 100 messages a day, which can’t be good for productivity. Meanwhile another piece of research by psychologists at the University of Chester reveals the somewhat unsurprising fact that an over reliance on social media reduces the ability to maintain ‘meaningful’ relationships due to a lack of visual emotional cues – which could further cast doubts over the efficacy of remote working.

The Warwick study, produced to support npower’s online archive ‘Remember How We Used To Work’, found that office workers in the UK send and receive 10,000 emails a year. It also found that one in five office workers never put pen to paper and more than 10 per cent spend the whole day on a computer or a mobile phone. Meanwhile, traditional methods of communication are falling by the wayside, as one in ten workers say they never make phone calls at work and 48 per cent never post a letter.

Doctoral researcher Will Skillman, who recently completed an MBA at Warwick Business School, said: “Since the 1950s, technology in the workplace has changed dramatically from telephones and typewriters to advanced personal computers, mobile communications equipment and tablet devices.

“Yet what isn’t clear is whether this technology-powered workplace is directly helping to improve how we work or if we are just replacing old technologies with new. Certainly the rise of the mobile office means that workers can stay plugged in on the move and for longer periods of time, but whether this has resulted in a more productive workforce remains to be seen.”

The study found that 58 per cent of UK workers believe that electronic gadgets such as computers, tablets and mobile phones have made them more industrious in the workplace. However, the research discovered just how reliant on technology today’s workers are, with one in four admitting they don’t remember life before email.

Over  half (57 per cent) of those questioned said they check their inbox out of work hours and 85 per cent of those who do, think it makes them more productive. This ties in with another recent study by Warwick Business School Professor Joe Nandhakumar which suggests that this kind of flexibility afforded by social media fits in with the demands of the modern world: “helping rather than hindering the effective completion of collective tasks.”

Images of the changing workplace through the years are documented on npower’s ‘Remember How We Used To Work’ archive, (, which looks back at how energy and technology has transformed the UK over the decades.

By Sara Bean