Digital technology in the workplace — email, Internet access and smartphones — increases worker productivity and flexibility but possibly at a price: a longer workday.
Nearly half of workers who use online and digital tools (46 percent) say they feel more productive, a new Pew Research Center report said. And about four in 10 (39 percent) say the Internet, email and phones give them added flexibility in the hours they work.
But almost as many (35 percent) say they are working more hours because of digital tools.
“The once rigid boundary between ‘work’ and ‘home’ has changed to something that is highly permeable,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, science, and technology research. “People do lots of work at home, and they do some home-related things at work — like shop, browse the Web, watch March Madness on their mobile devices in their cubicles.”
Between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18, the Pew Research Center surveyed more than 1,000 adult Internet users and focused on 535 adults who worked full or part time.
While this report was not constructed to find definitive data about whether people are working more than in the past, those who participated in the survey feel like they are, he said. “They feel more ‘on call’ when it’s possible for their bosses to yank the electronic leash and email them after hours or call their smartphone while they are on vacation,” Rainie said.
Compared to other countries, people in the United States work 1,790 hours a year, higher than the average of 1,765 hours, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. About 11 percent of U.S. employees work very long hours, higher than the OECD average of 9 percent.
Of all tech tools, email reigns as the most important to workers who are online, the survey found. The Internet ranked as next important followed by landline telephones, then cellphones and, lastly, social media sites.
Email is the equivalent to “what stone-sharpening tolls were in the prehistoric age,” Rainie said. “I think the pre-eminent place of email in today’s work culture will likely shock the technology community.”
Prognosticators have predicted the death of email for “a long time,” he said. “There is plenty of commentary that new channels like social media or hot new communications platforms will supplant email,” Rainie said. “Yet, email has survived every challenge from spam to Skype to remain the most important tool for most workers.”
Among other findings: more than half of workers who were online as part of their job (51 percent) said the Internet has expanded the number of people outside their company that they communicate with.
Nearly as many (46 percent) say their employer blocks access to certain websites and has rules about what employees can say or post online. “This is partly the case because bosses are worried about wasted time at the workplace,” Rainie said.
Employers are worried about what their workers could say online, too, he said. “This is an environment where everyone is a broadcaster or publisher, and they can create a lot of woe for their employers if they say nasty or risqué or crazy things about where they work,” Rainie said. “In the pre-Internet era, brand managers and communicators were entrusted with telling a company’s story. Now, every worker with a Facebook or Twitter account can conceivably move the market and affect a firm’s reputation.”