8 ways the American information worker remains a Luddite

A Forrester Research study is showing that what is a hit in Silicon Valley or among the virtual "Twitterati" has yet to be picked up by most U.S. information workers.

According to the results of an online survey of U.S. information workers at medium-to-large organizations and their technology usage, American 'iWorkers' remain stuck on old-school technologies like desktop PCs, Microsoft Office and e-mail.

Much of the blame goes to their employers, which are failing to satisfy "pent up demand for smartphones" and "squashing" younger Gen Y employees' love of social networking technologies, wrote primary author, Ted Schadler.

The 2,001 employees, all of whom use a computer and the Internet at work, were surveyed this spring. All were at companies with 100 or more employees; 44% worked at organizations with 5,000 or more employees.

Some of the data from the study was released last month. Forrester released the full report late last week. Some of the major themes:

The widely predicted shift to the mobile enterprise hasn't occurred yet, according to Forrester's data. Only one in three information workers use a laptop for work, while one in nine uses a smartphone. Seventy-six percent use a desktop PC most of the time. One in five shares a PC with a co-worker. Managers are the most likely (50%) to get a notebook or smartphone (20%). Manufacturing and retail employees are the least likely to be issued a laptop or smartphone (less than 20% and 10%, respectively).

E-mail remains king over instant messaging. Almost 60% of information workers say they e-mail hourly; 87% use it at least occasionally. Meanwhile, 74% say they never use instant messaging at work. The biggest reasons: One-third blamed lack of corporate support. For others, physical proximity to co-workers and greater comfort with e-mail and phone were the reasons they didn't use IM.

Other communication tools remain on the bench. Seventy-six percent never use Web conferencing tools such as Cisco System's WebEx. Others that are mostly ignored include business-reporting tools (78%), team document-sharing sites such as Microsoft SharePoint (80%), social networking sites (89%) and videoconferencing (91%). "Real-time collaboration tools have stalled out," Schadler wrote.

One reason is dissatisfaction. Only about 20% of those using team document-sharing sites said they were very satisfied. Another is their apparent difficulty. Less than 20% of users of Web conferencing applications claimed to feel "highly expert" in them. Still another reason is that many workers are involved in multi-company teams. Real-time tools such as corporate IM require some IT setup, compared to e-mail, which requires none.

Web 2.0 remains generally on the fringe. Less than 20% of information workers said they visit social networking sites for work, contribute to discussion forums, access information on an internal wiki, search online for a potentially helpful co-worker, or attend company training.

On the other hand, fears about Facebook and Twitter wreaking havoc on productivity may be overblown. Less than 30% said they shopped online at work, less than 20% played online games, visited Facebook or MySpace, or traded personal IMs, while less than 10% read blogs for personal reasons.

Search is hard and underused . Almost half (45%) of workers spend three or more hours per week looking for information at work. Twenty percent said they "spend too much time" tracking down information. It is a "notable time sink for most," wrote Forrester. At the same time, more than half of information workers never search their desktop, while three-fourths never search their employee portal.

Users remain loyal to their productivity software while ignoring its "power" features . Only a quarter of employees make presentations such as PowerPoint slides once a week, just one in eight create and use macros, while one in 20 insert video into presentations.

Forrester did not report what users thought of their current productivity software, which is Microsoft Office in most cases . But inertia remains high, creating obstacles for challengers such as Google Docs or IBM Lotus Symphony. Only 9% would be happy to switch their word processors, while only 10% of Outlook users would be happy to have their e-mail switched.

Telecommuting remains tiny. Only one in 25 information workers telecommutes full-time. Another 4% telecommute between two and four days a week. One in four work remotely one day a week or less. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed never telecommute.

Gen Yers love to text, not Facebook. Perhaps out of genuine disinterest, but Gen Y worker (those under 30 years old) are less interested in social-networking sites (50%) at work and more interested in texting (70%). Schadler attributed this partly to corporate crackdowns on FaceBook and Twitter at work.

Generation Xers (between 30-43 years old) lead Gen Yers and Baby Boomers in areas such as listening to podcasts, reading and writing blogs and contributing to forums, though the percentages in all cases were low (under 15%).

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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