Right now, we know less than ever before about what work is and where it takes place. The pandemic forced us to abandon offices, and it is evident that we are unlikely to return to the traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday office-based culture that has been the standard of office life for a century or so. We need all the aid technology can bring us to bridge the gap and especially we need communications to ride to our rescue. Email provides us with the freedom to work from wherever we like but, to co-opt Thomas Jefferson, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
As employers experiment with TWTs (staff that work from offices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays), redesigned offices, and shared workspaces, it is clear we must double down on connectivity. We are going to be more dependent than ever on our ability to share knowledge and ideas, partner and co-create. It was no coincidence that the past two years have seen a boom in videoconferencing, shared screens, virtual whiteboards and the like. But we are also witnessing the continuing dominance of email for business communications.
But email is under fire because it is often the preferred conduit of attackers so we need to protect it. Obviously, education, training and reinforcement are table stakes but we also need security tools to come to the fore and software intelligence to help out and save us from ourselves or the actions of bad actors.
Zivver’s recent research across 6031 email users and 855 IT decision makers in the US and Europe suggests that while more than half said they are using more (55%) communications tools, email is still king of the hill, being used by 75% of employees, a figure that’s way over that for even face-to-face meetings, never mind conferencing and other tools (see table).
Method of communication
Instant messaging (e.g. Slack, Teams, WhatsApp)
Video conferencing or video calling
It’s not overstating matters to say that email has changed the world and continues to change it. It’s fast, widely accepted for formal communications, highly scalable from one-to-one to one-to-many, and it’s a format that everyone understands. As remote working becomes a far larger part of how we collaborate, we need email more than ever. We trust email with our private thoughts, sensitive data and intellectual property so we need to ensure that it’s safe and we get virtually daily reminders of the fact that it actually isn’t safe in the news. Among recent headlines, the UK National Health Service has been hit by at least 139 compromised staff email accounts as a result of a phishing trip. In the US, Valley View Hospital association, the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health and Fairfield County Implants and Periodontics were all prey to phishing compromises that led to email accounts being penetrated and concerns over sensitive data being leaked.
But it’s not just phishing that’s causing concerns. Email is often the bearer of macro viruses in attachments, ransomware threats and more. We should also not overlook human error as a security risk: 35% of respondents to the Zivver survey confessed to sending the wrong attachment and 25% had accidentally replied to all. It’s the very ubiquity of email and the trust we place in it that make it so uniquely appealing to actors with malicious intent.
Automation is our friend here. If I am sending a spreadsheet to a recipient for the first time, it’s useful if my robo-assistant checks that I have the right person in mind before releasing the message. Similarly, if I work in a highly regulated environment, I may want to be told about the risks of sending a new mail to an unapproved domain and what I can do to additionally secure that message, such as applying encryption. Or if I have a large data set, it’s useful if I am advised to create a safe sharing environment rather than sending it as an attachment.
Already, we can use technology to check for vocabulary and flag words that sound like they may be associated with sensitive content. With AI and Machine Learning this will only improve over time so we can enjoy a real-time, secure environment that is fast and unobtrusive for users but is also able to catch errors and track dangers.
The uncertain world of hybrid working has many attractions. It is hoped that we can balance work and leisure in a more equitable way than was possible in the age of presenteeism. We may be able to focus more and even raise levels of productivity away from the various distractions of office life. But we will need to continue to work with colleagues and partners virtually and for this we will need email. We have seen already that the volume of emails is rising and that threats have grown in the age of home and remote working. Gaining the advantages while controlling the risks requires sense and full use of the technologies available. We may not know exactly what the future of work will be but there is no excuse for not preparing to manage its challenges.