Just one in three emails within business inboxes hold real, immediate value, according to research by Mimecast, with only 25% considered essential for work purposes and an additional 14% categorised as being of ‘critical importance’.

The research, Mimecast’s inaugural The Shape of Email report, polled IT departments on email practices and the contents of the average employee inbox in order to develop a picture of the current status and value of business email. The research explores the changing nature of the inbox, remote access to email and the use of social media, and will be updated regularly to follow the journey of those changes, including analysis of real corporate email traffic. By investigating the value of the emails received by business users, the report is able to track the ‘shape’ of the average organisation’s email and visually represent email usage.

Key findings of the research include:

* The value of information found in an inbox varies considerably – Nearly two out of every three (61%) emails received are considered to be non-essential. On average, 11% of email is personal, non-work related. The remaining content is functional at best, with an estimated 7% of emails inside the average inbox considered to be spam or junk. On average, 63% of email comprises internal, employee-to-employee communication.

* Quantity versus quality? – By looking at inbox content on a spectrum of value from junk to critically important information, the research assigned an average value to different types of inbox. Higher quality inboxes are notably smaller than those of lower quality – by an average of 10% (2,53GB, compared to 2,81GB, respectively).  They are also likely to contain a higher proportion of internal mail. The research finds that larger businesses with smaller inbox sizes are more likely to have higher levels of essential or critical emails.

* Businesses slowly getting social – Organisations now commonly allow the use of social media in the workplace. LinkedIn is the most commonly used (in 55% of businesses), followed by Facebook (47%). However, only one in three organisations believes that the use of social media in the workplace has genuinely decreased reliance on email, with the impact of social media on email usage limited by security concerns. 59% of respondents believe that current levels of social media activity increase the risk of information leaks and 55% believe the risk of security breaches is also increased.

* Security sensitivities – the changing nature of employee email usage has the potential to greatly impact the security of the information. IT departments are concerned about the security implications of mobile email and remote access to emails (39% and 41% respectively cite it as a concern). However, organisations are still more concerned about email-based viruses (55%) and email security breaches in general (55%).

The Shape of Email is a starting point in helping us understand the quality of the information residing in the inboxes of organisations across the world,” comments Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast. “What is clear is that the average employee faces a significant challenge in simply processing the information that comes into their inbox and identifying which messages are genuinely business critical.

“We often end up working for email, rather than having email work for us,” he adds. “Email will remain a fundamental business tool for many years to come. It is the global standard; but not always the gold standard. It is therefore vital that email can continue to develop and adapt as technology and working practices change.”