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Workers' Tech Needs Are More Old-School Than You Think

A retro telephone.
(Image credit: BrAt82 |

Forget fancy new tablets or cloud computing; the technologies that today's workers really need are more basic than that. The Internet and email are the tech tools that employees say they need to get through their workdays, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

For the survey, researchers asked more than 500 U.S. workers how important certain technologies were to doing their jobs. They found that 61 percent of American workers think that email is "very important." The second-most important technology for the modern worker is the Internet, with 54 percent of respondents listing it as essential to their job activities, the survey found.

The importance of these technologies in the American workplace hasn't changed much over the past decade or so. In 2002, when Pew first started surveying Americans about workplace technology, 61 percent of workers said they used email on the job. And, in 2008, a similar survey found that 62 percent of workers used either email or the Internet regularly at work. [10 Technologies That Will Transform Your Life]

The new survey also suggests that most workers access the Web from computers, not cellphones. Only 24 percent of respondents said that smartphones or cellphones are very important to them for work. In fact, mobile phones were found to be less important to workers than traditional landline telephones, which 35 percent of survey respondents said were critical to their job activities.

At the very bottom of the list of important tech tools came social networking sites, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, which just 4 percent of workers listed as being very important to their job activities.

This low prevalence of social networking during office hours could have something to do with another survey finding: 46 percent of respondents said their employers blocked certain websites. The same percentage said that their employers have rules limiting what employees can post online.

This trend of monitoring employees' Internet activity has gained a lot of traction in the past few years, according to the researchers who analyzed the survey results. In 2006, one in five workers said their employers had policies about what they could and could not post online. By 2008, the number of employees aware of such policies had risen to one in four. This new survey brings that figure to nearly one in two employees.

Another trend that the survey picked up on is the increase in people working remotely. The survey found that one in five American adults frequently works outside of their workplace. And for these remote workers, certain technologies are indispensable. Fifty percent of remote workers said that the Internet and cellphones are very important for completing work activities. This percentage was even higher — 66 percent — for those working remotely in traditionally office-based professions, such as clerical work or entrepreneurship.

Other interesting statistics from the new Pew Research study include the following:

  • 7 percent of workers said their productivity has declined because of the Internet, email and cellphones, while 46 percent said these technologies make them more productive.
  • 39 percent of workers said that the Internet, email and cellphones allow them greater flexibility in their work hours.
  • 35 percent said such technologies increase the number of hours they work.
  • 51 percent of respondents said that these technologies expand the number of people they communicate with outside their company.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Elizabeth Palermo
Elizabeth Palermo
Elizabeth is a Live Science associate editor who writes about science and technology. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.