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How has COVID-19 changed our email behaviour: over 30% more emails being read in the remote-working environment

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Quick Read

The last month, despite being a worrying and unsettling time, has demonstrated that thanks to the digital communication channels we now take for granted, B2B businesses can continue to work from home relatively undisrupted. However, one fact which has been brought into the spotlight is the increasing importance of accurate data in guiding our decisions, both from a health perspective, but also how it can refine and improve our working lives. This quick-read draws on analysis we have carried out on email activity data before and after the government's announcement of lock down on 23 March 2020 to give insight into how we might optimise our communication channels in the current remote-working environment.

  • Total email activity has increased by 28% following the transition to working remotely*
  • People are reading 31% more emails than before
  • Generic emails increased more than bespoke interactions

“Chief data officers play a pivotal role in enabling data-driven decision making that will help their organizations respond to COVID-19 and emerge from the crisis in a position of strength.*”

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How has COVID-19 changed our email behaviour?

It is now well over a month since governments across the US, Europe and the UK began putting social distancing and lockdown measures in place to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been an unsettled and worrying time as we have attempted to predict the impact of Coronavirus on our lives and livelihoods, as well as the long-term repercussions on our businesses and economies. No-one (aside from perhaps Bill Gates) had predicted that the next “structural break” would come in the form of a universal and sudden humanitarian and economic crisis of this scale.

However, while we are all still left guessing as to how the impact of the virus will play out, proactive leaders are already taking stock and assessing the learnings we can take from this crisis to progress and thrive in tomorrow’s business environment. The last month has demonstrated that, thanks to the digital communication channels we now take for granted, B2B businesses can continue to work from home relatively undisrupted. However, one fact which has been brought into the spotlight is the increasing importance of data in guiding our decisions, both from a health perspective, but also how it can refine and improve our working lives. The heated discussions taking place about why NHS data differs from ONS data and which figures we should be using to make decisions about the next steps in tackling the virus has demonstrated this point very clearly; it has emphasised the importance of using an accurate, complete and impartial dataset to guide a smart decision-making process.

Using data to drive smart decisions

Moving forward to the learnings enterprises can take from the COVID-19 pandemic and progressing into the “new normal”, we have seen an increased demand from our clients to use the unstructured data generated by their communication channels to drive smart decision making. Building on this theme, FeedStock has carried out analysis of email behaviour across the financial services sector following the transition to working from home which COVID-19 has brought about. We have compared the 2 weeks before and after the lockdown was announced on the 23 March 2020, with the same period in 2019. The aim of this analysis is not so much to confirm or refute aspects of our email activity which we suspect have been impacted by the change to our working situations; but primarily to demonstrate how using data to inform our long and short-term business activities can lead to improved decision making throughout the enterprise.

Analysis of email activity change across the financial services industry due to COVID-19

Unsurprisingly, there has been a marked increase in email events following the shift to working remotely on 23 March 2020. In the week immediately following the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK would be going into lockdown, email activity was 28% higher compared to the same period in 2019.*

Total Email Events – Mar. 2019 (adj.) vs. Mar. 2020

total email events

It is not entirely surprising that email activity increased under the circumstances, given that face-to-face meetings have been removed from the agenda. However, the most dramatic change to email behaviour relates to the number of emails being read, not being sent. If you isolate the “Email Read” data, you can see that in the week following lockdown, employees working remotely read an average of 31% more of their emails compared to the same week in 2019. With this in mind, one might reasonably deduce that using email as a marketing tool and information disseminator would be much more effective than usual during this period.

Client Emails Read – Mar. 2019 (adj.) vs Mar 2020

client emails read

Analysis by email category – bespoke or generic information?

Looking into trends of bespoke emails compared to generic emails is also interesting but does not deliver the result you might expect. Whilst the week immediately following the Prime Minister’s announcement saw an increase to the amount of bespoke emails being sent to clients, this was only 5% higher than in 2019 which isn’t as big an increase as one might anticipate, given the removal of bespoke face-to-face client meetings. However, the number of generic outbound emails increased by 22%. Given that overall email readership increased by 31%, we can assume that email recipients were seeking market information and data to respond correctly to the turbulent market environment, rather than dedicating time to bespoke interactions. On the approach to the outbreak of the pandemic, the market Volatility Index (VIX) increased by over six times from its January low, from 12.32 points to highs of 82.69. A relative decrease in bespoke interactions during this period would point to the fact that there is less focus on detailed research than one might expect during times of elevated market volatility.

Does working from home result in an increased use of mobile devices?

Contrary to what your subconscious bias might lead you to believe, COVID-19 has not made any noticeable impact to the percentage of email activity taking place on mobile phones and tablets. The rate of email opens taking place on desktops has stayed at ~65% over the last three months, as you can see in the graph below. We see this as further confirmation that most employees in the financial services sector have been equipped with the suitable equipment to work from home in a relatively undisrupted fashion. This could be interpreted as a sign that most businesses are experiencing a fluid transition to working from home and we might therefore expect WFH to become more prevalent in the post-COVID 19 world.

mobile vs desktop opens

Data becoming every enterprise’s critical asset

At a time when our daily lives are being governed by data which is collected from siloed and seemingly conflicting parties, many of us have realised the importance of data lineage, accuracy and impartiality but especially of collecting a proprietary dataset. The lessons we have learnt in our personal lives are directly transferrable to our professional lives. As this McKinsey article points out “in today’s high-stakes environment, where misinformation proliferates and organisations must make decisions at a rapid pace, there’s arguably never been such an imperative for CDOs to provide organizations with timely and accurate data.”

FeedStock equips clients with a complete, accurate and impartial data set on which to base enterprise decisions and provide demonstrable audit trails to regulators and external stakeholders alike. Under today’s exceptional circumstances when enterprises are managing remote workforces and client-bases, the ability to collect and understand data will become an enterprise’s critical asset.


FeedStock, Email activity data 08.03.19-30.03.19 versus 08.03.20-30.03.20
McKinsey, How chief data officers can navigate the COVID-19 response and beyond, April 2020

Notes on FeedStock data:

Overall data counts are higher in 2020 due to natural growth in email activity in-line with industry trends, increase in number of tracked users and better employee productivity. In order to give a more accurate comparison of changing email behaviour, the 2019 figures have been adjusted based on an average percentage increase from the two weeks 8 – 22 March 2019 versus 8 – 22 March 2020.

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