This week the email management company Mimecast released the results of a survey of more than 2,400 corporate email users. The survey found that 85% of what Mimecast dubs "Generation Gmail" - employees 25 years old and younger - have used personal email accounts to send work-related documents.

The main reason these workers turn to personal email seems to be the attachment size limits of their official work email accounts. As we've reported, Palo Alto Networks found that Web-based file sharing such as Megaupload is also very popular in the workplace.

I ran into this frequently when I worked in IT. Google can provide much larger attachment sizes and mailbox sizes than most enterprise IT departments can. It's not mentioned in the data that Mimecast released, but I also noticed that many employees used personal accounts for work because they didn't have offsite access to their company email. At most places I've worked VPN access is not granted to all employees. But many users want to correspond with work contacts when outside of the office.

Mimecast emphasizes that using personal email accounts puts corporate information and intellectual property at risk because it exists outside of IT's control. However, Chief Scientist Nathaniel Borenstein - one of the creators of the MIME protocol - sympathizes with the rule breakers. "The results show that workers frustrated with corporate restrictions are using personal email accounts in order to maintain productivity," he says.

What can organizations do to reduce the bleeding? I would suggest:

  • Up the limits of email attachments either by increasing the capacity of on-premise email systems or by adopting cloud email.
  • Implement an official external file sharing system such as those offered by companies like Box, Huddle and Memeo. One place I worked had a company FTP site for sharing large attachments, but it was too difficult for most users.
  • Give most employees access to offsite email.

The attempts to curb the use of personal email or third-party file sharing sites will prove futile when employees have a decent alternative.