Communication Technology and Organizational Design
Organizations 1 are open social systems that process information (Mackenzie, 1985) to accomplish internal tasks, to co-ordinate activities and to interpret the external environment (Daft and Lengel, 1984). In order to accomplish these tasks, organizations are characterized by the division of labour. This has led to the existence of departments or subgroups within organizations. Information between these departments has to move horizontally and vertically to enable decision-making. Communication technology is one efficient strategy for processing the flow of information in order to enable departmental tasks tobe co-ordinated horizontally and departmental goals to be aligned with the strategic goals of the organization.
While the previous chapter looked at the choices by knowledge workers of various communication media used within organizational settings, this chapter focuses on the relationship between new communication technologies and the flow of information. The features of new communication technologies, which offer important advancements for organizations are reach, recordability, memory and concurrency (see Table 2.4 on page 19). In particular, reach – the ability to connect people in different locations – has led to an increase in the amount of communication and an increase in the speed with which information is accessible, leading to high volumes of information moving between knowledge workers. This has been associated with a reduction in communication costs 2 as the use of communication technology becomes more widespread. But it has also led to an increase in organizational costs as the potential for information overload and disruptions to work have become more pronounced.
Overall, the additional features of new communication technologies have led to two important information-processing advancements: increased potential for information distribution; and better storage of information. These contributions from new communication technology are leading to changes in organizational design. As Fulk and DeSanctis (1995, p. 339) state: ‘electronic communication enables fundamental changes in organizational forms, which in turn generate requisites for communication system design, both of which are responsive to users’ activities to interarticulate technological and organization systems’. In the