Multiple Media Use in Organizations: Identifying Practices Leading to an Alignment Paradox

By Munkejord, Keith | Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Multiple Media Use in Organizations: Identifying Practices Leading to an Alignment Paradox


Munkejord, Keith, Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations


Introduction

The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in organizations has become increasingly complex and fluid. Both leaders and co-workers combine the use of different technologies to communicate (Belanger & Watson-Manheim, 2006), and to coordinate complex tasks with a high degree of interdependency (Kellogg, Orlikowski & Yates, 2006). Structuring individual work as well as coordinating and aligning work practices on the group level becomes a challenging endeavour in the continuous changing work environment, in which multiple media is used increasingly to communicate and conduct work. This paper aims at elaborating the limited knowledge we have regarding the characteristics of multiple media use patterns and the consequences that may follow from this use. Existing research has been dominated by a focus on the use of single media, such as the use of cell phone and short messaging service (SMS) (Ling, 2005), instant messaging (Quan-Haase, Cothrel, & Wellman, 2005), video conferencing (Martin & Rouncefield, 2003), groupware (Tam & Greenberg, 2006; Vreede & Guerrero, 2006), email (Belloti, Ducheneaut, Howard, Smith, & Grinter, 2005), or the comparison of different media (Sivunen & Valo, 2006). The valuable insights and knowledge gained in this research largely ignores the characteristics and consequences involved in the use of multiple media in organizational settings.

In this paper the terminology "multiple media" is used to describe sequential use (i.e., email followed by phone) and concurrent use (i.e. email and phone used at the same time), following the terminology of Belanger and Watson-Manheim (2006). The use of multiple media in organizations is partly unexplored, and several researchers have called for work within this area (Stephens, 2005; Stephens, Browning, Sornes & Saetre, 2005; Woerner, Orlikowski & Yates, 2004). The expectation that new media will continuously and rapidly replace existing 'old' media may partly explain why media combinations have not been studied. Second, few data sets exist on the use of multiple media, and finally, theoretical guidance for this work is meager (Stephens, 2005). If the use of single media is no longer isolated acts, but intertwined as multiple media activities both sequentially and concurrently, we as researchers should not approach these media and their users as isolated acts either.

In this article the characteristics and consequences of multiple media practices are examined through a qualitative case study conducted in a department of a Fortune 500 company. First, theoretical perspectives on the use of multiple media are introduced. Second, a structurational perspective will be presented for understanding the consequences this use may produce. Third, a description of the research method and the results follow this, and finally, theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.

Literature on Multiple Media Use

Short, Williams, and Christie (1976) proposed that combining different media may be proportioned through a "communication diet" in which "An increase in one component may result in all sorts of adjustments, in the amounts of the other components and in the mix and sequencing of the three [written, face-to-face (FtF), and telecommunication]" (p. 143). This use may influence both the interaction between people and outcome of organizational tasks. Further, different media have varying capacities for coping with ambiguities, as well as handling the fluid character of interpretations. Combining media that are both "lean" and "rich" may be necessary to obtain the relevant information that is needed in an organization. This media choice is influenced by the sensed ambiguity of the message, symbolic cues, and situational constraints (Trevino, Lengel, & Daft, 1987). Characterizing different media as varying in degree of richness (lean vs. rich) has been criticised for being overly deterministic, neglecting the importance of social and situational factors, and how these factors may influence media user behavior (Sornes, 2005). …

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