Exploring workplace communication

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Modern work is a collaborative enterprise. As such, it depends on communication among the collaborators to reach successful outcomes. An increasing number of communication tools are based on somewhat recent computer technologies, such as email, blogs, wikis, social networking, and Twitter.While there have been many studies of single communication tools in the workplace (IM, wikis, blogging, etc.) we believe that we are one of the first to take a broad view of the communication landscape since the introduction of these new technologies.

In our paper, to be presented at CHI 2010, we explored the communication ecology of a small business. We examined the work communication practices of our participants, including what methods people used to communicate and why, how they viewed the various methods and how they adopted them.

The participants in our study were employees of a small company. They filled out surveys on their use of communication methods at two times a year apart, filled out strengths and weaknesses of the different methods, and were interviewed on their communication practices. We found that people used their communication tools for different purposes. New tools did not replace old tools. Rather they coexisted with the methods already in use, and were used for very specific purpose within the communication ecology. All new communication technologies were not adopted by all users, and several were adopted by very few.

Based on patterns of tool use, we identified four distinct classes of communicators, Basic, Social, Chatters, and Communicators. People in the four classes differed in the tools they choose to use, how frequently they used them, and the way they thought about them as evidenced by what they listed as strengths and weaknesses.

Transitions among clusters that characterize communication behavior

Transitions among clusters that characterize communication behavior

Our findings show definite trends in technology use, give new insights into how users value and choose among available technologies, and show how a person’s technology use can define other behaviors. Evidence from this study indicates that tools should be designed to be used in combination rather than in isolation. We believe this work is a step toward building a comprehensive understanding of the office communication ecology.

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  1. […] our study of communication tools (which Thea wrote about earlier), we found that over time, people increased their repertoire of communication tools, rather […]

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