by Melanie Malczok and Sabine Kirchhoff
University of Applied Sciences Osnabruck, Germany
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware than ever of how intertwined technologies, work and organizations are. For people with an affinity for digital media, such as the presumed readers of this article, dealing with media and communication technologies is nothing new. But even for this group of people, the sheer volume and presence of communication and technology can become burdensome – the term “zoom fatigue” is a thing now. Furthermore, other fields than before are experiencing a sudden mediatization of their working environment and are confronted with new technological settings.
As users of diverse technologies, employees need to pay continuous attention to the overwhelming volume of social and technological demands provided in their working environment. In some cases, this results in communication or technology fatigue or cases of techno stress, which can lead to physical and psychological strain. Studies indicate clearly negative outcomes on work engagement and motivation (Lee et al 2016). For internal communication the question arises, how it is possible to provide orientation and connection through communication in a time, where the exposure to media and technology is already high and the need to unplug and disconnect is strong.
This situation presents great opportunity, but also great challenges: Employees and technology are in a dynamic relationship that runs through all aspects of organizing (Orlikowski 2007; 2010). It is important to understand this various entanglements, to provide meaningful communication offers to the members of the organization. Therefore, organizations need to be seen more strongly than before as a socio-technical system in which not only communication media, but also diverse technologies determine everyday work in the organization.
We advocate for a curated use of technology in the organization that takes into account the media and technological world of employees as a whole, which requires a close examination of individuals’ media and technology repertoire. The term “media repertoire” actually stems from classic media use research and refers to the totality of (mass) media used by individuals. In relation to organizations and work environments, it is necessary to expand this concept to include digital communication media and technological work tools, because all of these potentially contribute to technology fatigue or techno stress. Therefore, an assessment of the “socio technological ensembles” (Bijker 1995) inside of the organization is needed.
In particular, ethnographic methods or digital observation formats such as media diaries or the use of visually supported interview methods can help to form an accurate picture of the current technological entanglement in organizations. What is important here is that this examination not only focuses on the communication media used strategically, but also takes a look at the entirety of the technological and communicative embeddedness of employees (Griffith & Doherty 2002). Management can then tailor its communication offerings to this and take into account that a) more of technology and communication are not helpful per se and b) devices and contents are involved in social practices and used in sometimes surprising sense making processes.
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