A Study on Instant Messaging and Workplace Interruption
The advent of the modern world has seen a significant emergence in the manner by which people interact with each other. This is specifically evident in how the contemporary generation has regarded what is called the computer-mediated communication or CMC. In fact, many researches of CMC have generally presented an idea that the technology serves not only as a tool of communication but as a kind of environment as well, where establishing of several ideas take place.
This is expected given the good or bad effects of CMC, and whether its implications have their uses in the real world. Of the many forms of CMC, one has appeared to be as the most accepted, used and liked: Instant Messaging. Being the latest form of CMC, Instant Messaging or IM is the most widely employed form of CMC in the society, particularly in the workplaces. While IM generally prides itself for its positive impacts, and that such effects have their respective uses in the society, it is criticized because it has been implicated as a type of work disruption.
Since disruption is a leading concern in workplaces nowadays, particularly for computer-engaged employees, IM as an important form of technology is perceived to have further aggravated the problem. The concern is attributed to the fact that IM mostly promotes personal rather than official communication.
However, the total acceptability of IM as a work contributor depends on the principle and manner of its usage. The criticism then on IM was disputed by a study which has proven it to be a developer of effective communication techniques among computer-using employees. In addition, using IM in positive ways instead supports valuable communication styles in the workplace. Therefore, instant messaging, only if properly employed by computer-engaged employees, promotes an effective and valuable communications and at the same time decreases work interruption.
Computer-Mediated Communication, An Overview
To better understand IM, it is essential to have an overview on the nature of CMC. Generally, CMC is the procedure of transmitting or transporting messages which are mainly, but not restricted to, text messages and by means of or made possible by direct usage of computers and other communications systems (Lawley, 1994). The interaction entails the presence of two or more participants such as office employees. Basically, CMC refers to any kind of communication among individuals using networked computers. Although such kind of communication is usually inclined to those interactions that take place through computer-mediated information such as IM, email messages, and chat settings, it is likewise employed in other kinds of text-based communication such as the text messaging system (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2004).
Since studies on CMC have centered mostly on the social impacts of various computer-backed communication applications, its implications in the society or its manifestations in the real world are evident with the manner how people communicate in occupational, cultural, and academic settings. Any communication happening according to the computer-mediated format has implications on many various interaction features. These include effects on shaping of impression, misrepresentation and being untruthful, group mechanics, and in particular, a possible formation of a relationship between two participants (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2004).
Instant Messaging Disrupts or Enhances Workplace?
Despite the fact that IM is often persistent because the flow of communication can be stopped anytime, and that the messages can be lost unless saved by the participant, its simultaneous nature has caused a concern that it apparently interrupts a portion of the society. In a particular scenario, IM signals an alarm on the way it reportedly disrupts workplaces where the participants involved are computer-engaged employees. Due to this, the significance of taking into consideration the mental and social effects of IM has already been recognized. For purposes of discussing further if the effects of CMC are useful in the real world or any particular society, it would be worthwhile to present a study made by Garrett and Danziger (2007) which discusses a specific form of CMC which is the Instant Messaging. Garrett and Danziger (2007) mentioned that the main reason for concern about IM is that it allegedly contributes to the significant relative incidence of work interruptions. Based from its merit of comfort wherein users can begin and be involved in an online communication during work hours, Garrett and Danziger (2007) wrote that the concern about IM is that it increases the chances of work interruption. On the other hand, others disputed the work interruption concern and even claimed that IM, as a matter of fact, is being used strategically in manners that it decreases and not increases disruption. The opposing ideas on IM led to the study made by the two authors where they examined the relation between IM and work interruption (Garrett & Danziger, 2007).
Study Data, Methods & Findings
Garrett and Danziger (2007) employed data gathered from a nationwide telephone survey of full-time American employees who are regularly engaged in computers. An investigation of the collected data suggests that utilization of IM has no significant effects or influences on the overall degrees of job communication. Garrett and Danziger (2007) instead learned that employees who utilize the IM service at their respective work stations report being disrupted less often than non-users of IM. In addition to this, even if the same employees are engage in more common CMC forms such as IM than those who do not totally use such system, they do not regard it as a work interruption. This is because while they are engaged in personal communication when using IM, they do not neglect and still do their respective official tasks and engage more in work-related communication. The findings of the Garrett and Danziger (2007) research, therefore, agree with claims that full-time employees engage themselves with IM in manners that instead assist them to manage or deal with work interruptions. These can be manifested when they are able to immediately obtain and address work-related information as well as be available and handle in between informal communication (Garrett & Danziger, 2007).
Garrett and Danziger (2007) gathered data coming from “a national random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone survey conducted between May and September of 2006” (Garrett & Danziger, 2007, p. 5). The participants to the survey were restricted to computer-engaged employees who have full-time jobs or those working with a minimum of approximately 30 hours in a week and whose five hours of work are spent on their use of a computer. The authors limited their survey into 912 respondents with varying demographic features such as gender, age, educational attainment, and standard job classifications. Majority of the participants are professionals, generally college graduates, with an average age of 44 years old and mostly women. Through several questions, the survey revealed that the comparison or disruption degrees of IM users and non-users indicated that less IM users were often interrupted while doing their work tasks as compared with non-users. However, while admittedly interrupted by IM usage, the survey participants defended that it is insignificant in nature as majority of their IM communication are work-related. In addition, the importance of the study was supported by the fact that while half of the respondents admitted to be engaged with IM while at work, they justified that a bulk percentage of their communication was work-related and that the system has even led to the creation of new forms of communication which are beneficial to their office. Aside from enabling an immediate office communication, the respondents have regarded IM as a way where richer communication styles are created (Garrett & Danziger, 2007).
Garrett and Danziger (2007) basically used a qualitative research because they did not focus on the number of respondents involved rather with the character or attribute of the survey wherein they identified how IM usage related with work interruption. The two analyzed the relationship between IM and work disruption by observing the experiences and work attitudes of modern-day American employees using IM in their workplaces. According to the collected data, the two disputed that, contrary to predominant objections and concerns about IM, it mostly does not add to higher degrees of work area disruption. This is because the two learned that while the technology makes particular kinds of work disruption easier, IM can likewise allow participants greater manipulation over the features of communication such as when to engage in the system with negligible interruption to their current task. In fact, Garrett and Danziger have (2007) learned further that the same group of employees have treated IM as a device or system which can provide them with more chance to produce fresh forms of communication that continue essential work-related connections while decreasing off-task alterations such as personal communication. The creation of new modalities such as official voice and video instead of simple text communication has proven to be an important contribution or implication of IM into the real world of mass communication and the society in general. Garrett and Danziger (2007) added that such kind of IM strategy is what is now being used by full-time employees and what is prevailing in many workplaces. The authors explained that while employees, engaged with IM during office hours, are occupied with much regular connections, it does not necessarily mean nor is expected that the use of the system is related with personal communication and more disruption of work. Hence, their research has viewed that IM indeed has a purpose to lessen and not increase overall work interruptions as well as promotes the creation of new communication patterns (Garrett & Danziger, 2007).
Summing up, the above research suggests that IM in work areas simultaneously encourages an increase in official form of communication and definitely decreases work interruptions. With their study, Garrett and Danziger have proven that employees employ IM technology not as a work deterrence but a way to manage disruptions where they defer job-related communications until such time that they are perceive as more pertinent and will not interfere with their current tasks. In addition, they combine personal communication only during the waning time of their office hours. The study has also proven that official IM usage likewise enhances the way employees officially communicate with colleagues by providing an effective style of immediate communication and information transfer. With the research, the challenge of properly managing work disruptions and manipulating work flow was addressed. In fact, only if IM is employed to deal with work obstacles into becoming an effective task, the technology truly benefits both the company and its employees. The Garrett and Danziger study has more significantly proven that through IM management, employees creating effective techniques for employing the IM system in more positive and beneficial manners. Lastly, the above study has contributed to a clearer manifestation of how IM is being positively employed in workplaces which in turn, has identified the insignificant relationship of the technology with work interruptions and ultimately promoting IM as a system that assists employers and employees to achieve their respective goals.
Garrett, R. K. & Danziger, J. N. (2007). IM=Interruption Management? Instant Messaging and Disruption in the Workplace. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 2.
Lawley, E. L. (1994). The Sociology of Culture in Computer-Mediated Communication: An Initial Exploration. Internet Training & Consulting Services (ITCS). Retrieved July 7,
2008 from ITCS Database: http://www.itcs.com/elawley/bourdieu.html
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L. & Tomic, A. (2004). Computer mediated-communication: Social interaction and the internet. London: Sage.
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