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Information and communication technologies and the network organization: A critical analysis.

In the field of organizational structure, attention has turned to the emergence of `post-bureaucratic' organizational forms (Drucker, 1988; Heckscher & Donnellon, 1994; Powell, 1990). These new forms are viewed as closely tied to developments in computer-based technologies, in particular Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). My intention in this paper is to describe and appraise the assumed relationship(s) between these new information and communication technologies (the `networked' organization) and potential new ways of structuring and organizing work (the `network' organization). In pursuing this objective, both empirical evidence and theory are reviewed, with the aim of providing a critical perspective on recent conceptualizations.

Potential new ways of working and the influence of new ICTs should be of fundamental interest to occupational psychologists. Those who argue that we are witnessing the emergence of a new form of organizing highlight extensive changes to: the manner in which we interact with work colleagues; where we work; the sorts of jobs we do; the uses we make of computer-based technology. All of these issues are of intense interest to occupational psychologists. Yet we should be cautious in our acceptance of proclaimed transformations. It is with this in mind that this paper brings together psychological studies of new technologies with management and sociological perspectives on new organizational forms, updating and developing the review by Andriessen (1991).

I begin by describing some general characteristics of these proposed new organizational forms (in particular the `network' organization) and the technologies which constitute the `networked' organization. Following this, I summarize the theoretical perspectives which have been taken on the relationship between technology and work organization and, specifically, the relationships which seem to be implied by recent writings on the network organization and ICTs. I then identify a set of assumptions which underpin the hypothesized link between the network and the networked organization and critically appraise these assumptions drawing on empirical evidence and theory. Finally, I provide some conclusions about the validity of these assumptions and future research directions.

Post-bureaucracy: The network organization

A number of terms has been used to describe the organizational form `of the future' including: the knowledge-creating company (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995); the network organization (Miles & Snow, 1986; Nohria & Eccles, 1992a); and the virtual organization (Davidow & Malone, 1992). This literature signals a move away from an interest in markets and hierarchies to alternative post-bureaucratic forms (Heckscher & Donnellon, 1994).

Despite the plethora of titles, these new forms are generally seen to be responses to the same drivers for change: globalization; the move to an information economy; rapid environmental change; a service (customer) orientation. In most cases, new communication technologies are seen as enablers of this change, an `essential component' of these new ways of working (Fulk & deSanctis, 1995, p. 339; Rockart, 1998). Indeed, some commentators claim (e.g. Drucker, 1988; Hinds & Kiesler, 1995) that it is the new forms of technology themselves which demand that organizations restructure and adopt new ways of working, if they are to survive in a competitive market.

While there may be differences in focus between these different forms, we can distinguish some common characteristics. In the first place such organizations are seen to be flatter and leaner (Fulk & deSanctis, 1995; Scott-Morton, 1991): middle management layers are stripped away and support functions are outsourced. These leaner organizations are envisaged as thus being more flexible and responsive to rapid environmental change. Decisions are made more quickly and changes in organizational direction (in response to customer demands) are accomplished without the baggage of large administrative or operational functions with fixed skills and bureaucratic practices. Organizations learn from their environment and can innovate accordingly. Indeed the organizational culture is seen to encapsulate a `general lack of expectation of permanence' (Fulk & deSanctis, 1995, p. 342).

Within the network organization, traditional functional and hierarchical boundaries are more permeable, employees communicating directly with whosoever is most relevant for their current task (e.g. Rockart & Short, 1991). Indeed, most organizational tasks are accomplished in temporary project teams (which may consist of both core organizational employees and individuals employed on temporary contracts). The core individual employee (or `knowledge worker') is seen to be empowered, enterprising and innovative:
   Consultation through informal lateral channels ... improves individuals'
   ability to keep up with changes in techniques, and new knowledge to
   understand and adopt innovations ... a strong horizontal structure tends to
   undercut power within the hierarchy, leaving employees in divisions and
   specialities with considerable autonomy. (Hinds 8: Kiesler, 1995, pp.

One of the tasks of the new organization is to exploit the knowledge of individuals (or `intellectual capital', see Stewart, 1994) effectively to achieve some advantage over competitors. Combining this notion of the autonomous individual with that of increased communication, it appears that the post-bureaucratic concept is envisaged as an integration of valued aspects of both individualism and connectivity.

In this paper, I have adopted the term the `network organization' as a general term for this proposed new organizational form because the title gives the necessary emphasis to the `new' focus on communication links and relationships in organizations, as opposed to status and formal roles--which is seen by some to be the defining characteristic of a post-bureaucratic form:
   A network organization can flexibly construct a unique set of internal and
   external linkages for each unique project. Unlike a bureaucracy, which is a
   fixed set of relationships for processing all problems, the network
   organization molds itself to each problem. Moreover, it adapts itself not
   by top-management fiat but by the interactions of problems, people and
   resources; within the broad confines of corporate strategy, organizational
   members autonomously work out relationships ... In short, it is a social
   network that is integrated across formal boundaries. Interpersonal ties of
   any type are formed without respect to formal groups or categories. (Baker,
   1992, p. 398, italics author's own)

The network organization has been interpreted by some as an interorganizational phenomenon specifically (e.g. Podolny & Page, 1998), in which organizations have moved towards closer ties of interdependence in order to achieve reliability and a larger scale operation (while maintaining a relatively small organizational base). However, as in the Baker definition given above, it is also commonly interpreted as a new internal way of working and it is this intraorganizational aspect which forms the focus of this paper.

The networked organization
   Today's organizational structures ... demand extensive communication. They
   are facilitated, in fact made possible, by the vastly increased
   communication and coordination capability now available through information
   technology. Without information technology, it is highly doubtful that many
   of the organizational changes and experiments underway could exist.
   (Rockart, 1998, p. 418)

The networked organization is one which has moved away from mainframes and `stand alone' personal computers to integrated systems based on shared fileservers and electronic communication links. Such new technologies include: shared computer-based databases; electronic mail and organizational intranets; the Internet; computer conferencing software; groupware; computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) systems; and video-mediated communication systems (such as videotelephony or videoconferencing).

It is important to consider how many of these technologies are actually in everyday use in most organizations and, consequently, the extent to which we can draw any kind of conclusions about their relationship to new organizational forms. For example, videotelephony has been reported as commercially unsuccessful (Noll, 1992), with Kraut and Fish (1997) concluding that this technology is more likely to find application in the home. Videoconferencing, while in everyday use, suffers from technical problems, such as poor quality transmission in current systems, which works against a just assessment of its potential:
   Current technology limitations and restricted networking bandwidth mean,
   however, that high-quality systems will not be available for some years.
   (Whittaker & O'Conaill, 1997, p. 39)

This is most true of systems which need to support global communications (essential to the concept of the network organization). We must also be careful of giving too much weight to prototypes of video-mediated communication tools which may be largely only in use within the R&D organizations in which they were developed (e.g. Harrison, Bly, Anderson, & Minneman, 1997; Isaacs & Tang, 1997). Research in organizational contexts can only evaluate what is currently in use. It is certainly not the purpose of this paper to speculate on possible new developments or (prototype) technologies which are still only in limited use. This is not least because the development of such technologies is not an inevitable process and therefore they may not reach commercial use in the form in which they currently exist or, indeed, be adopted by the market at all. At any rate, proponents of the network organization base their arguments on currently available technologies. So, while video-mediated technologies will be referred to in this paper at relevant points, the analysis must draw on published studies of systems in use--this largely implies shared databases, email, the Internet and groupware.

How is this technology envisaged to support or bring about the changes desired for the network organization? First, through the provision of detailed and timely information, what Zuboff (1988) terms the `informating potential' of new forms of computer-based technology. ICTs, it is argued, allow employees instant access to up-to-date information, both internally and externally (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978; Rice & Steinfield, 1991). The latest performance figures and latest advances in relevant research enable individual employees to make better informed decisions, to respond more quickly to environmental changes and to realize innovative ideas. Shared organizational databases also mean that employees have access to such information simultaneously (Boddy & Gunson, 1995). Information is available to all in the network organization whatever their status or departmental affiliation (Rice & Steinfield, 1991). This is seen to support gross-functional working and, in particular, a project team structure (Finholt & Sproull, 1990). Indeed new software, `groupware', has been specifically designed to support team working (Nunamaker, 1997).

Similarly, new electronic communication systems (e.g. email) provide communication links between all employees, supporting cooperation and coordination (Andriessen, 1991; Hinds & Kiesler, 1995). Employees who do not normally meet are able to communicate with others, no matter their place in the organizational hierarchy. Thus cross-functional solutions to organizational problems can be sought and innovative practices can evolve (Powell, 1990; Rice, 1987). Indeed, such technology dispenses with the need for middle managers to act as information providers or coordinators of organizational activities, thus the `leaner' organization can be achieved. ICTs also, of course, provide the means for more flexible forms of work such as teleworking.

It is this latter form of organization which is emphasized specifically in the particular post-bureaucratic form of the `virtual' organization. While the virtual organization encompasses many of the characteristics already outlined, the particular emphasis is on the role of new technologies in dispensing with structure (as we traditionally perceive it) to become the `organizationless organization' (Nohria & Berkley, 1994). As individuals working at their own personal computers have access to all the organizational information and communication links they need, there is no requirement for the physical entity of the `company'--structure is (temporarily) created in the process of individuals making contact with other individuals to work on particular current problems.

In summary, ICTs are seen to support new organizational working practices which in turn lead to the sorts of economic advances claimed by writers. Exchange of ideas and flexible working, enabled by new ICTs, will lead to more innovative products and a speedier response to change, thus giving the new network organization a considerable advantage in global markets.

Theoretical perspectives on the relationship between technology and work organization

It has been argued for several decades that technology does not determine organizational structure (see Grint & Woolgar, 1997; Knights & Murray, 1994; Majchrzak & Borys, 1998 for reviews). Our understanding of the relationship has over the years been informed by `labour process theory' (e.g. Knights & Wilmott, 1988), which emphasizes the desire of managers to gain control of the production process through technology, and the `strategic choice' thesis of Child (1984) which emphasizes the choices made by managers in deciding implementation strategy, choices which may be informed by a variety of factors (including cognitive constraints and beliefs, see Child, 1997). Majchrzak and Borys (1998) conclude that the most prevalent current view is probably a contingency approach (or `soft' determinism) which allows a variety of factors (including technology itself) to be (causally) determining of new working practices and structures (e.g. McLoughlin & Clark, 1994). However, a particularly fascinating aspect of the technological determinist discourse, is that while few serious academics would adopt this position, it is still a very prevalent discourse in society--a `commonsense' belief that may well underlie many managerial technology strategies.

It certainly appears to be one of the perspectives which underlies contemporary accounts of the relationship between ICTs and the network organization (as the quote from Rockart (1998) above indicates). Thus, some commentators argue that new ICTs actually bring about new organizational forms. Others may envisage more of an enabling role--the network organization is impossible to achieve without the use of ICTs but does not rely solely on these technologies. A further possibility is that new organizational forms may be brought about by other factors but ICTs have a supporting role to play in achieving change objectives.

In this paper, I want to question all of these perspectives and ask both to what extent ICTs can actually bring these changes about and to what extent they can support the new structures and new ways of working suggested. As the analysis proceeds, it will become clear that the issue is also one of whether we are able to control and dictate the use of ICTs in this way.

My focus is firmly on the role of new ICTs (as specified above) in the network organization and not other forms of communication media. It is also not an assessment of the network organizational form in general, although some emerging arguments may have implications for this ideal type. In pursuing my objectives, I am deliberately adopting a critical perspective. This is not a simple review of the (very many) studies conducted in this area but, rather, an analysis which attempts to problematize some of the assertions and claims made by popular commentators, with the ultimate aim of encouraging a more critical perspective on received wisdoms.

Underlying assumptions

If we look closely at the suggested links between these new technologies and new ways of working, a number of assumptions seems to be logically implied. Here I distinguish five (although this list is far from exhaustive):

(1) All required information can be transmitted electronically.

(2) Most employees are willing to use electronic forms of communication.

(3) Increase in electronic communication links overcomes barriers to communication and participation.

(4) Electronic networking enables more autonomous and flexible working.

(5) Work using communication technologies is oriented to managerial goals.

Each of these assumptions are taken in turn below and their validity is assessed through an examination of the conceptual basis and empirical evidence for such claims. This focus on assumptions allows the bringing together of quite disparate research literatures--linking detailed psychological studies of technology use and computer-mediated interaction with broader issues surrounding organizational functioning and change. As each of these assumptions is discussed, a new more complex picture begins to emerge and is elaborated as the argument develops.

All required information can be transmitted electronically

If ICTs are to provide knowledge workers with access to a much wider variety of data sources and to enable communication across organizational boundaries, then we must presume that the information required by these employees is transmittable by electronic means. The use of electronic distribution lists and organizational intranets supports the notion that more information can be transmitted more quickly and to a wider audience in this fashion (Rice & Steinfield, 1991). However, there are two caveats to consider here.

The issue may be not whether all information can be transmitted but whether too much information may be transmitted, thus leading to a feeling of overload amongst employees (McKie, 1999; Schneider, 1987; Zmud, 1991). Finholt and Sproull (1990) have suggested that employees evolve strategies to cope with increasing information, enabling them to ignore much of the material available to them from electronic distribution lists and conferences. So the greater access to information provided by electronic means and championed by proponents of the network organization may be a two-edged sword. Furthermore, how can individual knowledge workers be sure that they are not ignoring the very piece of information which will later prove so crucial to securing organizational competitive advantage?

Zmud (1991) further suggests that the volume of information may encourage recipients to delegate information processing, leading to a greater susceptibility to strategic information misrepresentation. Thus, this increased access to information may only mean increased access to `flawed', `inaccurate' or `mis-'information. We are already aware, from the work of Feldman and March (1981), of the significance of information as a symbolic resource rather than a straightforward reflection of an `objective' state of affairs. Information transmitted electronically may, because of its association with the `logic' of computerization, adopt the added force of incontrovertibility and be accepted as `fact'.

Nohria and Eccles (1992b) have argued that new communication technologies cannot transmit all required information because we cannot communicate `social cues' through technologies such as email. Social cues information is taken here to mean:
   These features [which] serve to regulate the interaction (e.g. non-verbal
   cues), provide personal information about communication partners that
   assist impression formation, and provide an awareness of the wider social
   context of the interaction (such as status and position cues of the
   communication partner, and environmental cues as to the expected formality
   of the interaction). (Lea, 1991, p. 155)

A number of different terms has been used by different writers to describe this concept, for example, `social information', `context cues' and `social presence'. The latter term, originally coined by Short, Williams, and Christie (1976), is defined as `the ability of a medium to convey awareness of the other person and to support interpersonal relations' (Garton & Wellman, 1995, p. 437). The use of this variety of terms in research reports can cause some confusion, as different terms are used interchangeably to convey the same meaning. Here, and in the rest of this paper, I am using the term `social cues', as defined by Lea above, to encapsulate all these (related) terms.

Nohria and Eccles (1992b) suggest that the kinds of social interactions particularly emphasized in the network organization (e.g. temporary project teams) are just those which also require knowledge of social context and the development of a shared understanding (i.e. social cues). For example, such groups may have to come to decisions more quickly and there is some evidence that computer-mediated group discussions take longer to come to a consensus opinion (Garton & Wellman, 1995). This suggests that the networked organization, as manifest in shared databases and email, cannot wholly support the ideals of the network organization without some form of face-to-face interaction. This presents a problem for the geographically dispersed project teams seen to be a feature of the network organization (such as described in Ciborra & Patriotta, 1996). However, it must be recognized that the opposite findings have also been reported in some studies (i.e. that groupware speeds up decision processes, see George & Jessup, 1997), serving to complicate this picture. Indeed, conflicting evidence is common in this area and such concerns will be revisited later in the paper.

It could be argued that this problem would be overcome by video-mediated communication. Currently, this claim is hard to assess. While many studies have been conducted, they also have tended to come to conflicting conclusions (i.e. both that the addition of visual information makes no difference and that it does). In their review, Whittaker and O'Conaill (1997) conclude that `even high quality audio and video do not replicate face-to-face processes' (p. 44). What is particularly interesting here is that objective measurement of task performance may show no difference between video-mediated and audio only, while subjective assessments (i.e. through questionnaires) may show that participants believe that video is better (Fish, Kraut, Root, & Rice, 1993), i.e. objective empirical evidence does not seem to uphold commonsensical belief. On the whole, the issue of the conveyance of social cues is much more complex than common sense would suggest. Further analysis of this issue will be developed throughout this paper.

Quite apart from the issue of social cues, Isaacs, Whittaker, Frohlich, and O'Conaill (1997) argue that commercially available video-mediated communication systems are limited in their application as the majority do not support opportunistic and spontaneous interactions (which they claim, from empirical evidence, are necessary for work coordination, innovation, flexibility and effective decision making):
   The long start-up time and complex activities necessary to set up
   connections make people less inclined to invest the effort for brief,
   single topic interactions. (p. 461)

In sum, there is at least some doubt that all required information could be transmitted through computer-mediated communication. Indeed we need to question more closely what constitutes `information' and the additional symbolism of `electronic' information in particular. At this point, then, the extent to which ICTs can support the network organization seems limited, requiring other forms of support.

Most employees are willing to use electronic forms of communication

Markus (1990) has argued that organizational intranets are simply not viable unless a `critical mass' of users is achieved, because individuals will not switch to electronic forms of communication unless they believe they can make desired contacts through the system. Thus the network organization cannot be achieved through ICTs unless a substantial proportion of employees are actually willing to use the system.

What influences an individual's choice of communication medium has been the subject of much research. Daft and Lengel (1986) first proposed that managers would choose between different available media (e.g. memos, face-to-face) depending on the task that they wanted to accomplish. `Rich media' (which support multiple cues and feedback), they argued, will be chosen in the case of `equivocal' (complex or sensitive) tasks. Email is not considered a `rich' medium in this sense, therefore there are a range of (managerial) tasks for which it is not suitable. Similarly to the argument presented by Nohria and Eccles (1992b) earlier, electronic forms of communication cannot transmit all required information and therefore employees will not be motivated to use it for a range of tasks. Again, the extent to which ICTs can support the network organization is limited.

However, empirical studies have not always supported the basic tenets of this argument (e.g. D'Ambra, Rice, & O'Connor, 1998; El-Shinnawy & Markus, 1997; Suh, 1999) and conceptual problems have been identified. For example, Markus (1994) has argued against the view of the manager as rational choice maker, dispassionately and rigorously weighing up the costs and benefits of different communication media. In her case study of email use amongst organizational managers, she found email used to convey a wide variety of messages including those which would be considered `equivocal' by the standards of information richness theory. Rather than considerations of task-media fit, she concluded that media choice was influenced by social norms, developed over time within that particular organizational context. Theoretical developments based on social information processing accounts of attitude formation (e.g. Fulk, 1993) suggest that what is considered an appropriate medium for a specific task is a matter of shared understanding within a particular work-group. It has also been argued that email may be selected for symbolic reasons, e.g. to convey a sense of urgency (Holmes, 1995) or informality (Trevino, Daft, & Lengel, 1990).

Whatever the theoretical perspective, we can conclude that it cannot be taken for granted that electronic forms of communication will be adopted by the majority of employees (the `critical mass') for many of the tasks expected in the network organization (even across physical distances). What is more we cannot even necessarily specify the most appropriate tasks (as a contingency approach might imply). Work such as that of Fulk (1993) suggests that motivation for use may depend on organizational context and the existence of a `culture' of email use. Whether and how the technology is used may be more a matter of the shared understanding of the technology which is built up amongst employees who need to communicate, than what appears to be the most `suitable' use.

In conclusion, employees' use of such technologies may not be driven by a rational analysis of what will best achieve the ideals of the network organization. The mere existence of the technology will not lead to its effective use (the use of ICTs will not create the network organization) nor even necessarily support the uses envisaged in the network organization (as users appropriate it to their own needs and culture). An emergent issue here is, not so much whether ICTs could support the network organization, but whether we can dictate or control its use.

Increase in electronic communication links overcome barriers to communication and participation

A fundamental tenet of the network organizational form is that an increase in communication links enables more communication between a greater variety of individuals leading to more participative discussions and decision making, especially as this supports project team-work. This viewpoint is particularly associated with Sproull and Kiesler (1991) who suggest that the suppression of social cues in email (e.g. status differentials) is an advantage (in contrast to Nohria and Eccles' characterization), allowing a more open expression of personal views and thus a more democratic organization. In support of this conclusion, they cite laboratory-based experiments which have demonstrated more balanced participation in group decision making when mediated by electronic communication systems, as opposed to face-to-face discussion. It is also argued that direct communication links make all levels of hierarchy accessible. For example, Rice and Steinfield (1991) argue that senior managers become easier to contact as the traditional gatekeeping function of the secretary is bypassed by electronic communication.

Sproull and Kiesler (1991), however, also recognize a potential downside to more open communications. Whereas lack of social cues may mean that high status individuals in the group do not dominate the discussion, it may also mean that communication is disinhibited. `Flaming' in electronic communication refers to the open expression of conflict and abuse, often using forceful language, seen to occur where individuals are not constrained by social norms of interaction (which are presumed to be greater in face-to-face communication, e.g. Kiesler, 1986). However, Lea, O'Shea, Fung, and Spears (1992) query this conceptualization. From a review of the evidence, they argue that flaming is much less prevalent than popular mythology suggests. Indeed, they suggest that the phenomenon has been over-interpreted by researchers (who include the use of exclamation marks and capital letters as flaming) and may be an artifact of laboratory/experimental conditions (as subjects strive to complete tasks under time constraints). If flaming does occur, Lea et al. conclude that this is not a feature of the use of electronic media but more dependent on social norms of the communication context. Similarly, Herring (1996), from her analyses of Internet discussion groups, has described instances of `flaming' and interprets this in terms of gender norms for communication. She suggests that men may be more likely to express scorn, anger etc. over the Internet and yet be less likely to interpret messages as indicating any of these emotions. Conversely, women may be less likely to use such language but more likely to interpret messages from others as flaming. Flaming then, if it exists, may not be an intrinsic aspect of message content but a matter of interpretation on the part of the interlocutors.

Flaming apart, does the suppression of social cues necessarily lead to an unconstrained expression of views? Spears, Lea, and Lee (1990) take issue with this perspective. Arguing that we have two identities--the personal and the social--they suggest that while the personal may be obscured in the anonymity of (some) email situations, we still have a sense of our social (group) identity and may well act in accordance with salient group norms when communicating via email, i.e. there can be a sense of community and shared identity over email. In organizational terms, this may mean that organizational norms become salient and guide behaviour. Indeed, Lea et al. (1992) and Mantovani (1994) argue that analysis of actual email messages clearly indicates that the senders are well aware of their audience, and mould their message content accordingly. In updating this model, Postmes, Spears, and Lea (1998) go further and argue that the idea that we need to be liberated from our social context is very much a Western ideal (based on a commitment to individualism) and ignores the fact that individuals derive much of their identity from the groups to which they belong. Thus existing social categories may be reproduced in computer-mediated interaction rather than an entirely new `virtual society' (p. 708). We could just as easily reconstruct (or even form) group conflicts through computer-mediated communication, as break down barriers and encourage democracy.

Similarly, organizational studies which have focused on the use of new communication technologies (e.g. Ciborra & Patriotta, 1996) have emphasized that ICTs cannot of themselves create more participative and democratic environments and suggest that emerging communication patterns are much more dependent on the pre-existing organizational context and culture. For example, Zack and McKenney (1995) compared the use of a new email system in the managing editorial teams of two daily newspapers. They demonstrated that the two groups were very similar in most respects (e.g. task and structure) but differed in one crucial respect--social context. One group was defined as decentralized and having a participatory climate; the other as hierarchical and relatively uncooperative. They concluded that these different organizational contexts led to different uses of the email systems. In the more hierarchical organization, email did not support more open communication or greater participation; rather its use reflected the hierarchical structure of the existing face-to-face communication pattern.

These findings highlight the problems of extrapolating from laboratory-based experiments with student populations to either general use of public communication media (the Internet) or to organizational communities (such as are of interest to us here). With reference to groupware technologies specifically, George and Jessup (1997) bemoan the fact that of all the studies they reviewed, only two were conducted in the field. They argue that such studies tend to focus on very specific circumstances such as participants using the technology in `decision rooms' (i.e. where they can actually see each other) rather than using distributed systems, or being engaged in very specific problem-solving tasks which have no history or consequences. We cannot extrapolate from the results of these studies (which in themselves are not straightforward, e.g. Weisband, Schneider, & Connelly, 1995) to organizations and conclude that the constraints experienced in laboratories will be those experienced in organizations. Stripping a situation down to its `bare essentials' in order to test specific variables may only serve to destroy the very social processes in which we are interested.

Claims of increased participation and democracy are based on the notion of anonymity and the existence of direct communication links. This may be the case in laboratories but email is rarely anonymous in organizational contexts and simply providing links does not level hierarchy and create open communication. Indeed, Rice (1990) found that, in an organizational context, computer-mediated communication use seemed to accentuate rather than attenuate status differences. Although organizational members may be able to send messages to anyone they wish to contact, including the Chief Executive Officer, the recipients are not obliged to read, let alone reply to, such messages (Mantovani, 1994). Indeed, Sproull and Kiesler (1991) themselves suggest that the positive benefits of more open communications may rely on particular managerial policies on email use. Mantovani (1994) also argues that perceptions of increased communication and democracy enabled by new communication technologies ignore basic (social) inequalities within organizations, where many organizational members may not even have access to the system (e.g. cleaners, security guards, etc.).

The research summarized above demonstrates that the assumed link between electronic communication and increased openness and participation in organizations is much more complex than at first appears. Evidence of increased participation from laboratory studies cannot be extrapolated to the less anonymous organizational context. Having the ability to communicate directly across functions and heirarchies does not necessarily overcome social constraints (such as status and group norms) and pre-existing organizational communication norms may influence norms of electronic communication. More fundamentally, some theorists have challenged the view that email is devoid of social cues and therefore aids `open' communication, arguing that even `anonymous' electronic communication is still shaped by group norms of interaction and other social processes such as attributions of identity (Hayne & Rice, 1997). In conclusion, the extent to which ICTs can support the network organization's objective of open communication and increased participation appears to be limited by both organizational and social norms of interaction--will we, or indeed, can we choose to use it in such ways?

Electronic networking enables more autonomous and flexible working

In order to exploit fully the knowledge and creativity of knowledge workers in the network organization, they must be allowed some individual autonomy to work as they like, contact whoever they think is relevant or important, access information sources and try out new ideas. Again, ICTs are seen as supporting this by providing the communication links, the databases which can be consulted without help from others and so on.

The potential downside to temporary, flexible working arrangements is already well known (Capelli, 1995; Victor & Stephens, 1994). Boddy and Gunson (1995) in an evaluation of six organizations implementing network technologies, concluded that job loss was a common outcome, especially for clerical staff (in contrast to the first wave of computer-based work systems where clerical jobs were often increased, see Buchanan & Boddy, 1983). They see this as a direct outcome of the availability of shared internal organizational databases. Conversely, the decrease in middle manager positions predicted by proponents of the network organization (as ICTs take over coordination and communication functions) may be overstated as additional managers (e.g. in the UK National Health Service) are employed `to collect and process information connected to the growth ... in monitoring performance, quality and outputs' (Warhurst & Thompson, 1998, p. 16). Indeed, it has also been argued that electronic networking has the potential to enable closer management surveillance and performance monitoring of employees (Murray & Wilmott, 1997). The use of electronic databases and electronic forms of communication leaves a `trace' of the individual's work activity and managers can have more immediate access to performance figures. Researchers and designers working in the area of video-mediated communication have recently developed prototype systems which, in an effort to overcome spontaneity constraints (see above), allow organizational members to view each other at any time in their own offices (e.g. Moore, 1997). In such a way, privacy becomes a thing of the past.

Interestingly, one of the biggest employment growth areas, associated with the use of ICTs specifically, is the call centre or telesales (Warhurst & Thompson, 1998) where even social interactions are scripted and standardized (Taylor, 1998) leaving very little autonomy for the employees. We can also identify instances where some of the more `creative' labour processes, even of professional workers, have been integrated into the technology. For example, in the software industry, many developers are required to use standardized software development packages (Beirne, Ramsay, & Panteli, 1998; Orlikowski, 1992)--in sharp contrast to the rather more exceptional (but widely talked about) millionaire games designers. So the assertion that new technology is creating flexible and autonomous jobs may depend very much on what kinds of employment we choose to highlight.

Teleworking is perhaps (currently) the ultimate form of flexible working arrangement (Huws, Korte, & Robinson, 1990). There is much discussion over what is meant by teleworking (e.g. Qvortrup, 1998), but given the focus on ICTs in this paper, here it is important to distinguish teleworking from the more general notion of homeworking:
   ... teleworking is a flexible way of working which covers a wide range of
   work activities, all of which entail working remotely for an employer, or
   from a traditional place of work, for a significant proportion of work
   time.... The work often involves electronic processing of information and
   always involves using telecommunications to keep the remote employer and
   employee in contact with each other. (Gray, Hodson, & Gordon, 1993: italics

Whether teleworking actually leads to more flexibility in working practices for employees is a vexed issue. Commentators have argued that social and organizational pressures (such as school hours or alignment with others' working hours) may lead teleworkers to adopt office hours in the home (Haddon, 1998). In opposition to the `post-bureaucratic' goals of increased knowledge sharing and communication between employees, teleworkers may only be contactable through an intermediary such as a secretary (Kompast & Wagner, 1998). In addition, it is argued that teleworking has not been as widely adopted as predicted (Chapman, Sheehy, Heywood, Dooley, & Collins, 1995), in some part due to individual concerns about any prolonged absence from the office. Perin (1991), from interviews with professional workers, has suggested that `visibility' in the office is seen as a prerequisite for career advancement, and, perhaps more fundamentally, that important aspects of employee identity are achieved through being in an office environment:
   Besides enjoying pleasures in their work, professionals especially locate
   much of their identity in their office influence and relationships ...
   being `in the office' is an important social experience that can, often
   enough, enhance their work and their lives. (Perin, 1998, p. 41)

While it has been suggested that women, in particular, may benefit from teleworking arrangements (allowing the easier management of domestic and work responsibilities), it may also be the case that teleworking acts to confirm women in their domestic identities (Haddon & Lewis, 1994). Women now find themselves back in the domestic environment they have struggled to leave.

A general point to consider here is that electronic networking may allow more autonomous and flexible working for some employees but may lead to increased managerial control or job loss for others. Commentators, such as Stanworth (1998), argue that those who already have a measure of autonomy (i.e. professional white collar workers) are likely to be those who will most benefit from teleworking as organizations seek to retain their important `knowledge workers'. However, administrative staff may see their terms and conditions eroded, with more routine, repetitive and closely monitored work carried out within the home. Most of this group of workers are likely to be women (Chapman et al., 1995). Adopting a broader perspective, Webster (1996) argues that the combination of globalization and electronic networking is enabling the outsourcing of `second-rate' work to developing countries with lower wage bills. Thus, ultimately, even such routine work may not be readily available within the United Kingdom. Even from the perspective of the white collar professional, current models of work organization based on output measurement (e.g. project management techniques), rather than surveillance through co-presence, can encompass the same element of control over work production (Perin, 1998).

Thus, there is nothing intrinsically `liberating' about teleworking. Managerial objectives for teleworking schemes can include reducing wage bills and overheads (Chapman et al., 1995) rather than a direct concern with increasing employees' autonomy and flexibility. Indeed, some have argued that it is managerial concerns with lack of control over teleworkers which have impeded the implementation of teleworking initiatives (Olson, 1988). Thus whether teleworking turns out to be as liberating as it is claimed may depend on the way it is interpreted in specific organizational contexts, in much the same way as earlier arguments concerning increases in participation and democracy.

In conclusion, we cannot say that ICTs create more autonomous and flexible working. The best we can say so far is that ICTs may help support these objectives for some employees but certainly not all. However, it would also be impossible to specify which employees in which circumstances. It is clearly not a question of professional staff always benefiting or particular industries always following certain paths. It may be the case that more `valued' knowledge workers (with `value' subjectively defined in specific contexts) are likely to gain these advantages--ultimately leading to a more differentiated workforce. However, even they may not escape increased surveillance and monitoring. From this perspective, the networked organization can be seen as an extension of the basic bureaucratic model of organizing (emphasizing managerial control) and not supportive of a new form at all (Heckscher, 1994). The additional issues emerge of whether there is the willingness to use ICTs in such a way and also whether it is actually feasible, given the nature of organizational life.

Work using communication technologies is oriented to managerial goals

Finally, in order to achieve the objectives of the network organization (ultimately increased profitability), it must be assumed that the increase in communication links enabled by new technologies will be used to the organization's advantage, to fulfil managerial goals. The autonomous knowledge worker is trusted to be working independently on something of use to the organization.

However, we are all aware that email systems are also used for social purposes. We send personal email messages and check up on personal hobbies on the Internet. Perhaps senior management would view this as a waste of time and resources. Recently, there has been concern over potentially libellous uses of email which have encouraged several organizations to draw up strict guidelines for email use (Ryle, 1999). However, some researchers have argued that some social purposes may also usefully fulfil organizational purposes (much of this line of research is summarized in Garton & Wellman, 1995). For example, in a widely reported study, Eveland and Bikson (1988) describe how one organization's recently retired employees were able to keep in touch with the company through email. Thus social connections were maintained (thereby managing the transition to retirement more sympathetically) while the organization also benefited by not immediately losing the experience and knowledge of those individuals.

Email may also support political tactics and strategies within organizations (Philips & Eisenberg, 1993), for example, sending an email request to an individual and copying it to their line manager to encourage them to deal with the request quickly. In addition, the fact that emails are archived and easily retrieved means previous agreements and so on can be revisited in the event of later conflict. As argued earlier, Zmud (1991) bases his analysis of this potential phenomenon on the political and symbolic nature and use ,of information. He argues that information presented through email may be more susceptible to misrepresentation, and that the public availability of such information may make it less likely to be monitored while reaching a wider audience who may take such information at face value. Much of Zmud's analysis is based on the assumption of anonymous and context-free communication, which we have already questioned in organizational contexts. However, this analysis does illustrate the point that employees may use email--just as any other organizational artifact--to support individual interests.

Evidence is also beginning to emerge, through case studies, of email systems being used to support more `subversive' purposes, e.g. for mobilizing and supporting group interests which are in direct conflict with managerial goals and objectives (e.g. Wambuch, 1995). Romm and Pliskin (1998) report the use of an email system in a university to support a rebellion against the University President. Particular faculty members, disappointed with the President's strategy, began emailing lengthy complaints and criticisms to him, which were copied to all other email users--practically every university member. Note here how email may facilitate the articulation and publication of alternative viewpoints. Later the rebels established an informal, closed email list amongst themselves and their supporters where they continued to rally support, thus illustrating the potentially secretive nature of email (cf. its contribution to democracy and openness). Following many other moves and counter-moves between the rebels and the President, the rebellion eventually petered out and the rebels themselves moved on to new jobs. However, some time later a new email policy and code of practice were introduced which restricted use of the distribution lists and instigated a series of penalties for misuse of the email system. In a similar vein, Zuboff (1988) reported the life of an email discussion group for women within one organization. Monitored by Personnel, the group was eventually shut down in case it became subversive. Such findings imply that email as a means of supporting participatory decision making and collaboration will only be encouraged if such work is oriented to managerial goals.

In conclusion, the research reviewed in this section indicates that ICTs can be just as easily utilized in ways that are opposed to network ideals of openness and collaboration. Furthermore, will its use be encouraged by management if it is used for ends opposed to organizational goals? Is `openness' and `collaboration' to be defined in managerial terms?


There are four main conclusions to draw from the above analysis with respect to the relationship between the networked and the network organization:

(1) There is some doubt as to whether ICTs can actually support the new ways of working proposed.

(2) There is no straightforward link between use of ICTs and new ways of working.

(3) The conceptualization and conduct of a substantial number of the relevant research studies are limited in focus and difficult to apply to organizational circumstances.

(4) Whether the networked organization or the network organization are examples of a radical new form of organization--a complete transformation in the way we work--is questionable.

To what extent can new ICTs support new ways of working?

We have seen that the ability of ICTs to support the new ways of working suggested in conceptualizations of the network organization has been questioned. For example, the lack of social cues in email communication has been argued as failing to support the project team-work which is also integral to the network concept. At the same time, it has been argued that ICTs are not free from the social norms of interaction which inhibit `openness'. In addition, information transmitted by ICTs may be particularly subject to strategic misrepresention (as compared to other forms of communication), and requirements for ICT design and use may promote standardization rather than flexibility.

Recognizing the limited ability of ICTs to support the new ways of working suggested in the network form, may lead us to suggest that the use of ICTs must be combined with other forms of communication media (e.g. face-to-face meetings and memos), where these seem to fulfil necessary functions better. Unfortunately, the research reviewed suggests that it would be difficult to specify the most appropriate use of different media--results of empirical studies conflict, users are not such rational choice makers and contexts vary in an infinite number of ways.

What have emerged as additional issues are, not merely whether ICTs themselves can support new ways of working, but whether managers and employees will or can choose to use them in this way and whether the network form itself is a necessary objective--issues further discussed in the following sections.

The complexity of the relationship between technological and organizational change

A general theme which can be discerned from many of the studies outlined above is that network technologies cannot effect organizational change in themselves. Technological determinist arguments have been replaced by suggestions that it is the organizational context (or culture) which will influence how ICTs are implemented and used (Andriessen, 1991). It could be argued that we are then left with simply a different form of determinist argument: context determines patterns of working. However, many theorists (in line with the `soft' determinist approach identified by Majchrzak & Borys, 1998) would probably argue that there are many contingiencies which influence the organizational impact of ICTs (e.g. Lamond, Daniels, & Standen, 1996): to achieve: the ideal network organization, we would need to make sure certain contingencies were in place. We could read the research described above in this way and conclude that network organizations will only be achieved through ICTs in the following conditions (these are only a small subset of possible contingencies of course):

(1) where we can identify an ideal combination of technological and non-technological support;

(2) where there are rules about appropriate and inappropriate uses of the technology;

(3) when technologies exist which can convey social cues and support `realistic' group work;

(4) where there is a group culture which supports technology use and eschews conflict;

(5) where there is a pre-existing participative culture in the organization;

(6) where managerial policy supports and enforces network ideals;

(7) where employees are largely professional and already autonomous (and probably male);

(8) where work to be conducted is not susceptible to standardization;

(9) where employees have internalized organizational goals.

From this perspective, research in this area should concentrate on identifying and isolating the important influences on the outcomes in order that we might ascertain how to improve implementation practice to achieve valued goals. Such a project might aim to produce a model of the process, specifying the important independent variables which will achieve the intermediate dependent variables of increased democracy and autonomy, increased communication and motivated employees, leading to the ultimate objective of a productive, profit-making, competitive organization.

However, the critical analysis presented here seems to cast doubt on the feasibility of such a project. Given the number of potential `factors' and interactions for which to account, such a model (if it could be derived) would be incredibly complex and consequently unwieldy. Many of these `contingencies' are obscure or contested (e.g. the value of social cues). Continuing research, even in very specific areas, tends to complicate the situation rather than provide definitive answers (e.g. research on video-mediated communication). Some contingencies might be in conflict (e.g. rules about use of technology vs. autonomy). Some contingencies may be difficult (or simply unethical) to effect (e.g. nature of employees). More fundamentally, many of the proposals here simply do not reflect what previous research has told us about organizational behaviour (e.g. that politics and conflict are endemic to organizational life).

Indeed, in general, it is unlikely that a search for direct causal relations will bear much fruit. For example, emphasizing managerial policy in bringing about `valued' change (e.g. Sproull & Kiesler, 1991) assumes that strategy leads unproblematically to action--which denies human agency in further moulding the process. Such an approach does not give enough credence to the processes of interpretation and sense-making (e.g. Weick, 1995). From this perspective, whether ICTs, in themselves, support new ways of working is not really the focus of interest but rather: whether they are interpreted as doing so within different contexts in the organization; how different groups make sense of the technology and its uses; what influences these processes; and how interpretation and use is negotiated over time. Some of the research outlined above implies that it is these (hard to control) processes which may more satisfactorily account for emergent uses of technology.

For example, Fulk (1993) has suggested that attitudes to technology are not dictated by specific managerial policies, or perceived advantages of the technology, or any very specific factors but by the culture of technology use which emerges in a particular group within a particular organizational context. Indeed, Fulk's paper is entitled `The social construction of communication technology'. I would argue, however, that this appears to be rather a misnomer. The account does not give any sense of how a perspective is `constructed' but uses a questionnaire survey encapsulating various `static' measures to link degree of group identification with attitudes to and use of email. It is hard to see how a dynamic process of social construction can be captured using these techniques (Cassell & Symon, 1994).

In contrast, Orlikowski and Yates (1994) analysed the content of email messages from a group of computer scientists from universities and industry who were collaborating on a specific project over a period of 2 1/2 years. Their analysis focused on the use of different `communicative genres':
   socially recognised types of communicative actions--such as memos,
   meetings, expense forms, training seminars--that are habitually enacted by
   members of a community to realize particular social purposes. (Orlikowski
   and Yates, 1994, p. 542)

Orlikowski and Yates argue that the communication practices of the community were first influenced by genres with which they were already familiar: the memo, the proposal and the dialogue. This initial genre repertoire became the norm for communication in the group and, in a sense, defined the group. Other familiar structures (e.g. the letter genre) were not utilized, which they argue was because they were not appropriate to the nature of the group (identified as informal peer interaction rather than formal project: management). However, over time, both inadvertent and deliberate shifts in these genres became apparent (e.g. the deliberate introduction of the `ballot' genre) so, as structuration theory would argue (Giddens, 1984), these genres do not: determine communication practices, they form the norms for communication and can be challenged, adapted and deliberately changed over time.

This study begins to demonstrate how the use of ICTs by a particular group may be both related to existing organizational context and socially constructed over time. We can see more specifically that the ways of communicating adopted by this community to some extent arose from previous norms of interaction but were also formed in the process of interaction. Thus, previous arguments over whether social cues are transmittable through email and whether electronic communication is essentially liberating prove to be more complex. Computer-mediated ways of working may be influenced by already existing norms of behaviour and additional norms may form over time in specific electronic communities. This suggests that instead of looking for determining factors, we should be focusing more on processes and emergent practices, i.e. how are communities of practice formed through electronic communication?

Practitioners may be alarmed by such conclusions. It would be simpler if we could identify the exact circumstances which need to be achieved for success. On the contrary, I would argue that such studies as Orlikowski and Yates are liberating, particularly for employees themselves, as they suggest that outcomes are not predetermined and that individuals can have some influence over their own circumstances. Eschewing mechanistic solutions, we can focus instead on understanding the particular context--the shared understandings, political relationships, sense making practices and history--and shape the technology accordingly, both to fit the context and to challenge it. If the costs and benefits of technology are a matter of interpretation and sense making, change agents may wish to focus on managing those interpretations rather than expecting specific interventions to lead unproblematically to specific outcomes.

In conclusion, I am arguing for a more social constructionist perspective on understanding the link between the introduction of ICTs and emergent organizational practices. Such a perspective implies more intensive and longitudinal organizational research studies than are often reported in the literature. In such an analysis, context would be seen as formative (rather than an element to be controlled); how the system is appropriated in particular contexts would be seen as explanatory (rather than deviating from some ideal); and attention would be paid to how employees mutually construct and elaborate their use of technology, through conversation and observation.

Problems with the conceptualization and conduct of previous research

One of the problems with interpreting much of this research from an organizational perspective is the underlying legacy of laboratory-based investigations in this area (particularly, perhaps, within psychology). Email and video-mediated communication lends itself to experimental designs with student populations and such studies have probably formed the backbone of theoretical development in the area. In the decontextualized laboratory the focus has been on the effects of technology per se and impacts are interpreted in these terms. One of the major assumptions made about the technology is that it is lacking in social cues, therefore a major focus of research has been on the impact this has on communication and endless studies have sought to test the minutiae of theories based on this perspective (such as media richness theory). Evidence from empirical studies can be found to both support and refute these theories. Indeed, in response to the current `messy' situation, Walther (1996) has concluded that future research should concentrate on taking a contingent approach; seeking to understand in what circumstances email inhibits social interaction and in what circumstances it is enhanced. It could be argued, then, that whether communication links, for example, overcome barriers to communication and participation is still a moot point: more research is needed. Wilt gathering ever more `evidence' in this vein allow us to come to a definitive conclusion about effects, or do we need a different (more critical) kind of theorizing?

One of the problems with the social cues stream of research is the definition of `social'. We have already noted that researchers seem to mean various different phenomena by this term and that there is some disagreement over whether or not email is devoid of social information. How do we recognize a phenomenon as being social? What seems to be implied is the notion that social is not task-oriented or not concerning the straightforward exchange of information, but is about the personal and the emotional. Indeed, this is what is implied in the notion of socio-technical. However such distinctions may be less obvious than first appears. `Social' may not be intrinsic to the message but a matter of interpretation on the part of the interlocuters--`read into' the message by the recipient for example (hence Herring's (1996) findings with respect to gender differences). The distinction between `technical' and `social' is therefore a product of the interaction between people not a distinct property of the information transmitted by the communication system. Out focus then should not be altogether on the communication act itself but the context of its interpretation: on sense making, the social construction of meaning and other perspectives more in line with current thinking in organizational communication theory (e.g. Shotter, 1993; Weick, 1995). Innovative research here could examine: What encourages competing interpretations of shared information and electronic communications? Do individuals come to a shared understanding of a task through email and, if so, how is this achieved? How is ambiguity dealt with in ICT systems?

In this context, Ngwenyama and Lee (1997) have sought to apply Habermas' (1984) theory of communicative action to the analysis of email communication. Re-analysing Markus' (1994) email examples, they argue that messages are interpreted within a range of meanings made possible by the organizational context and that organizational members are capable of critical reflection on the messages they receive. In contrast to Zmud's (1991) conceptualization, individuals do not just accept email message content at face value but can question the validity claims of such messages in terms of, for example, whether the claims made in the message are appropriate in that particular context and whether it is legitimate for that particular organizational member to make these claims.

Going further, it can be argued that a distinction between the categories of `social' and `technical' is created in order to achieve certain purposes and not because of some `intrinsic' difference (Latour, 1987). For example, to make some `information' appear less important (social, informal) than other `reformation (technical, task-oriented). Similarly, distinctions between `work' and `non-work' ,may be particularly salient and have particular implications for teleworkers (Perin, 1998). Interesting questions for exploration here may concern: What distinctions are made in the network organization? How they are achieved and for what purposes?

The argument illustrated through my discussion of social cues research is that a more critical perspective should be adopted, both on the research that has been conducted already and on future directions for research. We need to question basic assumptions and common-sense beliefs in order to gain real insights into the relationship between ICTs and new ways of working, e.g. what do researchers mean by social cues and do they independently exist? how can we make sense of the (apparent) paradox of increased autonomy and increased collectivity implied in the network concept?

Are organizations undergoing transformational change?

Harris (1998) argues that writings on post-bureaucratic forms have tended to adopt an `apocalyptic view' (p. 79), interpreting such forms as complete breaks with earlier modes of organizing (in contrast with Burns & Stalker's (1961) conceptualization of a continuum between bureaucratic and organic forms). It has not been the purpose of this paper to evaluate the prevalence of the post-bureaucratic form, however, underlying some of the critiques presented earlier is the recognition that electronic forms of communication are not always used in transformational ways, but can be just as easily used to support traditional managerial control objectives (Murray & Wilmott, 1997). Indeed, it is argued that new organizational forms simply allow these objectives to be followed more discreetly:
   ... part of contemporary capitalism's tendency to employ technology to make
   the mechanics of complex organization occur increasingly behind the
   scenes.... The virtual organization marks new developments in a trajectory
   begun, but not completed, by bureaucracy. (Nohria & Berkley, 1994, p. 116)

We have seen how teleworking may actually work to the disadvantage of some segments of the working population, and it has been suggested that new forms of output monitoring have allowed control over work processes to be maintained by senior management (Perin, 1998). Organizational activities outside the normalizing parameters of organizational goals may be discouraged, despite the claims of network organization enthusiasts for external links and creative uses of the new systems.

Indeed, this whole line of argument assumes that the network organization is an ideal for which all organizations and organizational employees should aim. We must consider the possibilities that the network organization is not: beneficial for everyone; the ideal solution to current market conditions; or an inevitable development of organizational form. The idea of the network organization has itself been socially constructed by management theorists, researchers, commentators, writers, managers and so on. How that construction is further appropriated and developed by specific organizations is perhaps a more interesting line of inquiry than comparing actual organizations to this `ideal' or specifying how the ideal should be achieved.

It is important in this context for occupational psychologists, as researchers and practitioners, to eschew the evangelistic rhetoric of post-bureaucractic `gurus' and challenge unsupported generalizations and simplistic concepts. Interesting research questions here might include: Whose objectives and values inform the network organization ideal? and Who really benefits in the network organization?


I have argued that this field of research is hampered by some rather conservative theorizing (e.g. causal determination, communication channels), which is not helping us to understand the complexity of the relationship between new ICTs and emergent ways of working and organizing. New perspectives are beginning to emerge but lacunae still exist. For example, many of the research studies outlined are studies of email systems in particular--there are, for example, far fewer studies of shared organizational databases (notable exceptions being Boddy & Gunson, 1995 and Ciborra & Patriotta, 1996). In addition, the vast majority of the studies concern the implementation and use of ICTs rather than the design of ICTs: In what ways do the process and objectives of designing communication technologies differ from those of other kinds of computer-based technologies? What constraints are built into ICTs and why?

Occupational psychologists should be interested in these issues in terms of both research and practice, as shared databases, intranets and computer supported cooperative work systems become part of everyday working life. We are well placed to investigate these questions as our interests combine psychological, social and organizational perspectives. However, in pursuing this interest, we should take a critical and questioning stance and aim for explanation and understanding which is of relevance to organizational life.


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Received 18 December 1998; revised version received 8 August 1999

Gillian Symon(*) Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

(*)Gillian Symon, Requests for reprints should be addressed to Gillian Symon, Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HX, UK (e-mail:
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Author:Symon, Gillian
Publication:Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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