The interplay between interpersonal and electronic resources in knowledge seeking among co-located and distributed employees

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Abstract

In the information age, a common problem for employees is not lack of resources but rather how to sift through multiple resources, both electronic and interpersonal, to retrieve and locate true expert knowledge. The main objective of this study is hence to explore employees' simultaneous usage of both resources and to identify situations where employees showed a clear preference of interpersonal resources over electronic ones, and where employees found these two resources (a) (ir)replaceable and (b) complementary. Both qualitative interview data and quantitative social-network data were collected from a university-affiliated community educational office. Data analysis showed that (a) social relationships were crucial for seeking and gaining actual access to needed knowledge; (b) employees were task-driven in knowledge seeking and obtained different types of knowledge depending on availability; and (c) the choice between interpersonal and electronic resources was determined by the characteristics of the knowledge sought as well as such contextual factors as time, cost, and location. Additional interviews from other study contexts validated most of our findings, except those that require collection of complete social-network data. The article ends with a discussion on how organizations can better leverage their investment in human and technical resources to facilitate knowledge seeking.

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