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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

The proliferation of portable information technologies (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) along with the increasing availability of wireless networks allows individuals to expand and extend their information environment. One context which has been impacted by these changes is the workplace; individuals now multitask in face-to-face meetings with other technologies. This multitasking can have a dual impact: the information needs of the face-to-face group may be better met by increased access to networked information, but the individuals in the group using the technology may decide to use it for non-group tasks, which may be disruptive and/or diminish the individual's focus away from the team. In this pilot research, the concepts of information handling and polychronicity (a preference for multitasking) are used to explore qualitative data from interviews with 15 office workers.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

In today's workplaces, it is common for people to be using a portable technology (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) while simultaneously working on something else. For example, people glance at email while on a telephone conference call and during face-to-face meetings people use laptops to look up information, take notes, send an instant message or any other myriad of possible tasks. It is rare for workers not to be multitasking, in fact, it is expected in most organizations that people will manage their usage of time to handle different work activities simultaneously (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999). This continuous use of portable technologies throughout the work day and across different activities poses interesting and challenging questions for assessing information needs and uses for people in these contexts.

An individual's information needs and uses when multitasking with technology now extends to cover not only the activities of the face-to-face situation, but also includes the information environment of the technology too. Further complicating matters is the fact that the information needs and uses can be both interrelated between the face-to-face and technological contexts and/or completely separate from each other. An example of interrelated information use can occur when a comment spoken out loud in a meeting prompts someone to turn to technology to provide additional knowledge. When information needs are divergent, the user may be simultaneously listening to what is being said in a meeting while holding an electronic conversation with someone else. Using interviews with 15 office workers, this research examines information needs and uses of individuals in face-to-face meetings who are using technology. The specific questions of interest are as follows:

  • 1.
    What are the information needs of technology multitaskers in face-to-face meetings?
  • 2.
    What are the group factors that influence information use in this meeting context?
  • 3.
    What are the individual factors that influence information use in this meeting context?

Literature Review

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

This brief literature review introduces two concepts for assessing information needs and uses for technology users in meeting contexts: information handling and polychronicity. Information handling is a term that describes the social rules which shape our information use, and polychronicity is an individual's preference for multitasking. Adaptive structuration theory (Orlikowski, 2000) has demonstrated that technology use in organizations occurs as a combination of group norms and individual preferences. The combination of these two factors leads to the premise that information use with technology in meeting contexts is a byproduct of group factors (information handling) and individual motivations (polychronicity).

Information Handling

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

Ryan (2006) introduces the term information handling to describe the social behaviors that represent how information is used and disseminated by people. Essentially it is social rules that override technical possibility in the realm of information exchange—he gives as an example that a wedding invitation is not sent via email, even though it is technically feasible to do so. There is something about the social norms of a culture that tell us what the proper form of communication should be and for what kinds of information it is acceptable to share electronically.

With information handling, there is an “information order” for how information is acquired, stored, concealed and disseminated and for how this information is distributed across collective, public and private knowledge sources. Individuals and organizations make decisions about how to share information and this occurs through a socialization process that creates these norms. The implication of these norms for technology use in meeting contexts is that the social order may override what individuals want to do and the technological feasibility. As an example, in meeting situations most individuals do not just begin talking on a mobile phone even though it is possible—the information order of the situation requires that the individual leave the room to talk on the phone.

Polychronicity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

Polychronicity is a term that describes people who prefer to work on multiple activities or tasks simultaneously (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999). A person who is oriented toward polychronicity perceives time as occurring in such a way that different activities can be layered simultaneously. Conversely, a monochronic individual is one who perceives time as distinct segments which are then preferably allocated to one activity per given segment. Someone who prefers to work in a monochronic fashion will set up their activities to avoid interruptions.

Cotte & Ratneshwar (1999) propose that an individual's polychronicity/monochronicty orientation is primarily derived from the dominant culture one lives in, but social and work groups and individual preferences also shape one's attitude toward polychronicity. The temporal pacing of work impacts people's attitudes (do they feel stressed or not) and how they schedule and manage multiple activities at the same time. In most workplaces people work polychronically, especially when using a computer which allows for multiple work tasks and components to be available simultaneously on a single screen. In meeting contexts, not all users will be comfortable dealing with information simultaneously across both the face-to-face and technological contexts. Other individuals, however, may feel that their work day is more efficient and productive with increased access to information from technology.

Information handling and polychronicity were introduced in this literature review as two factors that contribute to way users decide to use technology for information in meetings. In the next section the results of 15 interviews are discussed in relation to these two factors.

Results & Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

In-person interviews were conducted with 15 people who work in a variety of different workplaces and attend meetings. Participants were recruited from a market research company with a database of 25,000 people in the Austin, Texas area. Participants were selected if they met the following criteria: worked in an office building and attended at least 4 face-to-face meetings per month. This screener was quite open and resulted in a sample of 7 women and 8 men, ages 25 to 58, who participated in a 30 minute interview and received $30 compensation.

Each interview was captured as a detailed field note resulting in 25 pages of written summaries. The summaries were analyzed using the constant comparative technique from grounded theory. From these comparisons, the following responses emerged on the issues of information needs in meetings and the group and individual factors contributing to its use.

Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

The respondents information needs depended most on the type of meeting they were involved. In status update meetings, where information was being broadcast from one or two individuals to a large group, information needs between the meeting and technology were separated. For example, some participants would become bored in these meetings and so they would turn to their laptop computer to work on other tasks separate from the meeting.

On the other hand, if the meeting type involved more active discussion and communication amongst members, then technology was typically used to show a prototype or look up information that was then shared with the group. In these meetings, individuals were unlikely to work on separate information tasks with technology. Meeting type was the strongest determinant for how and why technology was used in meetings for information.

Information Handling & Polychronicity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References

In regards to information handling, participants noted that in some meetings they were told explicitly by the meeting leader not to bring or use laptops. With these ground rules in place individual information use was constrained to what was being spoken out loud or shared via paper documents in the group meeting.

Another example of the information order that shaped how individuals used information occurred with the presence of upper management or outside clients. When there were outsiders to the meeting, participants chose not to use technology (when they normally would have) because they were concerned about appearing rude to the outsiders.

Participants differed on whether they liked to work in a polychronic fashion or not. Some participants found that accessing information on technology allowed them to feel more accomplished during meetings. However, other participants expressed concerns about constantly being attached to electronic information (e.g. email) and wanting to ‘get away’ from technology use.

In this short paper, the information needs of people using technology in meetings were assessed through the ideas of information handling and polychronicity. It was found that the participants' information needs were determined primarily by the type of meeting but that group norms and individual preferences further shaped the use of information. This research is an initial start to a broader agenda aimed at understanding the impacts of continuous technology use and information access.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Information Handling
  6. Polychronicity
  7. Results & Discussion
  8. Information Needs of Technology Multitaskers
  9. Information Handling & Polychronicity
  10. References
  • Cotte, J. & Ratneshwar, S. (1999). Juggling and hoping: What does it mean to work polychronically? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 14 (3/4), 184205.
  • Kaufman-Scarborough, C. & Lindquist, J. (1999). Time management and polychronicity: Comparisons, contrasts and insights for the workplace. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 14 (3/4), 288312.
  • Orlikowski, W. (2000). Using technology and constituting structures: A practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization Science, 11 (4), 404428.
  • Ryan, D. (2006). Getting the word out: Notes on the social organization of notification. Sociological Theory, 24 (3), 228254.