Communicative Coworkership

Part II: Organizational Tensions

There is currently not much written about the communicative coworker, and therefore we do not grasp the consequences of these mounting expectations on the employee to be communicative in everyday organizational life; not only actively engaged in his or her work assignments, but also expected to participate in overall organizational dialogue. The lack of research means that we do not grasp how the coworker perceives, experiences and enacts these expectations. The concept of a communicative coworker is not unproblematic since it places high demands on employees in addition to skills in their professional roles, where they are also expected to be skilled communicators both in relation to colleagues and managers, and also to external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and media.

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Simonsson (n.d.) describes how managers often get training, support and coaching in creating their identity as a leader, something coworkers on the other hand seldom receive in creating their identities as communicative coworkers. Ciulla (2004, p. 5) argues how employees in today’s organizations perhaps get more responsibility however not the tools required, such as time or knowledge, which she calls ”bogus empowerment”. The importance of employee participation is thus constantly put in the background when instrumental values ​​such as time and money, based on short-term goals, in the end is what is valued most for the organization (Cheney, Christensen, Zorn & Ganesh, 2010; Simonsson, 2002).

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This form of organizational tension between the expectations put on the coworker and the perceived work situation, looking at the employee’s perspective of the tensions, is understudied in organizational communication research (Trethway & Ashcraft, 2004) and the understanding of the coworker’s perspective is generally underrepresented in a management and leadership oriented research field (Heide & Simonsson, 2011; Tengblad, 2007). Despite a trend towards the post-bureaucratic organization, where hierarchy is flattened and the coworker is considered to have a more active role in relation to managers and directors as well as ambassador of the organization externally (Tengblad, 2007), there is always an unequal balance of power between employee and manager. Leadership in itself is about influence, which inherently entails an asymmetric power relationship (Axäll, 2004).

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Organization and leadership

Is the “open” office a way to control?

Christensen, Morsing and Cheney (2008) argue that research and practice in organizational communication seems to promote a kind of regulation of an employee who is opposed to participation and empowerment, in spite of a real-time picture of the commitment among employees. We can link this to a transmission perspective on communication, which in itself can suggest there are other reasons behind the open office landscape’s popularity than the pursuit of transparency and openness, and instead evolves about power. Deetz and Mumbay (1990, p.37, referenced in McPhee & Zaug, 2000, p.4) points out ”All communication necessarily involves the use of power […].” And an organization’s communication will thus always involve a production and reproduction of power.

From a management perspective, the open office can be seen as a strategy to control what is being said, something that can prevent negative rumors in the workplace. If managers are in the same room, employees should be more limited in what they dare to express. We can see traces from the rational school’s policies on staff and control (Scott & Davis, 2007).

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Cornelissen (2012, p.171) talks about organizational silence as ”[…] corresponds to a ’closed’ communication climate because it involves a shared and widespread feeling among employees that speaking up is of little use, leading them to withhold potentially valuable information”. The focus here is the organizational culture and leadership as a basis for the communication climate being open or closed. On the other hand, one could argue the individual agent munity, and that this type of communication may find other channels, such as lunch breaks or digital communications in various forms (but that these channels themselves will have their implications in the communication process).

But Danielsson and Bodin (2008) and Toivonen (Larsson, 2010) points to the employees’ reduced motivation because of perceived reduced privacy and personal control. Jansson (2009) argues for the individual’s need for privacy and distance, and Galbraith (Scott & Davis, 2007) talks about the need for ”organizational slack” which means margins for error and reduced demands on performance. In an open environment where reduced performance does not seem socially acceptable, integrity, distance and margins may be difficult to create, and the open plan office fails to ensure these needs.

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If open plan offices mean that employees keep quiet about what they perceive as sensitive information, such as negative results or incompetence, it could be bad for business in general, such as the ability for management to make decisions based on data existing in the organization. We can link this to Glauser’s (1984) perspective on unwillingness to communicate further if you feel that the information reflects poorly on your own work or character. The open office does not mean necessarily better knowledge sharing. The image of free communication flows may get dented if one reflects on the consequences of a boss or an employee no longer being able to invite to discussion in their private rooms. To ”invite” may well show a desire to create a personal meeting and also provide space for such physically, both factors that may be valuable for a personal relationship and better communication between the parties.

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Organization and leadership

What happens to communication in the open office?

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An environment creates opportunities and possibilities for certain behaviors and reactions, as with the office environment, and different structures thus provide different communication patterns. As previous post has pointed out, communication is essential in an organization, with openness and transparency as a current theme (Falkheimer & Heide, 2011). The open communication ideal is based on the idea that the organization is more democratic if communication is encouraged and information is available. Transparency and communication among its members and with the environment is considered positive, and ”closeness, hierarchy and the withholding of information is valued negatively.” (ibid, p 136).

There is also the expectation of the individual employee to be a skilled communicator, for example, evaluates U.S. employers skill in verbal communication as the top three of the most highly valued skills of employees (Keyton, Caputo, Ford, Fu, Leibowitz, Liu, Polasik, Ghosh & Wu, 2013). Cornelissen (2011), however, focuses on management when he talks about organizational communication, and explains it as a management function which creates a framework for the effective coordination of all communications, which aims to create and maintain favorable rumors among stakeholders.

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A theme in organizational communication is integrated communication which means that the organization should not send different messages externally and internally. Most advocates an ideal of sending a message and have a voice that permeates vision, image and culture (see among others Hatch and Schultz, 2009; Aaker, 2004). Organizations’ commitment to openness and transparency, the unified communicated message, and the communication ideal of meaning creation, may explain the popularization of open plan offices, where there are no walls to be able to prevent the employees coming together to interact. Communication must therefore flow across hierarchical boundaries and give all a voice and influence. On the other hand, one can perceive a paradox in a polyphony of individual voices that together constitute the whole, that is, the organization (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011), and a unified message that permeates everything.

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An introduction to Strategic Communication

What is a social intranet? Part II

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Falkheimer and Heide (2011) emphasize that the new information and communication technologies in organizations, for instance intranets, have positive qualities such as to reduce the distance in time and space, but could hardly live up to expectations on the efficiency of human learning, which is complex processes that new media itself cannot solve. The authors emphasize that the introduction of intranets require huge investments but has marginal results. With that realization, intranets can be understood as an expression of isomorphism, i.e. that they mimic how other organizations are acting to achieve legitimacy (Cornelissen, 2011). Then the Intranet is basically about creating a good image of the company in general for stakeholders than to serve as an interactive medium for employees.

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Social intranets seem to reflect a paradox in organizations. Partly it reflects a new communication ideal in having one voice, one message that pervades the vision, image and culture, which among others Hatch and Schultz (2001) argue in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal is also visible in the trend of ”integrated communication” which means that the organization should not send different messages externally and internally (Falkheimer & Heide, 2011). The internal culture of the organization should by using the intranet open up by the employees having access to larger amounts of information relating to the business by governing documents, manuals, etc. are available to all regardless of time and space. It works as a marketing channel that explains what the organization is, why it is important, the core values ​​it has and how employees are its ambassadors.

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On the other hand the intranet reflects the common perception of meaning in which organizations are considered to be in communication processes, rather than the opposite, which is found in the term ”organizational communication” which considers a polyphony of individual voices together constitute the whole organization (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011). With the intranet, employees can communicate digitally across hierarchical boundaries through chat, comments and email system. The digital community will give all voice and influence. Christensen and Cornelissen (2011) criticize the communication ideal of one unified voice. They see instead how a vague and ambiguous message can promote opportunities for differences to co-exist in an organization, and make it work as a strategy to create identification with the organization of its employees, by allowing different interpretations of the organization’s message. Are the writers influenced by a classical transmission’s approach in their field, or is it even a development of the meaning making perspective? There is a constant tension in the literature between the transmission and meaning making perspective, information and communication, hierarchy and polyphony, and it is possibly the strongest point of strategic communication, but at the same time the weakest point.

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An introduction to Strategic Communication

What is a social intranet? Part I

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On 25 September, Skåne University Hospital (SUS) went over to the same intranet as the entire County Council of Skåne as an organization now gathers under. All pages and news can be commented on, and opening day started with a live chat for SUS’s employees (Mattiasson, 2013). This is an example of what is called a ”social intranet”, which somewhat simplified terms is an internal organizational forum with information document and the opportunity for interactivity. The term ”social” stems from the term ”social media” which from a communication perspective can be understood as that new communication technologies are seen as social with active participants in relation to older media as having passive spectators as an audience. This is a blind historical glance since every time has had a similar discussion and each media form their social function and significance, such as the invention of the printing press, the velocipede, amusement parks, and cinema visits (Andersson, 1993; Ekström, 2010; Sjöholm, 2003). But an organization requires media to communicate internally. Cornelissen (2011) argues that organizations have to communicate with their employees in order to push morale and identification with the organization, and ensure that employees can perform their own specialized tasks. He sees it as a balancing act both to coordinate employee activities to achieve organizational goals, and also meet the individual needs. Larsson (2005) has a broader societal perspective and can explain social intranet as part of the trends of the time, that information should be disseminated by mass communication means, as well as a scholar perspective about two-way communication with active citizens.

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But in contrast argues Christensen, Morsing and Cheney (2008 referenced in Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011) that research and practice in organizational communication seems to promote a kind of regulation of employee who is opposed to participation and empowerment, despite a contemporary image of promoting commitment among employees. This can be linked to the transmission view of communication (see among others Axley, 1984; Jansson, 2009; Varey, 2000; Botan & Taylor, 2004) and the traditional approach (Whittington, 2001), where rational planning from leadership direction leads to profit maximization which is seen as the organization’s objectives. Christensen and Cornelissen (2011) argues that the attraction seems to lie in the packaging of stability, order and predictability in an uncertain and segmented world. Coreen, Kuhn, Cornelissen and Clark (2011) is on the same track when they describe the conventionality in that communication itself organizes that stems from a sociological tradition of striving for social order. Here we see reflections in line with Jansson’s (2009) thoughts whether communication is inherently desirable and good.

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