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

How do you see communication? It matters for the open office!

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In line with stakeholders’ expectations about openness and transparency, there is a prevailing academic perspective on communication called the ”ritual” model or creating common meaning, where communication is seen as a circular process where individuals and groups together and continuously create meaning (Jansson, 2009), and the perspective is lifted as the modern and ideal (see, inter alia, Varey, 2000; Axley, 1984; Botan & Taylor, 2004). The opposite is depicted as a transmission model where communication is seen as linear transmission, which can be linked to the traditional rational approach where a given input produces a given outcome. Communication was seen here as one-way and with that perception of the staff, the open work area was a way to monitor but also perhaps a way to easily distribute information, while the open office today can be seen as a way to facilitate interaction by lowering barriers for employees to interact with each other, no walls in between. The threshold for providing feedback is said to be lower if you can ”throw” a comment over the table, than if you have to go out of your room and knock on the employee’s office. On the other hand, one can imagine that there are digital channels that may have the same basic function, to quickly throw away an e-mail, skype messages or the like, while the faceless communication can open up for misinterpretation.

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 With Weicks (2004) theory of sense-making, communication in the workplace is understood as a way to create understanding and meaning around work, individual and social activity, which is necessary for agents to have the opportunity to interpret. Weick argues (2004, p 543) ”Those who forget that sensemaking is a social process miss a constant substrate that shapes interpretations and interpreting.”, and we can imagine the importance of relationships, group membership and informal communication for the process. Lowered thresholds for interaction can promote relationships which are part of the individual’s creation of identity and identification with the organization (Gomez & Ballard, 2013; Hatch and Schultz, 2009). Having the employees feel connected to the collective is a social cement that can create motivation.

One should however be aware that there can always be a transmission perspective to communication in an organization, and to new channels such as changing the type of office space from closed to open, never in itself can entails a two-way communication, but it is how they are used. An open office environment can never on its own constitute an open and transparent organizational culture, but it can be a tool to promote it .

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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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