The impact of mobility on the temporal structuring of virtual organizations

AUTHOR
Elpida Prasopoulou, Niki Panteli and Nancy Pouloudi

ABSTRACT

In recent years, the rapid advances of information and communication technologies have nurtured a growing interest among academics as well as practitioners to the new ways of organizing rendered possible by these technological advances. From the various organizational configurations that emerged as a response to the numerous possibilities of ICT, the virtual organization has gained increasing attention as a highly significant organizational form.

Virtual organizations have been posited as “radical departures” (Schultze & Orlikowski, 2001) from the traditional, hierarchical and stable modes of organizing that dominated the modern era. Their dynamic, flexile and collaborative character emphasizing on collaboration, innovation and learning has shaped a form of work organization that transcended physical boundaries and thus provided new opportunities for more effective working arrangements. The major characteristic of virtual arrangements that has been mostly celebrated by academics and practitioners alike is their ability to abolish time and space boundaries and thus operate anyplace and at anytime. Yet current discussions focusing primarily on the success stories involving forms of virtually and overemphasizing productivity gains do not acknowledge the changes that virtual arrangements introduce in some of the deep rooted conceptions of virtual workers and primarily in their notion of time.

Time has always played an important role in the structuring of activities within traditional organizations. Time is part of people’s involvement with the natural and technological world and moreover the relations of people with time are embodied in the material and technological world they have inscribed. To this end, time is deeply rooted in the organizations that control much of the everyday activities of people and more specifically in the actions and work practices that constitute the essence of organizing. People in organizations experience time primarily through the shared temporal structures they enact in their daily activities (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002) and as a result the notion of time experienced by people is inherently affected in a virtual environment.

In this paper, we examine primarily the effects of the use of mobile telephones in the temporal structuring of activities in virtual organizations. Mobile telephones are becoming increasingly popular devices in the business and consumers world since they permit people to transcend traditional physical boundaries and perform their activities unbounded by time and space restrictions (Panteli & Dibben, 2001). Furthermore, the recent integration of mobile phones with the Internet has created even more powerful tools that endow workers with more flexibility in their activities. Recent literature has mostly appraised the capability of mobile phones to compress time and permit workers to respond to organizational demands practically anytime. However, the effects of such properties in the structuring of people’s time have not been thoroughly investigated yet. The connection between the temporalities of mobile phones and the temporalities of social practices in which they are embedded are not clearly understood. Many have argued that technologies are inherently neutral. However, recent research endeavors have shown that technological artifacts embody specific forms of power and controlling interests (Horning et al. 1999). If that is the case, then how are mobile phones transforming the conceptions of time around which people base their everyday interactions with organizations?

Being part of a larger research endeavor to trace the effects of mobile phones in the everyday practices of people, this research has collected data through interviews with knowledge workers regarding their use of mobile phones and specifically the effects of this use on their perceptions of time. People were asked to describe their feelings about the fact that mobile phones are a constant reminder of their ties with a formal organization that follows them in practically all their other activities. Furthermore, people were asked to tell how they feel about their increasing availability and the multiple interruptions mobile phones induce in their daily programs.

The current explosion in mobile communications is transforming “everyday” practices. Especially affected is the structuring of time in organizations. Since time is a socially constructed entity, changes in the habits of people are also altering the conceptions shaped through decades of continuing social practices regarding time. In this paper, we propose that people structure their time not only through their activities but also through the various roles they assume in their everyday lives. To this end, mobile telephones with their ability to render the workers available at any time they intensify the destruction of the boundaries that people create around the various roles the assume. Workers are asked now to enact new temporal structures flexible enough to embody the increasing use of mobile telephones for organizational matters and to deal with the increasing intrusion of formal organizations in their other activities.

REFERENCES

Horning, K. H.; Ahrens, D. & Gerhard, A. (1999). Do technologies have times? New practices of times and the transformation of communication technologies. Time & Society, 8 (2), pp. 293-308.

Orlikowski, W.J. & Yates, J. (2002). It’s about time: Temporal structuring in organizations. Organization Science, 13 (6), pp. 684-700.

Panteli, N & Dibben, M. A. (2001). Revisiting the nature of virtual organizations: Reflections on mobile communication systems. Futures 33, pp. 379-391.

Schultze, U. & Orlikowski, W. J. (2001). Metaphors of virtuality: shaping an emergent reality. Information and Organization, 11, pp. 45-77.

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