Instant messaging and interruption in organizational settings
First Monday

Instant messaging and interruption in organizational settings: A social presence perspective by Hui Jung Chang and Wan Zheng Ian



Abstract
The goal of this study is to approach conflicting views regarding IM interruption by examining the social presence of IM and its relationship to the level of interruption experienced in organizational settings. Data was gathered via convenience and snowball sampling of computer–using workers in Taiwan (N=283). The results indicated that all four dimensions of IM’s social presence (copresence, social richness, self–reported involvement/partner involvement, social attraction) account significantly for the level of IM interruption at work. Among them, self–reported involvement is the best predictor of the level of IM interruption.

Contents

Introduction
Literature review
Research questions
Methods
Results
Discussion and conclusions

 


 

Introduction

Recent developments in technology have liberated communication from the confinement of time and space, making possible a “ubiquitous connectivity” among people. In fact, McLuhan (1964) observed that “the simultaneity of electronic communication ... makes each of us present and accessible to every other person in the world” [1]. When individuals engage in “an interpersonal relationship that is task–based, non trivial, and of continuing duration” [2], will the presence and accessibility of communication technology encourage distraction from work tasks? It is not uncommon for workers to encounter interruption and distraction in the workplace, which in turn generate stress (Carton and Aiello, 2009; Makin, et al., 1988) and lower level of job satisfaction (Makin, et al., 1988). A recent study also indicated that teleworkers experienced lower level of stress due to interruption and distraction compared with office–based workers (Fonner and Roloff, 2010). Considering the simultaneity of instant messaging (IM), this paper attempts to investigate its impact on employees’ experience of interruption in organizational settings, particularly as concerns the technology’s social presence.

Past research has examined IM’s impact on working relationships, interruptive or not, from the perspective of the technology’s media characteristics. On the one hand, the media characteristics of IM (e.g., the notification of incoming messages) can encroach on time when employees could be performing real–work activities (Cameron and Webster, 2005), on the other hand, IM’s design allows users to “negotiate availability,” which makes interruption more manageable (Garrett and Danziger, 2008). Both conclusions seem to imply that the media characteristics of IM correlate directly with the level of interruption experienced by employees. Therefore, this study attempts to examine the media characteristics of IM and explore their relationships with the level of interruption in the workplace. Media characteristics of IM will be approached from the perspective of social presence, which is a primary aspect of the media characteristics model.

 

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Literature review

Social presence

Social presence describes the degree to which a communication medium approximates the personal characteristics of a face–to–face interaction; it was one of the earliest concepts provided to explain media usage in organizational settings (Durlak, 1987). Media with a high degree of social presence are perceived as being warm, personal, sensitive, and sociable (Short, et al., 1976). It is generally accepted that people are most receptive to media with a high degree of social presence (Johnson, et al., 2000). Face–to–face communication has the highest degree of social presence, followed by telephone conversations, group meetings, desktop video and videoconferencing, voice mail, text messaging, and communication by electronic mail (Rice, 1993). However, the advent of new communication technology and increased social usage of the Internet has required that the concept and measure of social presence be explicated in more detail, in order to improve understanding of interpersonal relationships in a networked environment (Biocca, et al., 2003; Tremayne, et al., 2008).

Biocca, et al. (2003) systematically reviewed the conceptualization and measures of social presence, suggesting that social presence was in the past conceptualized using three categories: copresence, psychological involvement, and behavioral engagement. Behavioral engagement refers primarily to the behavioral component generated under the context of immersive virtual environments and computer games, which does not apply to IM usage. Thus, the third category is excluded for consideration in this study. Biocca, et al. (2003) separated the categories of copresence and psychological involvement into four dimensions to measure social presence: copresence, social richness, involvement, and social attraction.

Copresence

According to Goffman’s (1959) work, copresence refers to a person’s basic sensory awareness of others. It emphasizes the interacting parties’ sense of each other “being in the same location, space, or room” [3]. In their earlier work on social presence, Biocca and colleagues (2001) defined copresence as “the sense of being together with another and mental models of other intelligences (i.e., people, animals, agents, gods, etc.) that help us simulate other minds” [4].

Via recent communication technologies, media users at remote physical sites not only sense the physical presence of other parties, but also socialize among them (Zhao and Elesh, 2008). It is as if media users are physically transported to one another by technology, so that users experience “the perceptual illusion of nonmediation” [5].

Undoubtedly, IM is a technology that enables users to contact other users by demonstrating their online availability and presence (Jacobson, 2008). However, few studies have examined IM uses from the perspective of copresence, despite the fact that copresence has demonstrated a strong relation to communication media. For example, Kang, et al. (2008) showed that the visual realism of avatars on a mobile video telephone was strongly related to users’ perception of copresence, which led to maximum emotional engagement, even in anonymous social interactions.

Psychological involvement

While copresence focuses on the awareness of physical presence, psychological involvement refers more broadly to the psychological aspects of a communication medium. Biocca, et al. (2003) approached the concept of psychological involvement from four aspects: the sense of access to intelligence, the salience of the interpersonal relationship, the intimacy and immediacy of the communication, and the mutual understanding among the communicators. The first aspect, sense of access to intelligence, refers more to interactions that occur in a virtual environment, such as a three–dimensional city, and so does not apply to IM usages. Thus, it is excluded for consideration in this study. The remaining three aspects will be discussed below.

First, salience of the interpersonal relationship refers to “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships ... it is a subjective quality of the communication medium” [6]. Thus, socal presence is the extent to which users perceive a communication medium to be sociable, warm, sensitive, and personal when they engage in an interaction. As mentioned earlier, salience of the interpersonal relationship was one of the earliest concepts provided to explain media usage in organizational settings (Durlak, 1987). The higher a medium is rated to be sociable, warm, sensitive, and personal, the more social richness a medium is. The rating is assessed by an individual’s experiences of being able to use multiple cues in an interaction, which affects the “apparent distance” of the interacting parties [7].

Second, the foremost social psychology concepts related to psychological involvement are intimacy and immediacy. Intimacy refers to the sharing of one’s innermost character with another person, and the awareness of the innermost character of another person (Hu, et al., 2004). As expressed by Marcel (1969), intimacy is: “even if I cannot see you, if I cannot touch you, I feel that you are with me” [8].

Immediacy describes “the extent to which any communication behavior reflects or involves a closer interaction” [9]. Thus, the choice of language or of a communication medium for interaction can influence the sense of immediacy (Mehrabian, 2007). Media high in social presence allows users to adjust to cues such as facial expression and speech duration, so that the overall level of intimacy and a sense of psychological closeness or immediacy can be established among interacting parties (Lombard and Ditton, 1997). Past studies have indicated that IM use is positively related to psychological intimacy between friends who are college students (e.g., Hu, et al., 2004; Jacobson, 2008).

Third, in terms of mutual understanding, previous research also suggests that, because most mediated interactions occur over time, media users generally develop some understanding of the other interacting party. It is one of the important dimensions, along which interpersonal relationships develop from the impersonal to the personal in cyberspace (Parks and Floyd, 1996; Chan and Cheng, 2004). High degrees of social presence of a communication medium should lead to mutual understanding between interacting parties (Biocca, et al., 2003). In fact, one of the purposes of IM use in organizations is to facilitate socialization among coworkers (Quan–Haase and Wellman, 2006) within and across organizational boundaries (Cho, et al., 2005). This dimension of social presence is measured by social attraction, or the homophilly of emotions and attitudes among the interacting parties (Nowak, 2000). Although one may experience social presence without perceiving a similarity in emotions and attitudes in the interacting partner, “it is insightful that some level of mutual understanding may be negotiated through the restrictions of a medium” [10].

IM and interruption

Interruption has been conceptualized as disruption in most IM–related research in organizational settings (e.g., Garrett and Danzier, 2008, Rennecker and Godwin, 2003; 2005). It is defined as “a synchronous interaction which is not initiated by the recipient, is unscheduled, and results in the recipient discontinuing their current activity” [11]. Incoming IM messages are often unexpected and beyond the control of recipients. When an IM arrives, the receiver is alerted instantly to the fact, via the spontaneous sound and the image of the pop–up notification on the computer screen. The receiver is forced to decide whether to switch from the current activity to answer the IM message, thus causing a break in concentration. According to Jett and George (2003) such characteristics of a communication medium greatly intrude on “the flow and continuity of an individual’s work and brings that work to a temporary halt” [12] and distracts an organizational worker’s “focused concentration on a primary task” [13]. Thus, it seems that the technical characteristics of IM contribute to an increased level of interruption in organizational settings.

However, researchers do not agree on whether IM usage and interruptions are related. Herbsleb, et al. (2002) conducted a field study that introduced an IM application into six geographically distributed workgroups for 17 months. They found that some users consider IM to be a superfluous communication tool that encroaches “on their time to do ‘real’ work” [14].

In another study, Cameron and Webster (2005) also considered the use of IM as an additional organizational communication tool. They interviewed 19 organizational members from four different organizations, and over half of the interviewees mentioned the interruptive nature of IM. The most notable complaint was that IM messages tend to “break one’s concentration while focused on another task” [15].

In addition, Renneker and Godwin (2003) proposed that IM users experienced a higher rate of interruption than non IM users due to three IM characteristics: presence awareness, pop–up recipient notification, and polychronic communication. They believed that these characteristics extend users’ “temporal and geographical reach for spontaneous, aka interruptive, interaction” [16], even when IM provides users with several options to control the number and timing of interruptions.

However, some scholars have different views about the recipient control function provided by IM and argue that IM allows users to “negotiate conversational availability” with one another, which is a critical prelude to social interaction [17]. Nardi, et al. (2000) conducted an ethnographic study of 20 people who use IM in the workplace, and found that people have more control when communicating with each other via IM, especially from a recipient’s perspective. The researchers suggest that for most communication media (such as face–to–face and telephone conversations), “the time and topic are convenient for the initiator, but not necessarily the recipient” [18]. However, IM’s ability to communicate availability without interrupting the recipient could potentially compensate for this fundamental asymmetry in conversation. When an IM message arrives, it can be easily screened and ignored until the recipient is ready to engage in conversation, thus providing “plausible deniability” about the recipient’s presence [19]. Because of this, IM can be a communication tool that interrupts less abrasively than other communication channels, such as face–to–face and telephone conversations (Quan–Haase, et al., 2005).

Following the argument that IM allows users to “negotiate conversational availability” from a recipient’s perspective, Garrett and Danziger (2008) proposed that IM was a better interruption management (IM) medium from both the sender’s and the recipient’s points of view. They argued that senders could test people’s availability unobtrusively without having to worry about when it would be best to initiate an interaction. In addition, Garrett and Danziger (2008) challenged the prevailing view that IM was an “additional” communication media, and asserted that IM was used as a substitute for other communication media. Accordingly, they designed an empirical study to compare the levels of disruptive interruption and the overall level of work communication between IM users and non–users using data collected via a national telephone survey of full–time workers who regularly use computers in the U.S. The results indicated that IM users reported lower levels of disruptive interruption than non–users, and had the same level of work communication as non–users.

 

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Research questions

The preceding discussion of IM characteristics and interruption level indicated the two conflicting perspectives in terms of whether IM is or is not interruptive in the workplace. This study attempts to understand the conflicting perspectives by exploring the correlations between the level of social presence of IM and the level of interruption. It will assess whether the technical characteristics of IM, such as presence awareness, pop–up recipient notification, and polychronic communication, increase the level of copresence, social richness, involvement and social attraction of IM, in turn leading to a higher level of interruption or whether the “negotiating availability” of IM makes the level of copresence, social richness, involvement and social attraction more controllable, which in turn leads to a lower level of interruption.

Accordingly, the following research question is proposed:

RQ1: Is IM’s level of social presence (copresence, social richness, involvement, social attraction) related to its level of interruption?

In addition, this study will test the four dimensions of social presence against one another in an effort to determine which dimension best predicts the level of interruption in the workplace.

RQ2: Which dimension of social presence most strongly indicates the level of interruption?

 

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Methods

Design and sample

The data for this study was gathered via convenience and snowball sampling of “computer–using workers” in Taiwan between May and June of 2010. Questionnaires were distributed to people who were employed full–time and who had to use computers for day–to–day, work–related activities. In order to represent computer–using workers in as many professions as possible in Taiwan, the Standard Occupational Classification system published by the Bureau of the Directorate–General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics in Taiwan was used to sample respondents (http://law.dgbas.gov.tw) [20].

Questionnaires were first distributed by the authors via graduate students who have taken or were taking organizational communication classes. Subsequent distribution of questionnaires was made via these students to their acquaintances who met our criteria for the study. This way of collecting data, via convenience and snowball sampling, has been employed by other scholars examining media usages in organizations (for example, Stephens and Davis, 2009; Timmerman, 2002).

Questionnaires were distributed either in paper form or as an e–mail attachment file, depending on the preference of a given respondent. After data cleaning, the final sample comprised 283 respondents, 175 (61.4 percent) were female and 107 (37.5 percent) were male. Most IM users in this study were professionals (39.6 percent), followed by clerical support workers (27.0 percent), technicians and associate professionals (22.5 percent), and legislators, senior officials, and managers (9.8 percent), and others (0.4 percent) [21]. More than 80 percent of the respondents had served in their occupation between one and 10 years (83.5 percent) (See Table 1 for details).

 

Table 1: Demographic profile.
 NPercentage (%)
Sex 
Male10737.8
Female17561.8
Missing1.4
Occupations 
Managers289.8
Professionals11339.6
Technicians and associate professionals6422.5
Clerical support workers7727.0
Other10.4
Years of service 
Less than 1 year5920.7
More than 1 year but less than 5 years10837.9
More than 5 years but less than 10 years7124.9
More than 10 years but less than 15 years186.3
More than 15 years but less than 20 years238.1
More than 20 years31.1
Missing10.4

 

Measurement

IM usage. Three questions were generated to measure IM usage in the workplace. Two concern the time spent on IM, while the other discerns the partners with whom one interacts most via IM. In terms of the time spent using IM, the data shows that nearly 40 percent of IM users spend less than one hour in one day using IM, and 44.9 percent of each IM use last less than 10 minutes. The data showed that friends and families are the major interacting partners for workers using IM (29.1 percent), followed by work–related personnel across various organizations (22.5 percent), colleagues within the same department (18.9 percent), and colleagues from different departments (14.0 percent) (See Table 2 for details).

 

Table 2: IM uses.
 NPercentage (%)
Time for total IM use per day 
Within 1 hour11239.3
1–2 hours6623.2
2–3 hours4214.7
3–5 hours238.1
More than 5 hours4014.0
Time for each IM use 
Within 10 minutes12844.9
11–20 minutes6823.9
21–30 minutes3110.9
More than 30 minutes4716.5
Missing93.2
Interacting partners 
Colleagues within the same department5418.9
Colleagues across different departments4014.0
Work–related contacts across different organizations6422.5
Friends and family8329.1
Other4114.4

 

Social presence. Social presence was measured by the four dimensions as discussed in Biocca, et al.’s (2003) study. All questions for each dimension were based on five–point Likert–type items, where one indicates total disagreement and five indicates total agreement. Question wordings were modified to fit the purpose of this study.

Among the four scales, copresence (the physical awareness of others created by IM) was measured using two items adapted from Ho, et al. (1998) (alpha = .83). Social richness (Short, et al., 1976) measured whether the experience of using IM is sociable, warm, sensitive, or personal (four items, alpha = .81). Involvement, immediacy, or intimacy of IM was measured two ways, adapted from Nowak, et al.’s (2005) model: self–reported involvement (three items, alpha = .79) and perceived partner involvement (three items, alpha = .87). In addition, to further explore the mutual understandings of IM users, a homophilly, or social attraction scale, was used (six items, alpha = .87, adapted from Nowak, et al., 2005). Actual question wordings are reported for all scales in Table 3.

 

Table 3: Scale items and descriptive statistics for social presence and interruption.
Scale itemsNumberMeanStandard deviation
Copresence α=.842833.08.86
I feel a partner sitting next to me in each IM interaction.2833.16.91
I feel a partner talking to me face–to–face in each IM interaction.2833.00.94
Social richness α=.812813.77.66
IM is a warm medium.2833.85.79
IM is a personal medium.2833.85.89
IM is a sensitive medium.2833.50.93
IM is a sociable medium.2833.86.79
Self–reported involvement α=.802813.15.75
I was often focused in each IM interaction.2823.21.89
I was often intensely involved in each IM interaction.2823.09.90
I found the IM interaction stimulating.2833.14.86
Perceived partner involvement α=.862823.11.62
I feel my partner is willing to listen to me in each IM interaction.2833.07.77
I feel my partner is intensely involved in each IM interaction.2833.12.74
I feel my partner wants a deeper relationship in each IM interaction.2823.15.74
I feel my partner finds our IM interaction stimulating.2833.10.70
Social attraction α=.882743.36.64
When interacting with people on IM with whom I am not familiar, I can tell whether the partner could be a friend of mine.2823.45.86
When interacting with people on IM with whom I am not familiar, I can tell whether the partner would be pleasant to be with.2803.37.89
When interacting with people via IM with whom I am not familiar, I feel I know them personally.2833.06.88
When interacting with people via IM with whom I am not familiar, I can tell whether we could establish a friendly relationship with one another.2823.35.79
When interacting with people via IM with whom I am not familiar, I can tell whether they care if I ever interact with them again.2803.53.72
When interacting with people via IM with whom I am not familiar, I can tell whether they plan to keep in touch afterwards.2803.44.75
Interruption α=.662793.06.69
I often receive pop–up IM notifications at work.2823.48.85
I am often interrupted by incoming IM messages at work.2803.22.89
When I receive IM messages while working, I leave everything at hand and respond to the IM messages at once.2832.49.89

 

Interruption. The level of interruption caused by IM was assessed using three items (alpha = .66), which was developed based on the single–item scale used in Garrett and Danziger’s (2008) study. The three-item scale was constructed to gradually assess IM’s level of interruption. First, we asked the respondents whether they often received pop–up IM notifications, then we asked if they were interrupted by IM messages, and, lastly, we asked if they would drop their work activities and respond to the IM messages at once when they occurred. All questions were based on five–point Likert–type items, where one indicates total disagreement and five indicates total agreement. Table 3 reports actual question wordings for all scales.

 

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Results

Research Question 1 asks whether IM’s level of social presence is related to its level of interruption. The descriptive analysis revealed that all four dimensions measuring social presence ranged between three and four on a five–point scale. Among the four, social richness was rated the highest (mean = 3.77, standard deviation = .66), while copresence was rated the lowest (mean = 3.08, standard deviation = .86). In terms of the level of interruption, the average rating was 3.06 (standard deviation = .69).

To assess the correlation between the level of social presence and the level of interruption, regression analysis was performed on four dimensions with the level of interruption respectively. The results indicated that that all four dimensions of social presence are significantly related to the level of IM interruption. That is, the higher that organizational members rated copresence (b = .21, ρ < .001), social richness (b = .15, ρ < .05), self–reported involvement (b = .30, ρ < .001), perceived partner involvement (b = .25, ρ < .001), and social attraction (b = .21, ρ < .001), the higher they rated the level of IM interruption at the workplace. Please see Table 4 for detailed statistic information.

 

Table 4: Regression analyses of social presence and interruption.
Note: *ρ<.05; **ρ <.01;***ρ <.001
 BetaR2Adjusted R2Significance value
Copresence.21***.06.06.000
Social richness.15*.02.02.011
Self–reported involvement.30***.09.09.000
Partner involvement.25***.06.06.000
Social attraction.21***.04.04.000

 

Research Question 2 asks which dimension of social presence best predicts IM interruption. The multiple regression analysis showed that only the dimension of self-reported involvement was significantly related to IM interruption (b = .27, ρ < .01). It appears that the more one is involved in interactions via IM, the higher one rates the level of IM interruption. Please see Table 5 for detailed statistic information.

The problem of multicollinearity, which is common for multiple regression analysis, was limited for the present study. The variance inflation factor (VIF) value of all dimensions measuring social presence was below 10 (Kleinbaum, et al., 1988), and the conditional index (CI) value was below 30 (Belsley, et al., 1980; Chiou, 2010).

 

Table 5: Multiple regression analyses of social presence and interruption.
Note: **ρ<.01
 Beta
Interruption 
Copresence-.04
Social richness-.02
Self–reported involvement.27**
Partner involvement.13
Social attraction.07
R2.14
Adjusted R2.13
R2 change.14
Sig. of F change.000

 

 

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Discussion and conclusions

The goal of the present study is to approach the conflicting views regarding IM interruption by examining the social presence of IM and its relationship to the level of interruption experienced in organizational settings. The social presence of IM was measured according to four dimensions: copresence, social richness, self–reported involvement/partner involvement, and social attraction. It is clear from the results that all four dimensions of IM’s social presence account significantly for the level of IM interruption at work. The more that workers felt the copresence of their interaction partners, the more highly they rated the social richness of IM, the more that workers were involved in each IM interaction, the more they perceived their partners’ involvement in each IM interaction, and the more they were attracted by the interacting partners via IM, the more highly they rated the level of IM interruption. The results suggest that the answer to whether IM is interruptive or not lies in the worker’s perceived social presence of IM. Furthermore, the results also indicate that, among all the dimensions measuring social presence, self–reported involvement is the best predictor of the level of IM interruption. That is, those who experience a higher level of interruption tend to be those who have a higher degree of involvement in each IM interaction.

The overall findings will be discussed with implications for future studies under two areas: social presence of IM, and interruption via IM. Finally, limitation of the study will be discussed.

Social presence of IM

The present study measures four dimensions of social presence according to the findings of prior empirical work (Biocca, et al., 2003). This is the first attempt to aggregate all the measures in one study so that both the physical and psychological aspects of IM could be understood. However, the results suggested that although all four dimensions correlated significantly with IM’s level of interruption, each dimension carries a different amount of impact.

The descriptive analysis revealed that all four dimensions were rated between three and four on a five–point scale, with copresence the lowest (mean = 3.08, see Table 3). When we tested the four dimensions of social presence against one another in an effort to determine the best predictor of interruption level, the multiple regression analysis revealed not only insignificant but negative correlations between copresence and interruption (b = -.04, ρ < .05, see Table 5). Thus, the relatively low rating of being together with interacting partners created via IM is probably due to the more text–based nature of IM designs. Consequently, IM’s copresence contributed limited impact on the software’s level of interruption.

Social richness, the extent to which a media is perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, and personal, is the most widely used measure of social presence (Rice, 1993). In this study, the descriptive analysis revealed that social richness war rated the highest among all four dimensions (mean = 3.77, see Table 3). However, it had the lowest correlation to IM’s level of interruption (b = .15, ρ < .05, see Table 4). Also, the multiple regression analysis indicated an insignificant and negative correlation between social richness and IM interruption (b = -.02, ρ > .05, see Table 5). One plausible explanation, suggested by Biocca, et al. (2003), is that social richness only offers a “social judgment about a medium, not a judgment about one’s state within the medium” [22]. In other words, social presence should be measured as a feature resulting from communication interaction, not as the fixed properties of a medium. Thus, for the present study, IM was high in social richness as a medium, but social richness exerted limited influence on the interruption level of communication interactions. In fact, Tremayne, et al.’s (2008) study demonstrated that students found instructors significantly more authoritative via IM interaction than via face–to–face interaction because they felt they were subordinates during the interaction.

The dimension of self–reported involvement focused more on the sense of psychological closeness resulting from IM interactions. It is the best predictor of whether IM will be interruptive or not in an organizational setting. People who reported being more involved in IM interactions rated higher levels of interruption (b = .27, ρ < .01, see Table 5). It seems reasonable to assume that people would feel more disrupted when they experience the level of intimacy and immediacy intensely in each interaction. Involved communicators are probably the best interacting partners, which consequently draws more IM interaction, and thus more interruption. Accordingly, an equally important dimension of social presence is the perceived partner involvement of each IM interaction. It emerged as the second strongest predictor to IM’s level of interruption (b = .25, ρ < .001, see Table 4).

The last dimension, social attraction, which aims to measure the perceived homophiles of the interacting partners, exerted a mediocre impact on IM’s level of interruption (b = .21, ρ < .001, see Table 4). Although the perceived homophiles of the interacting partners may lead to a higher level of interruption, it was not as impactful as self–reported and partner involvement. This is perhaps due to the fact that the attraction one feels for the interacting partner will not make one a target for interruption.

Nevertheless, the overall findings indicate that the psychological dimensions of IM’s social presence, including self–reported/partner involvement and social attraction, have a stronger effect on the level of interruption than the physical or technological dimensions of social presence of IM (copresence and social richness). Perhaps this distinction between the physical and psychological dimensions is the cause of the conflicting views regarding the interruptive nature of IM. Those who perceived the psychological dimension of IM usage rated a higher level of interruption than those who perceived the physical or technological dimension of IM uses. Future studies should further explore the dimensions of IM’s social presence and their relationships with interruption in the workplace.

Interruption via IM

Following the measurement used to explore IM interruption in the workplace in previous studies, the present study also measured IM interruption as a disruption. A three–item scale was developed to measure interruption based on Garrett and Danzier’s (2008) study. The descriptive analysis revealed an average mean of 3.06 on a five–point scale, indicating that workers’ attitudes toward the level of interruption created by IM in the workplace was only a little above average agreement. The three–item scale was constructed gradually to assess the level of IM interruption in the workplace. Thus, when we examine each item more closely, we find that the average mean decreased gradually as well, from “received IM messages” (mean = 3.48), to “being interrupted by IM messages” (mean = 3.22), to “respond to IM messages at once” (mean = 2.49) (Table 2). The results might suggest that people often receive IM messages, but do not always consider themselves to be interrupted. It might also suggest that people are being interrupted by IM messages, but they may not drop everything in order to respond to the messages. Thus, the study observes that IM interruption comes in different types.

To see if there are differences between the three types of IM interruption observed in this study, we regressed the four dimensions of social presence on each of the three items measuring interruption respectively. The post hoc multiple regression analyses revealed only one significant correlation between self–reported involvement and “respond to IM messages at once” (b = .32, ρ < .001). That is, the more one was involved in the IM interaction, the more one tended to leave every thing at hand and responded to IM messages at once. Thus, the multiple regression analyses not only confirm the variety of IM interruption, but also indicate that certain dimensions of IM’s social presence affect certain types of interruption. For the present study, self–reported involvement in IM messaging predicted whether a respondent would stop the work at hand and respond to the IM messages at once. Future studies should elaborate and measure IM interruption more deliberately (Jett and George, 2003), and explore its correlation with all dimensions of social presence.

Past research has investigated interruption via IM from a recipient’s point of view (e.g., Herbsleb, et al., 2002; O’Conail and Frohlich, 1995; Nardi, et al., 2000; Garrett and Danziger, 2008). As suggested by Cameron and Webster (2005), IM may also be a useful “electronic foot–in–the–door” from an initiator’s point of view, even though it may be an annoyance for the recipient. Also, past research has indicated that IM allow people to manage interruption in the workplace more effectively from both recipient’s and initiator’s points of view (Nardi, et al., 2000; Garrett and Danziger, 2008). Therefore, is it plausible to conceptualize and measure interruption from an initiator’s point of view so that the synchronous interaction could be observed. Perhaps the “negotiating availability” of IM makes the level of copresence, social richness, involvement and social attraction more controllable for message senders, which in turn could lead to a lower level of interruption for receivers. Future studies could explore interruption via IM from both recipients’ and initiators’ points of views [23].

Furthermore, the length of time spent on IM has been suggested as a variable affecting the level of IM interruption in the workplace (Rennecker and Godwin, 2003). When one spend more time on IM, one is likely to increase their chances of being interrupted. For the present study, the regression analyses revealed, as predicted, that the more time one spends using IM per day (b = .31, ρ < .001) and the more time one spends on each IM use (b = .15, ρ < .05), the higher one rates the level of interruption caused by IM.

In addition, the regression analyses indicate that both time variables correlate significantly with each dimension of social presence, except for the dimensions of partner involvement (b = .10, ρ > .05 for both time variables) and social attraction (b = .09, ρ > .05 for each IM use). Thus, it seems that higher amount of time spent on IM uses does not increase the level of perceived partner involvement, and has somewhat weaker associations with the level of social attraction. Past research has indicated that IM users tended to communicate longer with their social contacts than with work contacts (Avrahami and Hudson, 2006). Thus, one’s perception of partner involvement and social attraction may depend on the person with whom you are interacting. Four categories of interacting partners were reported for the present study (see Table 1).

Thus, a post hoc one–way ANOVA was performed to see if there are differences between the four groups on perceived social presence and IM level of interruption. Although no significant differences were found on the level of interruption between the four groups (F = .44, ρ > .05), two significant correlations were found on two dimensions of social presence between friends and family members, and colleagues from different departments. Those whose interacting partners are friends or family members tend to rate IM with higher social richness (F = 5.62, ρ < .01) and higher social attraction (F = 3.15, ρ < .05) than those whose interacting partners are colleagues from other departments. That is, workers rated communications with family members and friends to be more warm, personal, sensitive, sociable, and more socially attractive that communications with colleagues from other departments. This might partially explain the observation that the total amount of time spent on IM has no effect on perceived social attraction to the interacting partner. Future studies should explore more thoroughly the moderating effect of variables such as time and interacting partners on the correlation between IM’s social presence and the level of interruption in the workplace.

Limitations

The major limitation is the study’s external validity. The respondents are not representative enough to stand for all computer–using workers in Taiwan. Due to limited resources, the data was collected via convenience and snowball sampling. Thus, although this is the first attempt to explore IM’s social presence with its level of interruption in the workplace, the results observed for the present study, while suggestive, are not conclusive. Further, the results of the study may be specific to a certain group in a particular cultural context only. However, all findings may serve as a reference point for future studies concerning IM interruption in the workplace. End of article

 

About the authors

Hui–Jung Chang, Ph.D. (Michigan State University, 1996) is a professor at Fu–Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. Her research interests include computer–mediated communication, media usages within organizational settings, and network analysis. Her writings have appeared in such journals as Journal of Computer–Mediated Communication, Western Journal of Communication, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, and Mass Communication Research (Chinese).
E–mail: hj [dot] chang [dot] taipei [at] gmail [dot] com

Wan–Zheng Ian is a M.A. graduate from the Graduate Institute of Communication at Fu–Jen Catholic University who is interested in researching the relations of employees’ usages of social network sites and self–disclosure within organizational settings.

 

Notes

1. McLuhan, 1964, p. 248.

2. Gabarro, 1990, p. 81.

3. Biocca, et al., 2003, p. 463.

4. As cited in Lee, 2004, p. 2.

5. Lombard and Ditton, 1997, p. 8.

6. Short, et al., 1976, p. 65.

7. Short, et al., 1976, p. 157.

8. As cited in Hu, et al., 2004, p. 4.

9. Mehrabian, 2007, p. 31.

10. Biocca, et al., 2003, p. 464.

11. O’Conail and Frohlich, 1995, p. 262.

12. Jett and George, 2003, p. 495.

13. Jett and George, 2003, p. 500.

14. Herbsleb, et al., 2002, p. 4.

15. Cameron and Webster, 2005, p. 97.

16. Renneker and Godwin, 2003, p. 156.

17. Nardi, et al., 2000, p. 4.

18. Nardi, et al., 2000, p. 5.

19. Nardi, et al., 2000, p. 6.

20. The 10 standard occupational classifications are: legislators, senior officials, and managers; professionals; technicians and associate professionals; armed forces occupations; clerical support workers; service and sales workers; skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers; craft and related trades workers; plant and machine operators, and assemblers; and, elementary laborers. The occupational classification system used by Taiwan corresponds to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO, 2008), except for the first category (the first category of ISCO contains managers only). Considering the nature of work for the last five occupations, and the number of IM users for each occupation reported in Garrett and Danziger’s study (2008), the last five categories were excluded from the present study.

21. No statistics are available for the proportions of IM users in each occupation in Taiwan. Originally, we tried to sample computer workers in each occupation category based on occupation distribution in the population, which is: legislators, senior officials and managers (4.30 percent); professionals (8.88 percent); technicians and associate professionals (21.10 percent); and, clerical support workers (11.08 percent). No statistics were provided for armed forces. However, when we actually distributed questionnaires to each occupation, we found that the numbers of IM users in each occupation were not proportionate to the occupation distribution in the population at large. In the process, we recorded the numbers of IM users and non–users in each occupation, as shown in the table below.

 

 ManagersProfessionalsTechniciansClericalOtherTotal
IM users28 (77.8%)113 (81.3%)64 (74.4%)77 (71.3%)1 (14.3%)283 (76.4%)
Non–users8 (22.2%)26 (18.7%)22 (25.6%)31 (28.7%)6 (85.7%)93 (23.6%)

 

22. Biocca, et al., 2003, p. 470.

23. Actually, the present study has tried to assess the relationship between IM’s social presence and its level of interruption from a recipient’s point of view using a two-item scale. The actual wordings of the two items are: “I send IM messages to my friends, families, and coworkers when I find time at work,” and “When I use IM to reach people for work–related issues, I often find them not available at work.” The scale was excluded from the study because of a low level of inter–item consistency (α = .39). Yet, when we regressed the four dimensions of social presence on the two–item scale, the multiple regression analysis showed that only the dimension of social attraction could significantly predict the level of interruption (b = .15, ρ < .05). That is, the more one was attracted to the interaction partner, the more one tended to initiate IM messages.

 

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Editorial history

Received 20 August 2011; accepted 2 March 2012.


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Instant messaging and interruption in organizational settings: A social presence’s perspective
by Hui–Jung Chang and Wan–Zheng Ian
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 3 - 5 March 2012
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3741/3180
doi:10.5210/fm.v17i3.3741





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