Striking a balance Managing collaborative multitasking in computer-supported cooperation
Abstract: This thesis is a collection of six papers and a cover paper reporting an exploration of how to strike a balance between individual task execution and work articulation in Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). The interest in this theme is motivated by an increased reliance of IT-supported cooperative work arrangements in modern organizations, the fragmented layout of work for multitasking individuals and reports on various forms of overload, increased level of stress and anxiety experienced by workers active in these organizations.Modern organizations are increasingly reliant on IT-supported cooperative work arrangements for doing work. Cooperators are not only expected to execute assigned tasks, but also to engage in work articulation. This is a term used to describe the process of rich and frequent interaction needed for securing that the contributions of cooperators are executed in such a way that the overall goal is reached. As cooperators typically are involved in several work formations in parallel, they need to find a balance between individual work and work articulation in relation to several work formations. The challenge of finding a balance in cooperative work has only to a limited extent been addressed in CSCW and there are few successful designs available for this purpose. The scope of this thesis is to develop an understanding of the challenges faced and strategies deployed by cooperators and work formations for striking a balance in work. The purpose is therefore to explore how multitasking individuals manage to find a balance between task execution and articulation work in computer-supported cooperative work, what challenges they face in the process, and how IT should be designed to support them. To reach this purpose several instances of cooperative work in different contexts have been closely studied.The main conclusions of this thesis are that cooperators are constantly struggling for a balance in work through making frequent switches between work formations, individual task execution and work articulation, sometimes through making switches in the technology that is used. Strategies for finding this balance are developed in relation to the specific context of a cooperative activity as cooperators ‘design’ their use of IT, structures, procedures and norms. It is further concluded that for avoiding overloads of interaction, cooperators show and estimate availability through reliance on various sources of shared information, that social (e.g. interpersonal relation) and contextual factors (e.g. location) are considered when establishing interaction, that cooperators when searching for interaction with others are influenced by their estimated availability, competence and willingness to assist, but also by network maintenance efforts (i.e. an ambition to avoid overloading and underutilizing other cooperators). Finally, it is concluded that norms are important for finding a balance in work as they reduce the interaction needed for work articulation.The main contributions of this thesis are rich descriptions of four cooperative work formations, the challenges they face and the strategies they apply, redefined theoretical concepts (i.e. availability management, interruption, multitasking) and extended understanding of interaction search behavior and ways to achieve high levels of informal interaction across distance. This work also provides some practical contributions in the form of implications for designers of supportive IT and implications for cooperators active in modern organizations.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE DISSERTATION. (in PDF format)