Web 2.0 for Work in Chinese Professional Service Firms Robert M Davison: City University of Hong Kong Carol XJ Ou: Tilburg University Maris G Martinsons: City University of Hong Kong Angela Ying Zhao: Sichuan University Xiaoqing Hua: Renmin University RongDu: Xidian University
Introduction & Background • Web 2.0 is fast becoming ubiquitous • Socially, it is almost universal • At work, its presence is growing fast • Through Web 2.0, each of us is “present and accessible to every other person in the world” (McLuhan, 1964). • However, there is some scepticism • Is Web 2.0 more than a vast chatting application?
Workplace Web 2.0 Contexts • Internal Communication • Knowledge sharing • Coordination & Collaboration • Problem Solving • External Communication • E-marketing • PR • CRM
Research Question • But detailed investigations/analyses of how corporate Web 2.0 applications generate value are rare, so… • “How do Chinese professional service firms engage with Web 2.0 technologies in order to create value at work?”
Communicative Ecology Framework • CE is used in media and communication studies to analyse relationships among social groups, interactions, and media. • Foth and Hearn, 2007 • CE: The context in which communication processes occur • CEF: Three layers • Technological • Social • Discursive
CEF: 3 Layers • Technological • Media and technologies for interaction, e.g.: • telephone networks, face-to-face & new media such as instant messaging & social networking • Social • People and social structures, such as groups of friends, colleagues, formal organisations • Discursive • Communication content
Media Applications • Multiple media are often used • People find it more convenient to choose from a portfolio of media applications • Different tools can be used in different contexts • Some people like ‘richer’ tools with video and audio, others are happy with ‘poorer’ tools with only text. • Tools can be used in combination – linearly or sequentially • This is consistent with Media Synchronicity Theory (Dennis et al., 2008)
Web 2.0 Applications • A wide variety of Web 2.0 tools are encountered in the workplace • These include (but are not limited to) • Microblogging – e.g. Twitter, Yammer, Weibo • Instant Messengers – MSN, QQ, Skype, WangWang, G-Talk, WeChat, WhatsApp, LINE, etc. • Wikis & other platforms, e.g. RTX • All Web 2.0 applications are characterised by the role of users as content creators
Microblogging • ‘Life updates’ among colleagues • Zhao and Rosson, 2009 • Team- task coordination • Riemer et al., 2010 • Enhancing brand awareness • Jansen et al., 2009
IM • IM is often used to compensate for the absence of FTF interaction for immediate questions, clarifications, coordination, scheduling • Avrahami and Hudson, 2006 • Use as a complementary communication channel for distributed teams • Quan-Haase et al., 2005 • Concerns about work interruption • Nardi et al., 2000; Ou et al., 2010
Wikis • A “collaboratively created and iteratively improved set of web pages” (Wagner 2004) • Corporate KM initiatives • Wagner, 2004; Wagner & Bolloju, 2005 • Work Facilitation and Process Improvement in the Organisation • Majchrzak et al., 2006 • Knowledge Reuse for Organisational Improvement • Majchrzak et al. forthcoming.
Web 2.0 Research in China • Weibo for Viral Marketing in Vancl • Zhang, 2011 • Exploratory study of commercial potential of 22 Weibo sites • Li et al., 2011 • IM use, paradoxically, leads to both interruption and enhanced communication quality • Ou et al. 2010; Chang & Ian, 2012
Corporate Concerns about Web 2.0 Use in the Workplace • Fear of misuse, with an excess of chatting • Nardi et al., 2000 • Low levels of useful content • Gunther et al., 2009 • Risks of cyber vandalism, queries about quality control, fit with organisational culture • Stocker and Tochtermann, 2009
Methods • Qualitative Case-Based Approach • Interviews and observation of key personnel at work • Identify ways in which Web 2.0 applications are used – and how value is derived • Identify operational and strategic issues/ problems that may complicate Web 2.0 use • Identify opportunities for innovation in Web 2.0 use in the Chinese environment
Context • Four Professional Service Firms in Software Development • Beijing – Mercury, Beech • Chengdu – Silver • Xi’an - Parana • One hotel chain - Ravine • PSFs tend to be characterised by high levels of knowledge intensity, a highly professionalised workforce and low levels of capital intensity • Nordenflycht, 2010
Mercury - Beijing • 12,000 employees; US-educated founders • A restrictive IT culture • Most applications are blocked to most people • Senior people can use anything • MSN & QQ are used for internal communications • QQ is popular for large file transfer • MSN is used for communication with industry experts, former colleagues, clients, external agencies
Mercury • Weibo sees extensive use for marketing and external communication purposes • But most followers are employees! • Mercury is developing a short term strategic plan around Weibo for marketing • In general, Mercury is rather conservative • The corporate IT infrastructure is out of date • They are not confident that they can fix security loopholes nor support the growing number of employees >> 40,000
Beech - Beijing • 9,000 employees; local management • More relaxed attitude towards IT • Fewer restrictions • E.g. RenRen and Kaixin are blocked, but others are OK • They have an internally developed wiki that they use for customer support • After sales service, online updates, e-marketing, discussion forums • The wiki serves as a medium for communication with and between customers
Beech • They have also developed an internal IM platform • So few people use MSN or QQ, excecpt for external communications • The internal platform also functions as a corporate directory • It is mostly used for 1-1 communications, not group discussions • Weibo is not much used except for internal social communication
Silver - Chengdu • This is a state-owned software firm, with most work on long-term retainers • Very relaxed IT culture • Anything is allowed as long as it is work related • There is an internal wiki, but it is little used by programmers • It is used by HR staff as a repository for formal documents • Weibo is primarily used for social purposes
Silver • RTX is the most widely used platform • RTX has IM functions, as well as an internal directory and group chats • It has well developed archiving functions, so as to store conversations • It acts as a form of corporate memory and enables asynchronous work • RTX facilitates communication between the Chengdu HQ and all other sales offices • The major limitation is that RTX needs PC/notebook support – not accessible by smart phones (except with wifi)
Parana - Xi’an • 3,000 employees globally, 250 in China • Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu • Chicago headquartered, operating globally • Strong corporate ethos to do good • Quality software • Sustainable business • Socioeconomic justice • Pro-diversity, pro-equality, green IT
Parana • Most applications are Google related, though Skype is used extensively for video conferencing • Corporate policy is very open • Any application is OK if it helps • Weibo is used at corporate and inividual levels, but for thought leadership, not for marketing • Corporate wikis and blogs are also used to publish information ‘for the good of society’
Ravine • Ravine is a global hotel management services company, operating over 100 hotels in China • Ravine blocks all access to Web 2.0 technologies • “It is not part of Ravine’s corporate culture” • Yet, many Ravine employees need to use Web 2.0 for their work • Communication, problem solving, marketing, CRM • And they do … by finding creative solutions
Ravine • Some employees • Use mobile devices secretly to access networks reserved for hotel guests • Persuade their managers to allow them to use private networks, including guest networks • Some managers equally break the rules – so as to get work done • Using multiple devices for multiple purposes • Corporate HQ seems unaware…
Ravine VP-IT: “Security is paramount. No hotel has direct connectivity to the Internet. All hotel communications are routed via a firewall located in corporate headquarters. Further, all Ravine hotels operate standard software, globally. There is zero tolerance for malware and the risks that malware would bring”. FOM: “I am not allowed to use MSN at work, and my guanxi network has suffered: I have lost some of my contacts. It is harder to work effectively. Why not trust everyone to be sensible instead of being suspicious of everyone?”. PRM: “Without QQ I cannot work. I use QQ to contact many external parties, who don’t use other applications. They refuse to use email and it is very hard to get hold of them on the telephone. Therefore I must be able to use QQ”. MCM: “A one minute task, like sending an email with attachments to corporate clients, can take two to four hours”. MCM: “My job is to communicate, but there are no tools to accomplish this”
The Three Layers of the CEF • Foth & Hearn (2007) suggest that the technological, discursive and social layers are intricately interwoven. • We experienced this dynamic interweaving in each of the four firms described above. • Web 2.0 applications cross all three layers and enable a variety of organisational functions • Most of the communication that takes place is horizontal
Web 2.0 & Organisational Communication Model:Simplified Version Use of Web 2.0 Media Organisational Communication (Internal and External; Vertical & Horizontal) • External Factors: • Managerial Support • Client Preference Communication Outcomes
Vertical Communication • Vertical communication – across levels in a hierarchy – is common in many organisations, with instructions and directives ‘from above’ being disseminated downwards. • We found relatively little evidence of vertical communication – perhaps because most of the firms we studied exhibit more relaxed managerial control systems • Some Web 2.0 liberated managers use IMs, wikis, blogs, but email is more common. • Weibo can be used to control corporate image with followers (the public) and to engage in digital marketing
Proposition 1 • Proposition 1: The use of Web 2.0 applications can enhance vertical communication in organizations (with internal and external stakeholders), thereby establishing and strengthening corporate norms.
Horizontal Communication • Many different Web 2.0 applications can be used for different types of horizontal communication that involve • Internal (peer-peer), e.g. problem solving, knowledge exchange, social interactions • External (client-focused), such as e-sales & marketing, thought leadership, recruiting, brand management, after sales service.
Proposition 2 • The use of Web 2.0 applications enhances horizontal communication for a variety of internal and external purposes related to • Internal communication: problem solving, knowledge exchange, social relationship development • External communication: e-sales & marketing, thought leadership, recruiting, brand management, after sales service.
The Contingent Role of Organizational and External Factors • A variety of external factors also influence communication practices • Managerial scepticism • Managerial concern for the potential for security breaches • Corporate restrictions, requirements and culture • Client preferences
Proposition 3 • The effects of Web 2.0 applications on enhancing vertical and horizontal communication are contingent on a) management support and b) partner’s medium use, suggesting its moderating role in Web 2.0-supported communication processes.
Communication Outcomes: Vertical • Corporate norms can be communicated effectively through technology • Over time, these norms coalesce into a corporate culture • We saw evidence in particular of email, blogs and instant messengers • The outcomes include: corporate performance and consistency, team satisfaction and efficacy, individual productivity and efficacy
Proposition 4 • The vertical communication of corporate norms exerts a positive influence on work-related processes at the corporate, team and individual levels
Communication Outcomes: Horizontal • A variety of work processes are facilitated by horizontal communication • These work processes operate at individual (e.g. knowledge exchange), team (e.g. client interactions) and corporate (e.g. e-marketing) levels • Outcomes cover productivity, satisfaction, profit and assurance of corporate values
Proposition 5 • The engagement in such horizontal communication activities as knowledge exchange, digital marketing and social relationship building will exert a positive influence on work-related processes at the corporate, team and individual levels.
Web 2.0 & Organisational Communication Model: Detailed Version P1 Vertical Communication: Establish and Maintain Corporate Norms P4 Use of Web 2.0 Media: IM, μblogs, Wikis Communication Outcomes: Individual, Team, Organization P3 P5 P2 Horizontal Communication: Knowledge exchange; e-Marketing; Social Relationships; Problem Solving; Thought Leadership Organisational and External Factors: Mgt Support; Medium Choices
Reflections • This is still work in progress • We believe that the CEF provides a good basis for analysing Web 2.0 impact on communications in organisations • We observe different corporate styles • More and less restrictive/open • Does this matter? • What is missing is a detailed analysis of the outcomes – we propose the impacts, but we have not yet measured them • Are some tools more suitable than others? • We note that email and face-to-face communication are still prevalent in some contexts.
Discussion Questions • What are the barriers/enablers to/of vertical and horizontal communication that uses Web 2? • How to balance the conflict between the need for Management Support and Partner Preference for a particular medium? • What kind of investments are needed for Web 2.0 to add value at work? How can the ROI be measured? • What are the advantages of the CEF as an organising/analytical tool? How could the CEF be improved • I.e., is technology, social, content enough? Anything missing?
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