Context Counts: Effects of Work versus Non-Work Context on Participants' Perceptions of Fit in E-mail versus Face-to-Face Communication

E. V. Wilson, Steven D. Sheetz
2008 Communications of the Association for Information Systems  
There is a general need to understand better how context can affect evaluation, usage, and productivity of IT in research and practical settings. This paper investigates how perceived effectiveness of e-mail-style computermediated communication (CMC) differs between work and non-work contexts of use, and contrasts these differences with perceived effectiveness of face-to-face communication (FtFC). From the prior literature, we identified seven major activity domains that are prominent in CMC
more » ... earch. We developed a set of activity scales and corresponding measures of normative cognitive effort (NCE) for these domains and conducted an initial study to evaluate the overall instrument. In a second study, we measured perceived effectiveness of the communication mode within each activity domain among subjects who had communicated via e-mail and FtFC over a 15-week period. Some subjects communicated to support team-based software development (work context), and others communicated for personal interest (non-work context). We find communication technologies, activities, and contexts of use jointly determine perceived effectiveness; context influences perceived effectiveness primarily through interactions; and NCE successfully predicts perceived effectiveness based upon normative differences among activities. Our findings extend prior research in the area of task-technology fit to incorporate context effects, suggest that context is an important consideration in designing research, and introduce NCE as a method for predicting fit that can be applied even prior to system design. We conclude that the differential effects of work vs. non-work contexts are too large to be ignored, and we recommend an increased focus on context effects in CMC research and practice. 312 Volume 22 Article 17 In the next section we define the terms under discussion and review theoretical and empirical background literatures, giving special attention to studies that compare multiple communication contexts and studies that specifically address communication in representative work or non-work contexts. This is followed by an explanation of our research model, development of hypotheses, presentation of the research method and results, and a discussion of the findings. II. COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES AND CONTEXT Drawing from a general definition of technology [Merriam-Webster 2006], we use the term "communication technology" to mean a manner of accomplishing communication using specialized processes, methods, or knowledge. The present research focuses on two modes of communication technology represented by e-mail-style 1 CMC and FtFC. Both modes of communication require the use of specialized processes, methods, and knowledge in order to participate effectively. FtFC requires skill in performing a substantial inventory of verbal and nonverbal behaviors that have been established through social and cultural mechanisms. 2 E-mail communication requires additional skill in the use of computer system features [Wilson 2005], but computer mediation also obstructs many characteristics of verbal behaviors, e.g., volume and inflection, and precludes most nonverbal behaviors, e.g., eye contact and facial expressions [McGrath and Hollingshead 1994] . As discussed in detail in a later section, differences between CMC and FtFC are found to occur in user processes (e.g., affect for other participants), subjective evaluations of outcomes (e.g., satisfaction with results), and objective products of communication (e.g., compliance with a request). One objective of the present research is to identify systematic differences between FtFC and CMC communication that are dependent upon the context in which the communication technology is used. The term "context" is applied in this paper to mean a set of circumstances surrounding use of a communication technology. "Context is what the technology-that is, the material artifact-is introduced into; it is what is left behind 1 In addition to e-mail, our literature review and discussion consider studies of other text-based CMC systems, including online discussion lists, online chat, and communication components of group support systems (GSS). Although these systems vary in certain characteristics, e.g., communication synchronicity, they offer similar system features to their users, including an emphasis on textual communication [McGrath and Hollingshead 1994] . In the remainder of the paper, we use the term CMC to refer to this general class of text-based systems. 2 It also is argued that human communication incorporates inherited aptitudes and traits that predispose humans toward language use [Chomsky 1959 [Chomsky , 1995 . Because such predispositional factors are genetically based and do not represent specialized processes, methods, or knowledge, we do not include these in our discussion of communication technologies. Volume 22 Article 17 313 Volume 22 Article 17 331 332 Volume 22 Article 17 Steven D. Sheetz is director of the Center for Global e-Commerce and associate professor at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. He received his Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Colorado. His research interests include all aspects of developing information systems. Including the design and use of software metrics, the effects of work pressure on IT project teams, learning and use of Object-Oriented (OO) systems development techniques, computer-supported group collaboration, service-oriented thinking applied to medical systems, and methodologies for using Reference Information Models. He has published articles in
doi:10.17705/1cais.02217 fatcat:shen5pkhxrf7lfw6ap7snmu4ca