Discontinuities and Continuities

A new way to understand virtual work

Summary by Carina…

Virtual means in terms of differing from traditional work:

  • location of the workers
  • where and how work is accomplished
  • basis for relationships between workers and organizations and between organizations

Virtual work environment means physically or temporally dispersed.

Virtual worker:

  • new employee-employer relationship like.
  • contingent or contract employee who is self-employed and has no dominant organizational affiliation but has temporary relationships with multiple organizations.
  • electronically connected contractors or “e-lancers” move the economy from its fundamental unit which is command-and-control organizations to one based on the work of individuals.

Virtual can also mean online gatherings of people with an interest for a given topic of products (e.g. MUDs, new groups, government-supported infrastructures for communication and information sharing, communities of practices).

Discontinuities are gaps or a lack of coherence in aspects of work, such as work setting task, and relations with other workers or managers. They can arise in factors such as the location of the workers, where and how work is accomplished, and the basis for relationships between workers and organizations, and between organizations.

2 forms of discontinuities:

  1. temporal (Meaning a break in some kind of logical succession – e.g. When workers move from one company to another, there’s a discontinuity in employer).
  2. cross-sectional (Meaning a lack of coherence in aspects of an individual’s work – e.g. When workers report to different bosses for different parts of their work, there’s a discontinuity in supervision, creating potential difficulties for both employees and supervisors)

Types of discontinuities:

  • Temporal work location (e.g. Working asynchronously across time zones).
  • Geographic work location.
  • What group membership (e.g. who you work with).
  • Organizational affiliation.
  • Cultural backgrounds.

Overview how virtual can be seen:

  • Virtual employees can be seen as those having discontinuous organizational affiliation, work group membership or physical or temporal locations.
  • Virtual groups can be seen as those having a continuous employer but discontinuities in physical or temporal locations.
  • Virtual teams can be seen as those having a continuous employer but discontinuous location, work group membership, and perhaps even discontinuous tasks.
  • Virtual organizations can be seen as those having individuals working continuously for some employer, but interacting with a discontinuous set of other people working for other companies on a discontinuous set of projects.
  • Virtual societies may have individuals communicating about common subject or issue, with discontinuities in physical or temporal locations.

Most discontinuities have been found in time and space.

Continuities are factors that influence behaviors that workers are aware of and consciously act on, or they may be implicit and unrecognized. Between the individual and the organization, the continuity is a collective understanding of some aspect of the work environment. There’s also a shared motivation – “The ability to commercialize the product”, and make money from it – which gave the groups a common goal. Continuities, such as shared motivation, understanding of the task, mutual expectations, and others, provide the stability necessary to deal with the introduction of discontinuities or differences.

What is shared in the group of individuals who are collaborating at a distance:

  • Common task
  • Common beliefs and values
  • Common media
  • Common work practices

Groups may also need to more explicitly agree on communication strategies in a “virtual” environment than in the more traditional environment. Another way, in time, workers in virtual work environment may routinize discontinuities into continuities.

———-

Paper:

Watson-Manheim, M. B., Chudoba, K. M. & Crowston, K. (2002): Discontinuities and continuities: a new way to understand virtual work. Information Technology & People 15(3). 191-209.

Back to the overview…

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One comment on “Discontinuities and Continuities

  1. Pingback: Master’s Program | Sebastian Kaiser

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