Contemporary organizations are drastically changing, in large part due to the development and application of newer communication technologies and their respective media channel options. Within virtual organizations, business leaders are increasingly faced with issues associated with managing and communicating with their mobile workers. According to Richard L. Nolan and Hossam Galal of the Harvard Business School, global businesses are aggressively exploring and investing in the virtual organization paradigm. Furthermore, organizations of all sizes increasingly have become virtual in nature. In the case of organizations involved in information processing, newer communication technologies are being used by 71.9% of small firms and 81.3% of large firms, according to a Small Business Administration study. The same study also concluded that the number of U.S. companies that have virtual and telecommuting programs have more than doubled since 1990. The challenge for leaders within this rapidly changing environment is to determine the best ways to lead and communicate with increasing numbers of mobile staff members. These leaders have an astounding array of high technology communication tools to choose from when communicating with their employees. They also have concerns about the preferences and uses these workers have for various forms of communication. As organizations seek to optimize communication and share information with their mobile workers and scholars seek to understand the utility and influence of specific organizational communication technologies, such as PDAs and smartphones, which are rapidly emerging as a new and appealing communication tools. The core capability of these devices is a combination of software and hardware that transfers voice and e-mail wireless messages and performs other business related tasks. Current estimations indicate that mobile data will have a penetration rate among the U.S. population of nearly 60% in 2007. Scholars interested in how media channels are used within organizations have turned their attention to the nature, use, and effectiveness of communication tools such as these. They also have been interested in how the particular characteristics of employees relate to their preferences among traditional and newer communication channels. Media richness theory has been one theoretical framework which has been applied by researchers to this environment. Media richness in the organizational context involves the rational process of media selection in which the characteristics of each communication channel are matched with the content or information richness of a message in order to reduce uncertainty. One variable that may be at work when media types are selected in terms of their richness is “learning styles.” These individual learning styles and their relationship with media choices on the basis of richness has been studied previously (Rex, 2001), but not in the case of portable deices. Learning styles are different ways of learning; essentially scholars and practitioners concerned with learning styles have looked at the preferences of individuals and how they process information through their unique senses.
Using the media richness theory, this study provides further understanding of learning style as a criterion for the selection of handheld media channels by mobile employees. Previous research indicated that learning styles are related to media channel selection and use, although individual media choices and their relationship with learning styles of members of virtual organizations have rarely been examined where employees are highly mobile. Although many types of learning styles exist, this study concentrates on the expressive learning style when sending and receiving messages. The expressive learning style is based on dividing an individual’s learning into four different processes: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. It is worthy of special consideration because individual learning is a continuum through time based on these processes whereby people eventually rely on one preferred learning style.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Mobile Workers: Employees performing their jobs outside the office.
Media Richness Theory: The rational process of media selection so that the characteristics of the communication channel is matched with the content of a message in order to reduce its uncertainty.
Telecommuting: Work arrangement in which employees employ telecommunication means to perform their tasks instead of commuting to a central work location.
Symbology: The study and interpretation of symbols.
Personal Digital Assistant (PDA): Handheld device that combines computing and networking features.
Virtual Organizations: Organizations that primarily conduct their work through electronic media.
Smartphone: Handheld device that integrates the functionality of a mobile phone and a PDA.