workplace

Ethnography, Storytelling, and the Cartography of Knowledge in a Global Organization: How a Minor Change in Research Design Influenced the Way Our Team Sees, and is Seen by Our Organization.

JAY DAUTCHER and MIKE GRIFFIN Our team unites qualitative researchers, designers, and prototyping engineers to investigate workplace technologies using a four-step process: ethnography, analysis, intervention, measurement. Projects develop in relation to the needs of internal corporate units identified as project stakeholders. An experiment with a more ethnography-centered research approach, conducted without a specific internal sponsor, led us to develop findings we believed could benefit many groups in our organization—designers, product teams, salespeople, corporate strategists—but presented us with some unfamiliar challenges. First, we needed new storytelling and social media tools to disseminate our message. Second, we needed a way to find out who, in our organization of 75,000 globally distributed employees, might value our findings. In response, we initiated an internal project investigating and mapping out social networks of knowledge exchange and strategic influence in our company. We foresee using this strategy map to...

Teaching Organizational Ethnography

NOZOMI IKEYA, ERIK VINKHUYZEN, JACK WHALEN and YUTAKA YAMAUCHI In 2004 Fujitsu asked PARC to carry out an ethnographic investigation of their software business, focusing on their development processes, and while doing so to build an ethnographic capability in their own organization. One of our biggest challenges was to convince Fujitsu’s system engineers – and the development organization more generally – of the value of ethnography for their business. They are used to translating what they hear from customers about the workflow into a standard framework of system requirements and specifications; it was difficult for them to see the relevance of putting any significant focus on understanding what is going on in the workplace at the level of everyday work practices. Moreover, in their work with customers, system engineers commonly proceed in a carefully planned and highly structured manner, where every activity is expected to yield predictable outcomes. For them, the open-ended nature of ethnographic fieldwork seemed dangerously...

Back to the Future of Work: Informing Corporate Renewal

JENNIFER WATTS-ENGLERT, MARGARET SZYMANSKI, PATRICIA WALL, MARY ANN SPRAGUE and BRINDA DALAL This paper describes the results of a multi-year ethnographic study of how knowledge workers integrate new technology into their work practices. We studied mobile and remote workers who use smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, and social networking to support their work. Study findings describe the characteristics of mobile work, the coordination of multiple devices and sources of information, how new technology functioned as a social resource and issues that arose when participants used personal mobile devices to support work. We will also discuss how we are working with corporate teams to renew our research projects, and the solutions and services the company offers to support the changing nature of work....

Integrating Organizational and Design Perspectives to Address Challenges of Renewal: A Case Study of NASA’s Post-shuttle Workforce Transition

JO AIKEN As organizations become increasingly complex and technology-dependent, likewise their challenges become increasingly complex and technology-driven. In the practice of organizational and design ethnography, the elements of organization and technology design overlap. However, a need remains for an explicit framework to deal with the complex challenges of innovation and change faced by contemporary organizations. This need is evident in a case study of NASA’s workforce transition as a result of the space shuttle’s retirement. NASA’s challenge is both organizational and technological – the end of the Space Shuttle Program left the agency without a clear replacement vehicle and the risk of losing an experienced, expert workforce. An integrated organizational and design approach could foster an environment of renewal by involving stakeholders at all levels of the agency and adopting a future-oriented approach to anticipating change....

Mobility is More than a Device: Understanding Complexity in Health Care with Ethnography

TODD S. HARPLE, GINA LUCIA TAHA, NANCY VUCKOVIC and ANNA WOJNAROWSKA This case study on mobility in health care demonstrates how ethnography and design research helped Intel meet the business challenge of redressing market share. Ethnography enabled the team to assess the interplay between mobile devices and other hospital technologies, understand how they fit within or subverted existing practices, and document positive and negative features of the technology. Our deliverables not only answered the direct business question, but also expanded the scope of possible solutions....

Ethnography and the “Age Wave”: Knowledge Capture for Succession Planning

KRISTINE MCKENZIE GENTRY The “age wave,” or aging of the population and concurrent increase in retirees, is creating a loss of knowledge unlike that experienced in the American work force to date. Since many Baby Boomers are loyal employees who have worked for the same employer for several decades, the knowledge, both tacit and explicit, contained within this single generation is vast and integral to the continued success of many organizations and industries. While Knowledge Management (KM) has become a priority for many organizations, several studies have shown that current KM methods and technologies have not proven effective as a means of transferring knowledge between workers. Ethnography offers some advantages as a technique to capture, record, and transfer tacit and explicit knowledge. This paper uses two case studies to examine how ethnography and a co-creative method can b e utilized to assist with knowledge management and succession planning....

Service Infrastructures: A Call for Ethnography of Heterogeneity

ROGERIO DE PAULA, VICTOR CAVALCANTE and CLAUDIO PINHANEZ This paper investigates the notion of heterogeneity, inspired by Latour’s work on Actor Network Theory, as a lens for understanding daily work practices in a large service delivery organization. To this end, we present and discuss the findings from an ongoing research where we unpacked how system-administrators manage and negotiate incident resolution requests as part of service delivery practices. In particular, we looked into how performance metrics, such as, service level agreements (SLAs), mediated those practices. This paper contributes to the studies of infrastructure and explores the critical synergy between quantitative and qualitative methods in support of large-scale work practice research....

Trajectories of Change in Global Enterprise Transformation

JEANETTE BLOMBERG This paper reports on the efforts of a global IT services company to transform the way it delivers IT outsourcing services. The change initiative was designed to bring about a radical transformation in the how work gets done across the enterprise with the expected benefit of delivering greater service quality and reliability at a lower cost. In addition, the standardization of processes and tools would allow work to move more freely from one location to another thus creating flexibility to meet changing demands. Based on a study of the impact of this initiative on four global delivery centers we explore how change occurs within organizations both as an ongoing achievement and as the result of explicit corporate initiatives. Taking account of the particular historic, geographic, demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of individual delivery centers we trace trajectories of change with the aim of providing both a broad synoptic view given these differences in delivery centers characteristics and a detailed...

Practice at the Crossroads: When Practice Meets Theory, A Rumination

MELISSA CEFKIN Consumer practices, work practices, not to mention management, design and research practices. The notion of “practice” remains core to much of what ethnographers in industry examine, expose and aim to inform. This paper questions: while we study practice(s), while we may frame our research and analysis with sensitivity towards rendering visible the richness or particularity of peoples’ practice, what have we really learned about practice? In part aimed at considering whether and how the work performed by ethnographers in industry advances or critiques theories of practice as explored by Bourdieu and others, the paper aims to reconcile the fact that we are “there” at the behest of our business counterparts to have an impact and affect change. So the question shifts from not only how we use and understand concepts of practice to how it frames the expectations of our business partners and stakeholders. What I have found is that there is both productive overlap and significant slippage between our (theoretically...

Turn and Face the Strange: An Ethnographic Approach to Change Management

MADS HOLME The ability to lead organizational and cultural change has never been a more critical factor for success in business than today. With renewed urgency many executives ask what do with their company culture(s): “Why can’t we build organizations that are more innovative, inspiring, and more agile – and why do our change initiatives typically fail?” Based on project engagements where questions like these have been a focal point, this paper aims to shed light on the conditions and role of business anthropology to take active part in enhancing organizational change programs. Through concrete examples, it discusses central challenges on how we as ethnographers can strengthen our approach when navigating in change programs – not only in terms of how we decompose and diagnose culture (telling companies what they should not do) – but more importantly on how to play an active role in leading the way and tackling complexity through positive enablers of change....

Renewing Our Practice: Preparing the Next Generation of Practitioners

SUSAN SQUIRES and ALEXANDRA MACK A key aspect of renewal is disciplinary renewal though the addition of new practitioners, who can bring revitalization to our practice. To successfully land their first job, today’s new practitioners need practical, relevant basic skills and knowledge, which they can acquire through a range of training programs. In this paper, we reflect upon the significant methodological, interpretive, ethical implications of such training programs for ethnographic praxis in industry. How they evolve and change the work, how new knowledge is created in the field and what that may mean for the future renewal of our practice begins with how they are trained....

The Built Environment: Exploration toward a New Paradigm

DOROTHY DEASY, ERIK LUCKEN, WILLIAM DOWELL, GRETCHEN GSCHEIDLE and LAURA LEENHOUTS For most businesses, group work is the way in which ideas are given voice. In this study, ethnographic research was conducted to explore group work and the environments in which it occurs. The research provides context for architects and designers who are conceiving improvements or reinventing the ways the built environment (e.g., furnishings, décor and architecture) influences the outcome of group activities. The research took place in two phases; phase one sought to develop a set of observable hypotheses and phase two sought to validate the hypotheses through observation. In the first phase “embedded reporters” were recruited from Herman Miller and Gensler staff to serve as observers of their own group work and to report on idea flow, knowledge transfer, size of groups, reasons for working together, stage of process, etc. During the second phase of the study, an ethnographic researcher shadowed a “hub” person skilled in group work for 1 –...

The De-skilling of Ethnographic Labor: Signs of an Emerging Predicament

GERALD LOMBARDI An oft-stated rule in design and engineering is, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography in business has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. As a result, ethnographers now face a threat experienced by many categories of worker over the past two centuries: job de-skilling. Some mechanisms of de-skilling in business-world ethnography are reviewed, including: simplifications that invert the conventional depth-vs.-breadth balance of ethnographic knowledge; standardizations that permit research to be distributed among workers of varying cost; the rise of ethnographic piecework suppliers who rely on pools of underemployed social scientists. I argue that pressures leading in this direction must be contested, and that only by altering the cost-time-quality paradigm that controls our work can we restore its value to our employers and clients....

Pushing New Frontiers: Examining the Future of Paper and Electronic Documents

JENNIFER WATTS-PEROTTI, MARY ANN SPRAGUE, PATRICIA WALL and CATHERINE MCCORKINDALE Rapid socio-technological change is underway in the world of work. The Xerox Future of Work team conducted ethnographic studies to explore the impact of these changes on the use of paper, printing, and electronic documents. Study findings revealed needs and requirements for workers of the future, and influenced the research directions Xerox is undertaking to explore how documents (both paper and electronic) play a role in the world of work. The team used several techniques to encourage innovation within the company, including the creation of an advisory board, a video podcast and a design directions document. By developing growth spaces that often require new business models and business innovation, the project is a strong example of how ethnographic studies can “take CARE of business.” The project has also “taken care of BUSINESS” by lowering risk, driving innovation, and demonstrating the value that ethnographic studies can bring to the corporate...

Verfremdung and Business Development: The Ethnographic Essay as Eye-opener

ANNE LINE DALSGAARD This paper discusses the use of essays as tools for communication and reflection in a collaborative research and development process between a philosopher, an anthropologist, and two private companies. Findings from the project “The Meaning of Work Life” will be presented along with a discussion about their relevance for the involved companies. To specify the general anthropological strategy of defamiliarization, the notion of verfremdung1 is used to detail out specific features of the analytical and representational perspective employed. The paper concludes that the meaning of research results cannot be controlled, as they will always be interpreted according to personal or professional agendas, which is why a style of representation that lays bare their status as interpretations is not only appropriate but may even – by way of estrangement - be revealing and innovative. This conclusion is not new to anthropology as such, but within the context of business ethnography (in which more and more anthropologists...