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Technological Spatial Intrusion: Boon or Bane for ICT-enabled Employee Innovation

Dr Shalini Chandra | Professor (Information Systems), S P Jain School of Global Management.

New ubiquitous information and communication technologies (ICTs) allow organisations to conduct business transactions easily and efficiently. By providing constant connectivity, real-time communication, and immediate feedback, ICTs may help create ambient conditions for employees and act as significant enablers of organisational innovation. Though ICTs can play a prominent role in facilitating innovation, they often intrude into employees’ personal space (both physical and virtual) because they can continuously monitor employee actions and behaviours. Such technological intrusions into the employees’ personal space (termed “technological spatial intrusions”) may negatively impact employee performance. This creates a paradoxical situation where the same ICTs purported to enhance employee innovation by providing continuous connectivity and information exchange may have adverse employee outcomes.

Against this backdrop of mixed outcomes, our research team, comprising me and two collaborators from France (Prof Shirish C Srivastava from HEC Paris and Prof Anuragini Shirish from IMT-BS), examined the influence of technological spatial intrusions (TSI) experienced by the organisational employees on their innovation performance.

What is ICT-enabled employee innovation?

Innovation encompasses creating new things that may follow nonstandard practices and thus imply creative deviance, which is primarily discretionary. ICT-enabled employee innovation extends this conceptualization of innovation to discuss the role of ICT in enriching employee jobs by exploring new ways of performing tasks and interacting with customers.

What is employee technological spatial intrusion (TSI) in organisations?

The present-day organisational ICTs have the potential to monitor and track their employee activities, thus making the organisation safer, streamlined, and more productive. However, such ICTs threaten to intrude into employees’ personal space—both physical and virtual. Visual/location monitoring tools compromise their physical space, and their virtual space is exposed by technologies that routinely record the material traces of employees’ intellectual, emotional, and relational movements. Such overexposure of the employees during routine professional activities may undermine their perceptions of autonomy and control at work. 

We theorize the TSI for employees comprises two dimensions: employee accessibility and visibility. Accessibility is the possibility of employees accessing and/or being accessed by colleagues/employers anytime and anywhere. Conversely, visibility makes employees’ actions, behaviours, preferences, and work processes in physical and virtual spaces discernible and traceable to colleagues/employers. Thus, accessibility is the employee’s ability to connect/disconnect from work/workers in real and technologically mediated (virtual) space. At the same time, visibility is the employee’s situation to be exposed or remain hidden (anonymous) while executing different work processes.

The study

Technological intrusions may be interpreted positively by individuals because intrusions, in certain situations, may provide employees with the necessary opportunities to work efficiently. However, organisational ICTs can intrude into both self (private data) and physical space (architectural space) simultaneously and can also compromise the unobserved digital traces in the virtual space (personal space). To delve deeper into this paradoxical situation, we conducted a survey on senior organisational employees from the service sector because they are generally involved in executing knowledge-intensive jobs that encourage new initiatives and innovation. 

Findings of our study

We sought to investigate the impact of two TSI dimensions of ‘accessibility’ and ‘visibility’ on ICT-enabled employee innovation. We found that the TSI factor of accessibility has a significant positive relationship, while the TSI factor of visibility has a meaningful negative relationship with ICT-enabled employee innovation. 

Accessibility is often desirable for employee innovation. Enhanced access amongst colleagues would enable employees to be in continuous touch with each other, resulting in improved information flow and knowledge exchange that can help achieve innovation goals. Employees can use accessibility opportunistically to reach out to their colleagues as and when required. This creates perceptions of autonomy at work through the possibility of having immediate feedback, enhanced mutual knowledge, efficient knowledge transfers, and shared understanding. We also found that because of the affordances and opportunities perceived through the accessibility, employees sense ICT to be a useful tool, enabling them to accomplish their tasks quickly and easily without compromising quality. 

However, visibility through workplace surveillance tools, biometric devices, and ubiquitous computing results in employees’ continuous self-exposure, intruding into their personal space by exposing their physical and virtual workspaces. The ubiquitous visibility of the employees will lead them to develop a tendency to share information only within their limited in-groups, restricting the flow of information and knowledge from other organisations and limiting employee creativity and innovation. Thus, accessibility has a positive influence on innovation, while visibility has a negative impact.

Key takeaways for organisations from this study

Our study and its findings are helpful for managers and practitioners who consider how TSI influences employee innovation.

  1. The study guides managers to understand the influence of technology intrusions on employees’ personal space, especially when undertaking technological assessment and forecasting emerging technological policies, practices, and interventions with organisations. 
  2. It informs practitioners that TSI can play a crucial role in effectuating employee innovation and that these concerns should be explicitly considered when formulating organisational policies and technological assessment frameworks.
  3. Apart from practice-based interventions, the influence of perceived TSI can also be managed by having technological designs that explicitly offer the possibility of enhancing one’s perception of causality and control over the use of the technology.
  4. Managers can consider providing governance mechanisms that offer employees the desired perceptions of locus of causality, resulting in varied employee innovation performance.
  5. Managers must carefully consider and meticulously design policies that will provide adequate motivational reasons demonstrating some personal meaningfulness in the intrusion. This can perhaps enable a psychological change among employees and lead to subsequent acceptance/use of technologically intrusive tools within the organisation at a faster pace.
  6. Managers should supplement their actions/policies with internal communication campaigns to make employees understand the dark side of cyberattacks and the vulnerability of individuals to such cybercrimes in the absence of ‘visible’ transactions.

The findings from this study can help organisations better appreciate their employees’ TSI concerns to enhance their innovative capabilities.

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