Google Research

The interacting effects of distributed work arrangements and individual dispositions on willingness to engage in sensemaking behaviors

Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (2015)


Faced with highly competitive and dynamic environments, organizations are increasingly investing in technologies that provide them with new options for structuring work. At the same time, firms are increasingly dependent on employees' willingness and ability to make sense of novel tasks, problems, and rapidly changing situations. Yet, in spite of its importance, the impact of technology-enabled distributed work arrangements on sensemaking behavior is largely unknown. Sensemaking remains something that is perceived by many to be an idiosyncratic behavior that is, at best, loosely related to sociotechnical context and culture. Drawing on previous studies of cognitive dispositions (need for cognition, tendency for decisiveness, intolerance for ambiguity, and close-mindedness) and research on how technology-enabled distributed work arrangements affect interpersonal interaction, we theorize how workgroup geographic distribution interacts with individual cognitive differences to affect employees' willingness to engage in the core sociocognitive activities of sensemaking. Our results show that the consequences of individual tendencies can vary under different work arrangements, suggesting that managers seeking to facilitate sensemaking activities must make careful choices about the composition of distributed work groups, as well as how collaboration technologies can be used to encourage sensemaking behaviors.

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