Communicating in a Multi-Role, Multi-Device, Multi-Channel World: How Knowledge Workers Manage Work- Home Boundaries

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Technology keeps us connected through multiple devices, on several communication channels, and with our many daily roles. Being able to better manage one’s availability and thus have more control over work-home boundaries can potentially reduce interferences and ultimately stress. However, little is known about the practical implications of communication technologies and their role in boundary and availability management.

Taking a bottom-up approach, we conducted four exploratory qualitative studies to understand how current communication technologies support and challenge work-home boundaries for knowledge workers. First, we compared email practices across accounts and devices, finding differences based on professional and personal preferences. Secondly, with wearables such as smartwatches becoming more popular, findings from our autoethnography and interview study show how device ecologies can be used to moderate notifications and one’s sense of availability. Thirdly, moving
beyond just email to include multiple communication channels, our diary study and focus group showed how awareness and availability are managed and interpreted differently between senders and receivers. Together, these studies portray how current communication technologies challenge boundary management and how users rely on strategies – that we define as microboundaries – to mitigate boundary cross-overs, boundary interruptions, and expectations of availability. Finally, to understand the extent to which microboundaries can be useful boundary management strategies, we
took a multiple-case study approach to evaluate how they are used over time and found that, although context-dependent, microboundaries help increase participants’ boundary control and reduce stress.

This thesis’ primary contribution is a taxonomy of microboundary strategies that deepens our current understanding of boundary management in the digital age. By feeling in control, users experience fewer unwanted boundary cross-overs and ultimately feel less stressed. This work leads to our secondary contribution to individual and organisational practice. Finally, we draw a set of implications for the design of interactions and cross-device experiences.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University College London
Award date28 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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