Examining E-mail Use in the Context of Virtual Organizations: Implications for Theory and Practice

Heather L. Adams, Michael G. Morris, and James R. Van Scotter
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 1998, pp. 8.

Abstract: Electronic mail technology has been presented as a robust tool that be used by managers to communicate effectively within virtual organizations. The present study was designed to examine whether managers’ media choices in one large virtual organization were consistent with media richness theory (MRT). Utilizing dimensions proposed by Markus, a field study of 178 Air Force managers was conducted to examine media choices. Results from the study indicated that, as expected, e-mail usage was influenced by content, situations, and symbolism. However, study results contradicted MRT in that higher-level managers did not appear to be more “media sensitive” and thus more likely to choose communications media that MRT suggests may be inappropriate (or, at least, suboptimal). Organizational context and social cues are discussed as possible important moderating influences on managers’ media choices.

Key Words and Phrases: Electronic mail (e-mail), media choice, media richness theory, virtual organizations.