Communicating impermanence : temporal structuring of the COVID-19 pandemic in everyday organizational life

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2020-08-14

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Cicchini, Emily Jane Ball

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Abstract

Impermanence is an essential yet understudied aspect of organizational communication. This study addresses the research question: How do people communicate about (or avoid communicating about) impermanence in the workplace? Taking impermanence—defined simply as the fact that reality is constantly in flux, transient, and effervescent—as a fundamental condition of life, this dissertation explores to what extent impermanence can be identified through organizational communication. During the onset of an unprecedented cosmological event (Weick, 1995), the COVID-19 pandemic, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork through an established, mid- size non-profit organization while employed in a leadership role. Building upon 10 particular actions Weick (2012) used to describe organizational impermanence—believing, discarding, doubting, enacting, interrupting, labeling, reasoning, repeating, seeing, and substantiating— observations were taken on how members accepted and avoided the pandemic through everyday communication. These 10 actions have been further arranged through existing models of temporal structuring (Orlikowski & Yates, 2002; Ballard & Seibold, 2003, 2004) along five multidirectional feedback cycles—processes of confidence, awareness, influence, continuity, and affirmation. Further analysis explores how these cycles identify and express the lived experience of impermanence. I aim to further the paradigm of "the impermanent organization" (Weick, 2012), as well as temporal structuring and feedback cycles, so that researchers have more tools to describe and identify how impermanence is (or is not) communicated in the workplace. Finally, I will offer some practical recommendations for leadership and members of organizations on how to adapt to and cope with impermanence in daily life.

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