The present study explores the central tenet of media richness theory, derived from contingency theory: when (1) information processing capabilities match (2) information processing demands, (3) performance will improve. This article tests whether using communication media that differ (1) in media richness or social presence (2) in conditions of differing task analyzability (3) affects self-reported performance components such as quality of work, effectiveness, productivity, ability to obtain information, decision-making ability, access to others, etc.
The article first reviews the theoretical constructs of media richness and social presence, task characteristics, and performance, with particular reference to organizational computer-mediated communication media. It also identifies important but untested assumptions that media richness theory has, to date, made about the forms of the relationships among these variables. The theory assumes that use-performance relationships are nonmonotonic, that is, that the relationship between use and outcomes is positive when a medium's richness “fits” task requirements, and negative when it does not. The theory also assumes that use-performance relationships are symmetric, that is, that the relationship between use and outcomes in different task conditions is similar but opposite for “rich media” and “lean media.”
Hypotheses test the direction and form of relationships involving use of online databases in several pooled organizations, electronic mail in one organization, voice mail in two organizations, and videoconferencing in one organization, in task conditions varying in analyzability.
Results are mixed, depending on analytical method and dataset used, but show modest support for the contingent effect of task condition on the relationship between use of these new media and performance components. Results are stronger for information-lean media than for information-rich media. The results are generally monotonic and asymmetric, thus qualifying prior media richness assumptions.
Implications for theory and research include slight support but conceptual qualification of media richness theory, and an improved understanding of new organizational media. Implications for management and practice include a need to appreciate appropriate uses of and opportunities for different communication media in organizational contexts.
This paper is written with the assistance of: Paul J. Hart, Ph.D., Computer and Information Systems Department, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida; Jack Torobin, Ph.D., Delphi Communication Services, Los Angeles, California; Douglas Shook, Ph.D., Communication Sciences, Los Angeles, California; Joyce E. Tyler, M.A., Arthur Andersen, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia; Lynne Svenning, Ph.D., Telecommunications Research Group, Wilmington, Delaware; John Ruchinskas, Ph.D., Telecommunications Research Group, Los Angeles, California, and Arden, Delaware.