Article

Administrative Assistants as Interruption Mediators

Article

Administrative Assistants as Interruption Mediators

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Abstract

When designing automated systems that make decisions about when to allow or deny interruptions, the methods of professional interruption mediators are an important source of information. Administrative assistants are, by the nature of their jobs, expert interruption mediators. They make decisions every day about whether to allow interruptions to the person they support. We have conducted a series of interviews with administrative assistants whose ability has been publicly recognized. Based on their responses, we present a production-rule model of the decision process they use when deciding whether to deliver interruptions to the person they support.

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... The user's emotional and internal state, here referred as mood, has been considered an influential aspect in a user's interruptibility and availability in several previous works [11,19,26,28,29]. For Dabbish and Baker [11] the relation is less direct and made through a connection of their observed variable of "interruption threshold" defined as varying in accordance to context and external cues. ...
... The user's emotional and internal state, here referred as mood, has been considered an influential aspect in a user's interruptibility and availability in several previous works [11,19,26,28,29]. For Dabbish and Baker [11] the relation is less direct and made through a connection of their observed variable of "interruption threshold" defined as varying in accordance to context and external cues. Ho and Intille [19] and Sarker et al. [29] mention "emotional state of the user", "affect" and "stress" directly as variables that influence the definition of interruptibility and availability, respectively. ...
... Hence, the activity engagement variable considers only the social engagement of the user in his/her current task [17,19]. The activity engagement variable is related to what has been previously considered as interruption threshold [11,13], which also relates to the current activity type [29]. Ercolini and Kokar's [13] four levels of interruptibility threshold can be combined to the four levels of activity engagement, when considering workload and social engagement as having two levels (see Figure 2). ...
Conference Paper
This paper presents an organized set of variables that can aid intelligent privacy agents in predicting the best and necessary moments to interrupt users in order to give them control and awareness over their privacy, avoiding information overload or over choice.
... Another facet of the activity of assistants is covered in studies of interruption management, specifically the role of assistants in mediating physical interruptions of their principals. One study [3] interviewed 6 assistants, producing a production-rule model of how assistants prioritize interruptions; however, being only 2 pages, details on what they do are limited. Similarly, a study of 3 assistants [22] validates and extends the model of [3], adding the urgency of the interruption and the importance of the interrupter as factors. ...
... One study [3] interviewed 6 assistants, producing a production-rule model of how assistants prioritize interruptions; however, being only 2 pages, details on what they do are limited. Similarly, a study of 3 assistants [22] validates and extends the model of [3], adding the urgency of the interruption and the importance of the interrupter as factors. ...
... Instead, assistants rely on their knowledge of their principal, his or her job, and the priorities vis a vis the current situation. A closer look at the factors involved in this decision making may be found in [3] and [22]. ...
Article
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Assistance - work carried out by one entity in support of another - is a concept of long-standing interest, both as a type of human work common in organizations and as a model of how computational systems might interact with humans. Surprisingly, the perhaps most paradigmatic form of assistance - the work of administrative assistants - has received almost no attention. This paper reports on a study of assistants, their principals and managers, laying out a model of their work, the skills and competencies they need to function effectively, and reflects on implications for the design of systems and organizations. Author Keywords Administrative assistant, secretary, personal assistant, assistant, intelligent assistant, articulation work
... As a first step we set out to verify the model by Dabbish and Baker [5] and to establish the extent, to which AmI solutions for supporting knowledge workers to deal with F2F interactions could be based upon this model. Furthermore, we aimed to identify what other aspects of interruptions, e.g. ...
... Dabbish and Baker [5] comment that administrative assistants are most capable to analyze the relevance of interruptions in an office. With a similar reasoning, we decided to study interruptions of 3 assistants, 2 at the university and 1 in an industrial environment. ...
... This study partly confirms the findings by Dabbish and Baker [5] but also extends and contrasts them. Overall, F2F communication stimulated a positive attitude due to the fact that the interrupter took the effort to bring the problem to the interrupted personally. ...
Article
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This paper presents an on-going investigation on interruptions in the office caused by face-to-face interactions between knowledge workers. The study aims to identify opportunities for interactive solutions that will support both, the interrupters and the interrupted. The study involves contextual interviews and observations of how administrative assistants manage interruptions.
... In this negotiation process the recipient has usually a choice to become interactive -immediately engage in the communication or interpassive -decide not to engage in the communication at that particular moment [13,14]. Such a decision has been found to depend on the recipient's availability but is also likely to be influenced, for example, by the subject of the interruption [15][16][17][18]. One may be willing to immediately accept an interruption that helps one's progress with one's primary task or when it contains information one has been waiting for [12]. ...
... Interruption negotiation methods of assistants could provide a great source of information to better understand what factors influence the decision about how to handle interruptions and consequently guide related attempts to create systems supporting mediated communication. Dabbish and Baker [16] investigated strategies assistants applied for negotiating interruptions using semi-structured contextual interviews [37]. They identified two factors which are central to deciding whether to allow or disapprove an interruption: importance of the interruptor and importance of the interruption subject. ...
... Their study, however, derived its results from participants' retrospective accounts rather than trying to capture their momentary reflections within a specific situation of interruption handling [38]. The first study was set out to verify the model of Dabbish and Baker [16] through an observational study that aimed at capturing the richness of the interruption handling process by analyzing interruption events at the moment of their occurrence. This method should allow to identify what other aspects influence the change in the availability state of the assistant and in consequence the interruption outcome, e.g. ...
Article
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The topic of availability management has been extensively investigated in related research. However, thus far the approach to this subject was primarily motivated by the need to protect an interruptee from an unwanted interruption. In this approach, availability status was assumed to be static: either the interruptee was interactive, thus willing to accept an interruption or interpassive, thus prone to reject it. In this research we would like to propose a different assumption: that availability status has a dynamic rather than a static nature and that both communicators conjointly influence that status. To test that assumption, we explored the nature of availability and factors that are likely to influence it through a series of empirical investigations. These studies have shown that availability state is likely to be influenced by factors such as: social proximity, nature of the communication subject and anticipated interruption duration. We have also observed that while social proximity was shown to be a crucial factor for face-to-face communications, it appeared to have little impact on the availability status in email communications.
... This is, in many cases, outcome of direct F2F interruptions. Dabbish and Baker [5] investigated strategies administrative assistants apply for mediating interruptions. They identified 2 factors deciding whether to allow or disapprove an interruption: an importance of an interrupter and an importance of a problem or a task that the interrupter wishes to be handled by the assistant or her manager (for brevity will be referred to as the problem in the remainder of this text). ...
... As a first step we set out to verify the model by Dabbish and Baker [5] and to establish the extent, to which AmI solutions for supporting knowledge workers to deal with F2F interactions could be based upon this model. Furthermore, we aimed to identify what other aspects of interruptions, e.g. ...
... Dabbish and Baker [5] comment that administrative assistants are most capable to analyze the relevance of interruptions in an office. With a similar reasoning, we decided to study interruptions of 3 assistants, 2 at the university and 1 in an industrial environment. ...
... In contrast, obtaining this team-related information using existing collaboration technologies introduces significant costs due to the ongoing need to request information from remote colleagues and respond to these requests. Even proactively sharing information requires effort from the provider and may be disruptive to the recipients if it is provided at an inopportune time (e.g., they are activity engaged in critical task activities) (Dabbish & Baker, 2003; Dabbish & Kraut, 2004). Successful human interaction relies heavily on learned social practices, or social norms, to negotiate efficient and effective interaction (Altman, 1975; Clark & Brennan, 1993; Heath & Luff, 1992; Schmidt, 2002; Scott et al., 2004). ...
... People find explicitly updating their own status effortful, distracting and, thus, providing updates are often neglected, especially when people are busy (Begole, 2005; Nagel & Abowd, 2002; Scupelli, Kiesler, Fussell, & Chen, 2005). Furthermore, studies have shown that being physically present does not necessarily correspond to being receptive to interruption (Begole, Tang, Smith, & Yankelovich, 2002; Dabbish & Baker, 2003; Dabbish & Kraut, 2004). Therefore, someone being active on their computer does not necessarily signify that they are available for interaction. ...
Article
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Collaboration technologies used in current military operations, such as email, instant messaging, and desktop conferencing, assist explicit communications between distributed team members. However, research in corporate environments has shown that explicit communication, while an important aspect of collaboration, is often used together with more subtle interactions to help teams communicate and coordinate their joint work. For example, monitoring other team members' on-going task activities help teams integrate related task activities, identify appropriate interruption opportunities, and provide assistance when necessary. When physically distributed, as is often the case in command and control environments, it is difficult to engage such subtle behaviors because team members' activities are not visibly accessible. Instead, people must resort to explicit methods, such as asking for a status update. These explicit methods require effort from both parties and can be disruptive. To address these issues in corporate work settings, collaboration technologies have been developed to help people remain apprised of remote colleagues' activities, while minimizing disruption. This paper examines the suitability of these corporate technologies for supporting military team interactions, with a focus on identifying aspects of military teamwork that are well supported by these approaches and aspects requiring new methods.
... However, most of the work that was referenced in the article (as presented at the AMUCE 2007 workshop) was focused on attention management within a work context or collaborative work context, for example, by adapting the ways in which information is presented to the users. A model for mediating interruptions was proposed by Dabbish and Baker where they consider the importance of the interruption and the interruption threshold [5]. They used the metaphor of an administrative assistant as interruption mediator. ...
... In addition to defining the rules for managing interruptions , the user also needs to be able to manage her interruptions in a context-sensitive and effective manner. One of the interaction modes of a user could be via his personal agent that decides whether the user could be interrupted [5]. McFarlane proposed a taxonomy of human interruptions where he identified four ways in which people manage the interruptions they receive: (1) immediate interruption; (2) negotiated interruption; (3) mediated interruption; and (4) scheduled interruption (or coordination by prearranged convention or explicit agreement) [15] . ...
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In this paper we look at awareness systems that use mo-bile and ambient devices for collecting or presenting aware-ness information and operate within an Ambient Intelli-gence Environment. Our focus is on Pervasive Awareness Systems (PAS) that mediate awareness with the aim to im-prove the feeling of being connected. In particular, we con-centrate on the challenges that are connected to participa-tion in multiple communities, requiring a continuous bal-ancing between the need to "keep in touch" and to reduce interruptions. In the paper, we discuss software agents as a possible solution and identify the different roles that agents can play in reducing interruptions.
... Two extended abstracts address this area. One provides a production-rule model of how administrative assistants prioritize interruptions, based on interviews with 6 assistants [3]; a second validates and extends the model based on interviews with 3 assistants [22]. Neither provides a detailed examination of the work of assistants. ...
... Instead, assistants rely on their knowledge of their principal, his or her job, and the priorities vis a vis the current situation. A closer look at the factors involved in this decision-making may be found in [3] and [22]. ...
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... The creation of role-based contact for example can route specific types of calls or pages to a specific individual, and has been suggested as one way to improve the overall situation with respect to interruptions in hospitals (Coiera and Tombs, 1998). Administrative assistants and other Gatekeepers have been noted as interruption mediators for example, due to the way in which they screen calls and visitors and thus reduce interruptions of the person they assist (Dabbish and Baker, 2003). ...
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This paper presents an ethnographic study of mobile communication at a surgical unit in Sweden involved with highly specialized care for the upper abdomen. The primary focus of the study is interruptions related to usage of mobile communication, with the goal of informing the design of systems that better balance interruptions and availability. The department uses a patchwork of hospital pagers, personal cell phones, and department provided cell phones. Issues related to social factors at the department, technical features of mobile communication devices, and specific contexts where interruptions were identified to be a problem are presented. Some of the salient findings of the study include a generally complex situation with respect to interruptions that is impacted by technical, social and individual factors related to mobile communication, challenges related to managing personal and private communication on the same device, issues related to supporting distributed work in highly specialized care and how this contributes to interruptions, and a more in depth overview of specific contexts where interruptions are problematic than previous studies. Some theoretical perspectives on these issues are presented as well as implications for design.
... According to Speier et al., interruptions are unexpected events that force people to move their focus away from their primary activity [18]. Dabbish and Baker focus on the importance of interruptions when assessing the interruptibility of a person [5]. Harr and Kaptelinin emphasize interactive aspects and establish that actors will usually look at priorities and available options [10]. ...
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Previous research into providing interpersonal technology-mediated interruption management support has predominantly been conducted from a paradigmatic standpoint that focused on modeling the context of the person being interrupted (interruptee) such as his/her mental workload, activity and location as a means to identify opportune/inopportune moments for communication. However, the utility of this approach and the associated design implications are questioned by the interruption value evaluation paradigm, which holds that interpersonal interruption management decisions are often made by people assessing factors such as who the interruption is from and what it is about (the relational context). To assess the validity of the competing assumptions underlining these paradigms about everyday interpersonal interruption management, a field study of interruption management practices in everyday cell phone use was conducted. Analysis of 1201 incoming calls from our experience sampling method study of cell phone use shows that “who” is calling is used most of the time (87.4%) by individuals to make deliberate call handling decisions (N=834), in contrast to the interruptee’s current local social (34.9%) or cognitive (43%) contexts. Building on these findings, we present a theoretical framework that aids in understanding the design space of interruption management tools that focus on reducing uncertainty of the interruption context to improve interruption management decisions.
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1. Defining a Perspective on Nonverbal Behavior.- Patterns of Nonverbal Behaviors.- Nonverbal Involvement.- Functional Analysis.- Summary.- 2. Developing a Sequential Functional Model.- Theoretical Background.- Empirical Research on the Arousal Model.- Comprehensiveness of Existing Theories.- Antecedent Factors.- Mediating Mechanisms.- Exchange Outcome.- A Sequential Functional Model.- Summary.- 3. The Informational Function.- Perspectives on Communication.- Determinants of Communication.- Expressive Indication.- Implications of the Communication-Indication Contrast.- Summary.- 4. Regulating Interaction.- Focused Interactions.- Unfocused Interactions-Passing Encounters.- Summary.- 5. Intimacy.- The Construct of Intimacy.- Social Penetration Theory.- Relationship Intimacy and Nonverbal Involvement.- Developed Relationships.- Assessing the Intimacy Function.- Summary.- 6. Social Control.- Power and Dominance.- Persuasion.- Feedback and Reinforcement.- Deception.- Impression Management.- Comparing Intimacy and Social Control Functions.- Conclusions.- Summary.- 7. The Service-Task Function.- Service Relationships in Focused Interaction.- Evaluating the Service Component.- Task Constraints in Unfocused Interactions.- Significance of the Service-Task Function.- Summary.- 8. Antecedent Influences.- Personal Factors.- Experiential Factors.- Relational-Situational Factors.- The Mediation of Antecedent Influences.- An Overview of Antecedent Influences.- Summary.- 9. An Overview: Problems and Prospects.- Evaluating the Functional Perspective.- Directions for Research.- Personal Observations.- Summary.- Reference Notes.- References.- Author Index.
Nonverbal behavior: A functional perspective, NewYork: SpringerVerlag, 1983 Secretaries: The unrecognized members of the management team
  • M Patterson
Patterson, M., Nonverbal behavior: A functional perspective, NewYork: SpringerVerlag, 1983. REFERENCES Demongeot, C.A. (1986). Secretaries: The unrecognized members of the management team. Training & Development Journal, 40, 28-29.
Secretaries: The unrecognized members of the management team
  • C A Demongeot
Demongeot, C.A. (1986). Secretaries: The unrecognized members of the management team. Training & Development Journal, 40, 28-29.