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Informal communication of co‐workers: a thematic analysis of messages

Martha J. Fay (University of Wisconsin‐Eau Claire, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 15 November 2011

Abstract

Purpose

Although informal communication at work has been shown to serve important functions of sociality, little is known about the messages that comprise routine, everyday interaction. The purpose of this paper is to examine two different informal interactions between 100 remote employees and their central office peers to determine the kinds of messages used in informal interaction using thematic analysis.

Design/methodology/approach

Teleworkers recalled informal interactions with central office peers; interactions were coded using constructivist methodology, then collapsed into dominant themes using a constant comparison approach. Patterns in responses were then related to a literature‐based (constructivist) analysis of how informal communication functions.

Findings

Five key themes were identified: personal disclosure, sociality, support giving and getting, commiserating/complaining, and business updates and exchanges. These informal workplace interactions also reflected underlying dimensions of perceived organizational membership: need fulfillment, mattering, and belonging, and suggest ways the framework could be strengthened.

Research limitations/implications

Themes from reported interactions provide message‐level evidence that informal communication serves both instrumental and constitutive functions. Including interactions reported by co‐located employees would have allowed for a comparison.

Practical implications

Results have important implications for how informal communication functions between peers. Managers can use the results to facilitate communication opportunities for remote and co‐located employees.

Originality/value

Message‐level analysis of informal communication between peers has not been considered as important as hierarchical communication within businesses and organizations. Reported interactions illuminate how informal communication functions, and suggest a link between informal interaction and important individual‐ and organizational‐level outcomes, adding to existing knowledge about the understudied population of permanent, high‐intensity teleworkers.

Keywords

Citation

Fay, M.J. (2011), "Informal communication of co‐workers: a thematic analysis of messages", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 212-229. https://doi.org/10.1108/17465641111188394

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited