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Article
Publication date: 11 July 2016

Sari Yli-Kauhaluoma and Mika Pantzar

– The purpose of this paper is to examine how back-office service staff cope with the intricacies of administrative work.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how back-office service staff cope with the intricacies of administrative work.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper applies the research approach of “at-home ethnography” in a university back-office. The primary method of data collection was participant listening in the field, either in formal interviews or casual conversations. Photography helped the authors to zoom the conversation in to specific artefacts in administrative offices.

Findings

The study identifies both forward- and backward-looking recipes as essential administrative tools that back-office staff develop and use to handle intricacies that emerge in their daily work. Forward-looking recipes are based on anticipatory cognitive representations, whereas backward-looking recipes are based on experiential wisdom. The study elaborates on the different kinds of modelling practices that back-office service staff engage in while building and applying these two different kinds of recipes.

Practical implications

The recipes support administrators in knowledge replication and thus help avoid interruptions, reduce uncertainty, and produce consistency in administrative processes.

Originality/value

In contrast to existing studies of formal bureaucracies, the study provides a unique empirical account to show how back-office service staff cope with the multiple intricacies existing in current office environments. The study shows how recipes as models contribute to stabilizing or even routinizing work processes in complex administrative situations.

Details

Journal of Organizational Ethnography, vol. 5 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2046-6749

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