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8 Discussion

8.2.4 Contributions to practice and the AEC industry

The AEC industry in general has productivity issues (McKinsey, 2017; World Economic Forum, 2016). Compared to the general growth in productivity, but also to other comparable sectors such as the manufacturing industry, productivity has been below average. On a global scale, this industry’s labor productivity growth has averaged 1 % a year over the past two decades. In comparison, the global average has been 2.8 % for the total world economy and 3.6 % for the manufacturing industry (McKinsey, 2017; World Economic Forum, 2016). Because of the size of the AEC industry, being among the largest in the world with about $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services every year, even small increases in productivity could have a big economic but also environmental impact as it is the largest consumer of raw materials, accordingly accounting for 25–40 % of the world’s total carbon emissions.

The low levels of productivity in this industry are to a great extent due to the fact that the industry is highly fragmented and consists of many specialized firms such as architect firms, plumbers, engineering consultancies, and large general contractors. Because of its nature, each building project requires many different specializations which are often subcontracted by larger firms. For example, in many of the projects done by the architect firm from the longitudinal case study, they often subcontracted parts of projects to engineering consultancies, or they were subcontracted themselves. Thus, collaboration with not only clients and users but also professional colleagues is an important element in the design process of any given project. In fact, issues often arise between stakeholders involved in projects which lead to distinct understandings of contracts and in general to a: “…hostile contracting environment” (McKinsey, 2017, p. 8). Similar problems have also been identified in especially the longitudinal case where several of the interviewees underlined the importance of communicating changes to clients and users in order to uphold a

Thesis 180 productive environment and trusting collaboration between clients, users, and other professional collaborators involved in any given project.

By introducing more immersive technologies, such as head-mounted displays and plug-ins that produce immersive VEs, this thesis shows how and when companies within the AEC industry can use these immersive technologies to communicate issues more clearly to stakeholders, professionals, and laymen alike, during the design phase of building projects. In particular, in line with Colbert et al. (2016), I argue that immersive technologies could be useful in virtual teams so that they can feel closer to each other. However, I also show that in physical teams, practitioners should consider giving their clients head-mounted displays before the meetings or when doing individual work. During meetings, as well as during discussions, negotiations, and collaborations, physical teams should opt for a lower level of immersiveness by incorporating other artifacts. If they utilize immersive technologies for collaborative work, like head-mounted displays, which is becoming increasingly more common (Gartner, 2017), professionals should ensure that the technology can be appropriated in a flexible manner that allows for both individual and collaborative interactions with other people and artifacts.

In the following and last section of the discussion I will discuss how two alternative approaches to the imbrication lens could have been used to shed light on the research question of my thesis.

The relevance of the imbrication lens: A comparison of approaches

The imbrication lens offers a view that is distinctive from other similar approaches, the socio-technical systems and the sociomaterial approach (Cecez-Kecmanovic et al., 2014; Leonardi, 2012). In the following section, I will initially reiterate arguments for why the imbrication lens, sometimes put under the umbrella term socio-materiality (with a hyphen), is relevant to literature on immersive technologies and organizational routines (Leonardi, 2012). Against that backdrop, I will then initially discuss how a socio-technical systems approach differentiates itself from the imbrication lens and how it could have contributed differently to my thesis. Next, I do the same with the sociomaterial approach. I conclude this section by arguing for why the imbrication lens is best suited to answer the research question of this thesis: How does the matter and form of immersive technologies, for example head-mounted displays and its related software and hardware, imbricate with organizational routines?

Thesis 181 8.3.1 The imbrication lens: its relevance to this thesis and research

The main arguments for employing the imbrication lens are twofold. On the one hand, I argue that it is important to maintain an ontological distinction between technologies and humans and their respective material and human agencies. While on the other hand, it is also important to preserve a relational ontology. Together, this provides a way to highlight the unique and defining material features of the primary phenomenon under investigation, head-mounted displays and their inclusiveness, while remaining open to the myriad of ways in which material and human agencies imbricate, to create infrastructures of technologies and organizational routines. These two points are important to research on immersive technologies and organizational routines.

Most IS research on immersive technologies takes a stand that favors a view in which the technology is assumed to maintain its immersive capabilities regardless of the context, while the hardware is often black-boxed. The imbrication lens, on the other hand, reframes immersion as a relational and emergent phenomenon while being able to distinguish the different hardware and software that facilitates immersion. Together, this allows to explain how the matter and form of immersive technologies, for example head-mounted displays and its related software and hardware, imbricate with organizational routines.

Much literature within organizational routine research do provide a vocabulary that helps to understand technologies’ relational characteristics and features of technologies especially.

However, the review of these articles also showed that they argue for an ontology that privileges neither humans nor nonhumans by using the vocabulary of Actor-Network theory. When using this vocabulary, they tend to focus on the actions that humans and technologies, e.g. actants, perform together. In this way, they do provide a vocabulary that do not directly focuses attention on the materiality of technologies.

The imbrication lens, on the other hand, provides concepts and a vocabulary that directly theorizes the materiality of head-mounted displays, its agency and how it imbricates with human actors that are part of organizational routines. Thus, I argue for more studies within the practice perspective of organizational routines theory, to introduce the imbrication lens when dealing with phenomena where the materiality is of significant importance when trying to understand how technologies interweave with organizational routines.

Thesis 182 8.3.2 A socio-technical approach and its potential relevance to this thesis

A socio-technical systems approach could be a relevant alternative, however, through its concepts of technical and social subsystems, as it does keep the social and the technical aspects ontologically distinct, potentially making it possible to directly conceptualize how head-mounted displays, and its related hardware and software, imbricate with organizational routines. In particular, a social subsystem directs attention toward social structures such as hierarchies, communication networks. Whereas the technical subsystem relates to not only the technology but also its “associated work structure” (Mumford, 2006, p. 321). The goal of socio-technical systems theory is to highlight the interdependencies between people and things. By doing so, socio-technical researchers aim at understanding and underlining that technology will be implemented and subsequently used in a social arena that will, to some extent, shape whether and how it is adopted (Leonardi, 2012, p. 11). In other words, if I applied a socio-technical system approach, the main focus would be on jointly optimizing the two subsystems, the social and the technical system, with the intent to improve performance of the organization and optimize the quality of work life (Mumford, 2006; Trist, 1981).

How would a socio-technical perspective then be different compared to the imbrication lens? The overall goal of the imbrication lens is to shed light on the following: “when…employees…are unable to achieve their goals…how do they decide whether they should change the composition of their [organizational] routines or the materiality of the technologies with which they work?”

(Leonardi, 2011, p. 147). Or why do employees make the choices they do when facing this dilemma? Compared to the socio-technical approach, the imbrication lens, first, has a less normative goal. It is in other words more descriptive and less about optimizing two systems with the aim of increasing performance or the work quality of e.g. employees. The socio-technical approach could highlight important aspects of this thesis.

For example, in the data and subsequent analysis of my thesis, I have identified themes relating to especially efficiency and productivity in many of the goals that the employees have. Thus, a socio-technical approach would help to put this aspect more clearly into light compared to the imbrication lens. However, as the quote suggests, one of the main arguments for engaging with the imbrication lens is to put focus on a defining aspect of the head-mounted display – namely its inclusiveness. And as argued, the inclusiveness of the head-mounted display is tightly connected to its materiality – the matter and form of the casing, among other things. With the imbrication

Thesis 183 lens, I can directly conceptualize this aspect and how it interacts, shapes, and is shaped by previous and existing infrastructures of technologies and organizational routines.

These aspects are not the main focus of socio-technical systems theory. For instance, the concept of a technical subsystem does not address (only) the materiality of the technology but also the associated work structures that surround the technology. Hence, the emphasis from a socio-technical view is slightly different in that its unit of analysis is more on: “…the properties of a technology that are used in various ways to support various tasks in the technical subsystem”

(Leonardi, 2012, p. 11) which tends to underestimate the matter and form of technologies, e.g. its affordances. Lastly, socio-technical scholars has in addition a historical tendency to focus primarily of social actions (Orlikowski, 2010, p. 133)

The imbrication lens takes the matter and form of technologies directly into account without privileging human interpretations and their agency, but by explicitly emphasizing how they mutually imbricate, shape, and constitute each other. This is not to say, that there is something

“inherent” in socio-technical research that prevents the inclusion of the material and human (Robey et al., 2013). Many of the founding blocks of socio-material research in general, and in particular the imbrication lens, come from socio-technical research, though the imbrication lens provides a vocabulary that emphasizes a mutual shaping as well as an emergence of affordances which historically has not been prioritized in socio-technical research, resulting in accentuating either the technical or the social aspects (Cecez-Kecmanovic et al., 2014; Leonardi, 2012;

Orlikowski, 2010).