Network-biased Technical Change: How Modern Digital Collaboration Tools Overcome Some Biases but Exacerbate Others

41 Pages Posted: 6 May 2014 Last revised: 23 Jan 2020

See all articles by Lynn Wu

Lynn Wu

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Gerald C. Kane

Boston College

Date Written: October 3, 2019

Abstract

Using three years’ data from more than 1,000 employees at a large professional services firm, we find that adopting an expertise search tool improves employee work performance in billable revenue which results from improvements in network connections and information diversity. More importantly, we also find that adoption does not benefit all employees equally. Two types of employees benefit more from adoption of digital collaboration tools than others. First, junior employees and women benefit more from the adoption of digital collaboration tools than do senior employees and men respectively. These tools help employees overcome the institutional barriers to resource access faced by these employees in their searches for expertise. Second, employees with greater social capital at the time of adoption also benefit more than others. The tools eliminate natural barriers associated with traditional offline interpersonal networks, enabling employees to network even more strategically than before. We explore the mechanisms for these differential benefits. Digital collaboration tools increase the volume of communication more for junior employees and women, indicating greater access to knowledge and expertise than they had before adoption. The tools also decrease the volume of communication for people with greater social capital, indicating more efficient access to knowledge and expertise. An important implication of our findings is that digital collaboration tools have the potential overcome some of the demographic institutional biases that organizations have long sought to change. It does so, however, at the expense of potentially creating new biases toward network-based features—a characteristic we call “network-biased technical change.”

Keywords: social media, technology adoption, social capital, inequality

Suggested Citation

Wu, Lynn and Kane, Gerald C., Network-biased Technical Change: How Modern Digital Collaboration Tools Overcome Some Biases but Exacerbate Others (October 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2433113 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2433113

Lynn Wu (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3733 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6374
United States

Gerald C. Kane

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.profkane.com

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