Virtual organizations are groups of individuals whose members and resources may be distributed geographically and structurally, yet who function as a coherent unit through the use of collaborative technology. In the context of business, virtual organizations offer the promise of growth and innovation through flexible and fluid structures, yet employees face the challenge of managing coordination costs as a result of the dynamic and evolving work. New collaborative technologies, such as those that facilitate communication and knowledge sharing as well as social media and task integration capabilities, offer coordination benefits that could counter, and possibly exceed, the coordination costs that arise from working in virtual organizations.

Through qualitative interviews of individuals and an online survey of working groups, this project will: (a) define and measure features of organization structure, collaborative technology, and workflow outcomes in a range of structures (including virtual organization structures) within a business organization adopting a new and emergent organizational structure, (b) describe the consequences (positive and negative) of different organization structures and collaborative technologies in terms of their impact on workflow outcomes, and (c) create a public web-based resource that can be used by the organizational and technology communities to better understand the kinds of structures and technologies that affect workflow outcomes.

Research on the intersection of virtual organization structures and collaborative technology is still in its infancy. Data collected from this unique empirical setting will provide critical insight into how new structures and new technologies influence each other as well as workflow outcomes. In addition to furthering scientific understanding of virtual organizations, a potentially transformative outcome of this research is facilitating understanding of virtual organizations for science, education, healthcare, and other types of organizations. Moreover, study results can be incorporated into the design and testing of collaborative technology, which could contribute to new advances in tools to support distributed work.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Advanced CyberInfrastructure (ACI)
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Kevin Crowston
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Duke University
United States
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