„We Have Offline Meetings Twice a Year“ - Coordination and Justification Work in a Virtual Cooperative

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Nina POHLER, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Virtual organizations (VO) use novel coordination regimes that rely less on geographical proximity than conventional organizations. They can also deal with less consistency and homogeneity of their member's working-results. But while they are relatively free from old constraints, VOs have their own new problems and challenges.
VOs are fundamentally dependent on virtual communication. Depending on the tools used, virtual communication has characteristics that facilitate coordination (storing and retrieving of communication) and characteristics that complicate coordination (asynchronous communication, absence of nonverbal communication). Also, virtual interaction lacks the motivating and disciplining effect of the physical presence of other people in shared workspaces.

I will present an analysis of the coordination of work in a virtual cooperative that distributes and sells beverages, QC. In a legal sense, QC is just a registered trademark, but in the sense of practical coordination, QC is a cooperative because all stakeholders (business partners and consumers) have the right to take part in decision making processes. QC is a networked organization that is made up of a multiplicity of heterogenous, geographically dispersed actors who fullfill varying functions for the organization. QC does not have any employees and almost no written contracts, but approximately 680 business partners and 50 „speakers“, people who communicate with and take care of venues and shops that sell QC-beverages. For communication and decision making QC has been using an e-mail list for 11 years, but changed to an online board a year ago. Guided by theoretical and methodological considerations from the sociology of conventions, my analysis is based on data generated in the e-mail list and the online-board, as well as interviews with members of the collective.