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Collaboration in Isolation: Bridging Social and Geographical Boundaries in Two Rural Technology Firms

Publication Type:

Conference Proceedings


Goggins, SP


iConference, Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship, Dallas, Texas (2013)


Little attention has been given to understanding how technology is used to bridge social and geographical boundaries between metropolitan and rural firms in developed nations like the United States. In this paper we draw on theory from social worlds to contrast the introduction and integration of collaboration technologies in two small (23-53 employees) rural technology firms in the Midwestern US. We report on a three-year ethnographic study of the work practices and technologies used to forge relationships between distant offices and customers at each firm. Data include participant observation, field notes, memos and interviews with 71 informants. Based on our data, we identified organizational facets of geography, socio-technical configuration and collaboration practices as instrumental in the formation of working spheres [31] for members of each firm. As the facets of each firm change over time, our data show social, organizational and technical practices lead to different types of virtual organization at each firm. One firm’s working spheres coalesce, while the other firm’s working spheres split. We show that small firms operating in rural areas experience unique social and geographic boundaries in their development as virtual organizations.