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Remote working: five best practices to borrow from open source development

Kiane Goudarzi* (photo)


IAE Lyon School of Management - Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University

Veronique Sanguinetti Toudoire

Researcher and teacher

Polytechnic University of Hauts-de-France

Vincent Chauvet


University of Toulon

*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute.


Article originally published on The Conversation France.

The Covid-19 epidemic has forced organizations to offer telework to all employees for whom the activity lends itself to it. It was no longer a question of teleworking on a part of the activity, but of switching all the activity and notably all the collaborative activities of these employees isolated by the confinement.

From real collaboration to collaboration virtuelle.instagram/@florence.trs

At the same time, the need for collective intelligence has increased in order to fight against this virus and find innovative solutions quickly. Collectives made up of institutions, companies, researchers from universities, hospitals and non-governmental organizations, as well as volunteers, have come together around projects designed to respond to the pandemic.

The challenge was to mobilize more collective intelligence internally and externally with innovation partners while the dematerialization of exchanges made collaboration more difficult.

The world of open source software, which has been operating in a globalized and dematerialized way for more than 25 years, has a great deal of experience in remote collaborative work.

Most software, especially Linux, is built on the basis of components that have been designed collaboratively at a distance. Open source thus provides keys to adapting remote work in organizations and promoting medical advances.

A co-development process

Open source is first and foremost a philosophy defined by the opening and sharing of software source code. Several licenses exist but the emblematic system of software protection is the "copyleft": the owner of the source code grants to those who wish the rights to execute the code, to consult it, to modify it and to distribute it, according to the characteristics of the chosen license. This is opposed to copyright, which is the classic property right.

The open source community provides guidance to individuals and organizations that want to get started. But it is above all a different organization of the innovation process, which mutualizes the developments, via a co-development with project communities and specific licenses.

The same philosophy can be applied outside of IT, for example with open plan sharing for distributed manufacturing using 3D printers. In the face of the epidemic, several industrial companies, such as Decathlon and Medtronics, which have been much talked about, have been inspired by these practices and have made available the plans for respirators, ventilators and masks needed in hospitals.

Another example is the sharing of the recipe for hydroalcoholic solution through the World Health Organization (WHO) to accelerate and massify its distribution.

These practices are part of an open source approach, although they do not integrate all its power, especially in terms of continuous knowledge creation.

Open source practices bring together, on a voluntary basis, users from all over the world, who most often never meet, and who contribute if and when they wish. The founders and facilitators of these communities have therefore learned how to motivate them and make their remote collaborative work effective, in order to obtain fast and continuous improvement projects.

To understand how organizations that use open source work remotely and the best practices they have implemented, we interviewed sixteen experts, researchers, business leaders and open source community leaders.

Five best practices to adopt

For our experts, the "open source way" allows for easy dissemination, cooperation and knowledge creation in a very fast and orderly way. Manufacturing is distributed, done where organizations need it.

The organizations (companies, universities, open source project communities, etc.) that implement it have the following characteristics.

  • They give an essential place to communication. Their leaders, often with an embodied leader, spend a lot of time explaining what they do. To do this, they develop a strategic roadmap that is both collaborative and precise, so that the objectives are clear, understood and shared by all. A roadmap is a strategy planning technique that defines short- and medium-term goals, widely used by open source project communities. They propose useful projects that interest their potential contributors. They allow people to contribute by ensuring access to sources, i.e. transparency of information.

  • They recognize the contributions of everyone through several elements. First of all we can mention the copyleft system with the precaution "use it at your own risk". Through copyleft, everyone can know who is the originator of an open source component and its last modification. This method is an integral part of open source copyleft licenses. There are also "pull requests", i.e. the communication of an intention to modify an open source component. The answers given in the forums are an opportunity for everyone's expertise to be recognized, which then reinforces the collaborative activities.

  • They break down tasks into modules. This allows for the "open layering" of microtasks, and thus facilitates the participation of individuals and the integration of the innovations brought by each. Because the tasks have been broken down, they can be assigned to multiple people. Open source methodologies and tools allow them to act asynchronously on these tasks; the micro-innovations are then superimposed. Modularity also allows them to distinguish between what is generic and what is specific to each company, and to share what is generic in a completely open way.

  • They set up many collaborative devices. It is then possible to work synchronously and asynchronously from a distance thanks to methodologies, documentation, version tracking, testing and integration tools for proposed innovations. These organizations also adopt collaborative principles in the form of codes of conduct to promote inclusion, for example the "Linux code of conduct".

They innovate in economic terms. They are basing their business models on dual licensing and on maintenance and customization services for open source components that are constantly evolving.

To date, open source is the organizational innovation most likely to meet the collaborative requirements of remote work. It facilitates dissemination and cooperation, and accelerates knowledge creation.

For medical researchers, it is now a question of switching to "open science" and thus creating better conditions and tools to fight against Covid-19. This need for open and collaborative research is just as valid for management researchers.

This article was elaborated following a call for flash contributions from the Revue française de gestion in the context of the health crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Read also...

Kiane Goudarzi's articles on The Conversation France.

Kiane Goudarzi's books & articles via


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