What can remote work teach us about innovation?


It is difficult to say for sure what long term effects the current pandemic will have on companies and the economy as a whole. One thing that is certain, however, is that the outlook for many companies has deteriorated, and that some have a long way back to normality. So what is the way forward? To a certain level, it is possible to optimize and make minor improvements to increase efficiency and profitability. But in order to survive in the long run and thrive, it is necessary to add value as a company. This is done by finding ways to make things better or by doing new things - that is, by innovating. Many are now pointing in the same direction, namely that we need to accelerate out of the crisis.

We see a clear trend among technology companies to offer the opportunity for employees to work remotely until further notice or as a new normal, examples include Twitter, Facebook and Spotify. Making remote work function is not easy, but there is one community who for a long time have depended on remote work, and has all but turned it into an art form - people who work with open source. What more has the open source community figured out through all the years of innovation and remote work? This is actually something that has been studied a lot. Twenty years ago Tim O'Reilly coined the term "Inner Source", which boils down the working methods and principles of open source, and aims to apply them to more organizations.

What is Inner Source?

The three most important parts to take advantage of the way open source projects are structured can be summarized by the following points.

  • Open Collaboration: collaboration that transcends the boundaries of internal working groups, companies and nations. Developers share their work with a wide audience and not just with a manager or a team. Everyone is welcome and decisions are based on the merits of the work and not hierarchies.
  • Open Communication: Everyone who works on the project is in the same team, and shares all information openly and completely so that new people can easily get to know the history and contribute effectively.
  • Quality Assurance: by separating development and quality control, the quality of the code that ends up being used in the project can be ensured. This means that there are other people reviewing the code than those who have written it.

A more open world

In a report from May, IDC shows an increased interest in open source among many companies. The explanation is partly an increased focus on cost efficiency, but also because open source is recognized as a driving force for innovation. As a result, it is described how more companies will develop their own solutions and also to a greater extent distribute them further. To do this, you need to change the way you develop software. There's a plethora of interesting ideas and projects among millions of open source projects, which makes it is a natural place to find inspiration and building blocks for your own projects.

The report also describes how innovation culture is something that depends on how the organization is set up and what tools are in place to promote exactly what corresponds to the key parts of inner source. In other words, it is not a new idea to learn from those who work with open source, but even though the concept has been around for a while, the impact has not been so great yet. In an article in the Harvard Business Review titled Why Now Is the Time for "Open Innovation", the authors describe their view that there is a widespread ambition among many companies to adopt a more distributed and open way of producing innovative projects, but that for many organizations, it is only an ambition.

In the best of worlds, the current pandemic could be a positive push to those with the ambition to establish better frameworks and working methods to promote innovation. Therefore, we should not aim to return to a normal state as soon as possible, but dare to create a new and even more open environment where good ideas are spread and heard, no matter where they come from. Like the motto of the well-fed chef Gusteau from Pixar's Ratatouille, which reads, "anyone can cook [code], but only the fearless can be great".

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