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  • Writer's pictureNathalie C. Chan King Choy

What Remote Projects Can Learn From Open Source Development: Part 2 - Community

Updated: Jun 3

A lightbulb. where the filament says open source, is illuminating a laptop. The map of the world is overlaid with a community network.

Welcome to the second part of my series about what remote projects can learn from open source development, inspired by the Linux Foundation’s Open Source Summit in April. In my first installment, I explored the written aspects that remote projects can learn from open source development. In this month’s post, I’ll go into the people-centric aspects.  


In spite of the challenges of remote collaboration, the super power of successful open source projects is a strong sense of community.  


Why is community important?  You can throw a whole bunch of big brains at a problem and they will get a certain distance.  Then layering on some project management can improve scalability and reduce friction, so people know who is supposed to do what, and the right people are talking to each other.  Then when you add community on top it takes things to the next level!  With community, you have a shared sense of ownership where teammates are working towards collective benefit, people feel committed to their work, and diverse perspectives discussing/debating come up with more creative solutions.


So how can project managers work towards building community within remote project teams?  


Encourage and appreciate all engagement by the community


Recognize that contribution comes in many different forms.  Often times 1 area of a project gets the most attention (e.g. creating the product), but there are so many supporting roles that improve the health of the project (e.g. writing documentation, answering questions, sharing news, advocating for funding, giving thoughtful feedback during reviews, etc.) and they benefit from acknowledgement, on-boarding, and appreciation.  


Spot struggles and nudge them in the right direction


Ensure contributors feel supported by following up on threads where people are stuck and need help.  This is especially important for on-boarding newer or less experienced contributors, so that they don’t get discouraged.  Often, the experts with answers are extremely busy and need some reminders, or need someone to reword a question so they quickly understand how to help.


Give experts relief by building a pipeline


While following up on experts in the right way can help both parties, be mindful of who you’re always turning to for help.  Don’t constantly burden the same experts because it can produce critical role burnout.  It’s important to build a pipeline of expertise to have a healthy community or team.  When possible, seek out intermediate experts to contribute to knowledge sharing, to give some relief to the advanced experts.  This also gives the intermediate experts an opportunity to make a greater impact, receive some appreciation, and step out from the advanced experts’ shadows.


Advocate for transparency


People feel like they are part of something bigger when they know what’s going on and why.  Transparency in communication is vital for building trust and cohesion. Staying in the loop is a big challenge in remote teams.  A start is to have open discussion channels like Slack, mailing lists, or project-specific forums to ensure everyone has access to the same information. But that can get overwhelming if there is a lot of discussion traffic, and it isn’t practical to have everyone read all the details of every discussion.  So, it can be useful to regularly share a summary of the latest goings on in the project - even better if a community member is interested in taking up the role of compiling a newsletter from team contributions! 


Conclusion


A lesson we can learn from open source projects is that fostering a strong sense of community in remote project teams can take productivity and engagement to the next level. By encouraging diverse contributions, supporting team members, building expertise pipelines, and advocating for transparency, project managers can create a collaborative remote environment where everyone feels valued, motivated, and ready to tackle challenges together.

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