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Feb 14, 2018 | 3 min read


How are communities changing the way we work?


Marine Odiot

Change Maker

In the digital era, our networks are becoming larger and more complex. Instant messaging services have made it easier for us to communicate, and virtual communities have profoundly changed our way of collaborating. And the corporate sector is no exception.

Before the internet became widely used, most communities* were formed in a single geographical area. The father of French anthropology, Marcel Mauss, theorized the notion of “culture located in time and space”, meaning an individual’s belonging to a community was defined by where they were born and lived. Relationships were limited and developed primarily “face to face”.

The 1990s brought with them new tools such as ICQ and Blogger, not to mention eBay and Amazon. Since then, the number of people getting together online to talk to each other, share ideas, debate topical issues, play video games, seek or provide information, find support, or simply to do some shopping, has grown continuously over the years. The web has become the place to be for 2.0 communities: a virtual space bringing together users from all over the planet. Symbolic spaces are being formed around a wide variety of themes, orienting users in terms of their social relationships.

Online communities have emerged and grown, accelerating contact between people who share a passion, an aspiration or an objective. It has become easier to collaborate, to produce and distribute knowledge, or to develop a joint project.

Open source communities, which began to flourish in the 1980s through the free software movement, have greatly contributed to this trend. This now means that people working on a specific problem have access to a community which shares their interest in solving the same problem. Their objective is to contribute to the development of knowledge and new ideas. Various communities have developed in this way, with the aim of sharing knowledge (Wikipedia), innovation (FrenchTech) or production (OS Vehicle, Protei). For some time, this principle of collaboration has been found in the real, physical world too, in the form of shared spaces such as Fab Labs, MakerSpaces (ICI Montreuil is a perfect example) or coworking spaces (shared offices, PARISOMA). Above and beyond their primary activity, these communities are changing how we work.


Innovating in a community

Today, innovation occupies an increasingly important place within the corporate world. However, hierarchical methods of management and forms of organization are the most common, while silo working practices do not enable teams which are divided by role, by expertise, by sector and by country to communicate sufficiently. Originating in the industrial era, this system appears effective when applied to the completion of execution tasks, yet proves to be entirely anachronistic when it comes to innovation. It is no secret that creativity arises from a context which promotes diversity, curiosity and open reflection. So how can we smash the silos and collaborate in a more effective manner? This is where social networks come into the picture. Slack, Yammer, Azendoo or other such new internal communication tools make it possible to decompartmentalize teams and strengthen their collaboration.


Large groups get onboard by creating innovation communities

Innovation communities. What are they? Within large groups, people who share a sector, an area of expertise, a project, or simply a taste for innovation, form communities within a company:

  • Job-specific communities make it possible to bring together all employees performing the same role within different departments of the same group (human resources, marketing, finance, etc.)
  • Technical and expertise-based communities (CRM, SEO, API, etc.)
  • Interdisciplinary communities (designers, analysts, marketers, etc.)
  • Intrapreneur communities

As one of the possible solutions for smashing the silo system, innovation communities make it possible to create transversality within complex and decentralized organizations. In practice, it is a question of establishing connections between employees who have no opportunity to cooperate, by providing them with appropriate infrastructure and spaces for exchange and creativity, which allows organizations to become more favorable settings for employees, for change, and for the appearance of new business models. Sharing and openness are emerging as essential pillars of the innovation culture.


*Other forms of “virtual” communities predate our industrial era, particularly in the form of scholarly and religious networks. However, members of these communities were separated in space and time, and therefore unable to benefit from collective synergies or from real-time knowledge mobilization.


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