Overcoming physical distancing in online communities to create human spaces for societal transformations

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesTransferpeer-review


Purpose How can social presence, participation and a sense of community be formed in an online setting without compromising on social connectedness through physical distancing? Under consideration of the goals for an Education for Sustainable Development, transformative science and the social techniques of Theory U, developed by Otto Scharmer (2016), an online Community of Inquiry of researchers, practitioners and learners was to be developed, followed and observed to discuss the question whether and how it was possible to create an awareness-based, future-oriented and socially committed online community that would enrich social transformation processes. Design/methodology/approach Methods of 1st, 2nd and 3rd person research were applied, as well as group discussions, one Mentimeter survey and one standardised questionnaire with an open question. Findings Results indicate that it is not only possible to create a feeling of community in an online setting, but also point to the terms and conditions which act as enablers and influencers, like seeing each other face-to-face, collective check-ins and check-outs as well as small group break-out sessions. Video conferencing and the practicing of rules of conduct and communication, also referred to as netiquette, enable a transcendence of the physical distance to reach a feeling of belonging and social presence in the perception of the participants. Originality/value In line with global sustainable development, the study also sets an example for how to reduce personal emissions when planning an international conference. Also, it shows how to create online spaces to connect people worldwide, which will support to take over responsibilities as world citizens.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Work-Applied Management
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)197-214
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 21.09.2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Felix Westermann, Linda Doll, Maren Duprés, Sofia Späth and Petra Monika Schweizer-Ries.

    Research areas

  • Sustainability sciences, Management & Economics - Community engagement, Community of inquiry, Online collaboration, Online community, Online interaction, Online learning, Online presence, Online social connectedness, Sense of community, Theory U, Transformation, Video conferencing