Working on a remote team is exciting and challenging. You get to deal with different personalities, different cultures, and very different people. But as the team grows, communication can be severely diminished, and communication is key for a successful company. In a non remote office, you can tap someone on the shoulder and talk about things. You can walk up to someone’s computer and coach them through tasks. How do you recreate that level of interaction across a remote team?
Choosing technologies that suits everyone is not an easy task. It’s important to let the team have freedom to choose the technologies/tools that work best for them, as long as there are no efficiency tradeoffs in trying to make it work with different processes, file formats, conversions, and so on.
Finding tools nowadays is not a challenge. We literally have hundreds, if not thousands of tools for every major problem we want to solve or process we want to improve. These tools will present themselves in several different forms. Some of them will be more generic, some will be focused on a set of features to attend to a very specific niche. The real challenge is to identify the one that will ideally improve team’s ability/creativity, or at very least not get in the way of people.
At Codelitt, after helping so many clients build products to solve a huge variety of issues, we not only understand that having the right technologies and tools is very important to achieve our desired goals, but we believe that these are actually a very essential and crucial part of our success. The focus of this post is to describe the tools we use that target the major problem of remote communication.
Ask organizations about major problems they have, and it will be no surprise that communication is one of the areas where they struggle the most. Internal communications, external communications, over communicating, under communicating...it can be a mess sometimes. It’s just one of those areas where there is always room for improvement. It’s even more difficult for remote teams.. Interestingly enough, I have to admit that having worked on both remote and non-remote teams, it seems like the nature of remote teams makes the communication flow a lot better (since there is an expectation that everything is in writing and accessible to everyone who needs it).
We have been using Slack for a while and it’s been awesome. It gives our team everything we need to be productive, get our business done and, and even have a lot of fun, (we totally recommend RightGif), Actually a lot of our channels are not directly dedicated to our projects, but that’s a topic for another blog :D. The point is, Slack really suits our needs very well.
We also love how extensible it is,as other awesome teams can create extensions to make it even more powerful. (We have taken our shots. Check out https://github.com/codelittinc/slacked and https://github.com/codelittinc/slack-trello).
When it comes down to calls, be them with or without video, our choice is Google Hangouts. It works very well, plays nice with several other tools, and is already integrated with our e-mail accounts. It actually fits into our workflow pretty naturally.. We use it for internal calls, interviews, pairing sessions and much more.
Of course, sometimes our default stack falls short and we have to complement it with other tools that might attend a specific need, but in general, those two tools are all we need to communicate effectively. We rarely use email for anything these days. It’s just so much easier to drop files and links into Slack. Most of the emails we get are automated from things like Google Calendar and external communications.
Documentation is essential in every single area of any organization, team, process, or product. This is especially true in remote teams because everyone constantly needs to be in sync and acting in a predictable manner. The number of possible formats and possible editors is huge. The challenge is to find something that is easy to use, promote collaboration and if possible, integrates very well with other tools that you already use.
Given its collaborative nature, this is an easy choice for our team. It plays well with most of our tools, and it is great to have several members creating/reviewing/editing at the same time. Our blog posts are written In Google Docs, where the team can view and suggest edits on them. We have yet to find, or even imagine, a more efficient system.
Our second choice to produce documentation is markdown. It gives us a very simple yet powerful way to document everything. There is no surprise it is so widely accepted and used. Our open repos make extensive usage of it, which makes maintenance and contributions a lot easier. We publish our blogs using Ghost, which uses Markdown as it’s format.
A lot of content is produced as a result of our process of building, documenting, creating, contributing, and innovating. Deliverables, spreadsheets, charts, code, mockups, and presentations are just some of the assets that we constantly create and share. While some of these have their own specific tools and processes of sharing (like Google drive for collaborative documents and a Git repo for source code), some content is still challenging to make available and useful.
We keep assets like image files, adobe suite files, presentations etc. updated across everyone’s machines with syncthing. It is a decentralised solution that allows your entire team to keep essential content up to date. It’s much better to have all these files constantly updated on everyone’s machine vs. having people have to hunt down files in Slack. It takes a bit of extra work to get it up and running, and may lead to some “accidents” sometimes if not properly configured, but once it is correctly set up, it is a very powerful tool. We don’t recommend Syncthing for non-technical teams though, as a misstep can cause you to lose all your files.
Open Repos We always look for opportunities to contribute back to the community. Opening our processes and sharing them means that everyone starting a company can simply start off with our process documents and modify them as needed, instead of having to create them all from scratch. Although the open repos are not a tool themselves, they are a mean to achieve this goal that makes it more than worthwhile to note. The tool we chose for this purpose is Github, which we will cover in more details when we get to the specifics of our engineering teams in a future blog. (Feel free to take a look at our process documents, fork it, submit a pull request or raise any issue!)
Active projects tend to have several moving parts, which can prove to be challenging to manage. The most important factors in any project is communication and coordination. This requires effort from everyone involved to make sure everyone else is aware of what they are working on, what issues they may have, what comes next, and similar factors. We have several tools to help manage and deliver projects successfully through good communication and coordination.
Codelitt usually uses the Kanban Board tool Trello to manage features of any given product that needs to be specced, designed and/or developed. This allows us to think of each feature as a task that has to go through certain steps and criteria to be completed. We constantly make sure that everyone is “keeping up with the cards” as needed, and we regularly go through boards and figure out how to clean them up and make them more efficient.
At least, but not least, we do make a heavy usage of a calendar. Making sure that the whole team knows when people are available and, even more important, when they are not is essential. It helps to plan activities, regular calls, last-minute meetings and everything else. Make sure that your team is onboard with making their activities public. Add national holidays to the main calendar.
Be it a communication tool, a code repository or even an email inbox, the key is to find something that really suits the culture of your team. Create a process to try different tools with a small part of the team and test the results. Try several different ones, get feedback from those who really matter the most (the team members that will actually be using them constantly). Make sure the pricing is in place for your current needs and that they will still make sense when your team grows.
We'd love to hear about tools that you use, add a comment below to tell us about your experience.
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