Fifth and latest post in The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely: The Series.
Connecting remotely at a personal level
Working remotely is not working alone
Not being present in a physical work environment does not allow a member of the team to stop communicating actively with his colleagues. On the contrary one must ensure that all others know what he’s working on at all times, provides consistent status updates and helps the project manager track his or her progress.
Frequent video calls between team members
Video calls are closer to a physical interaction than emails or simple voice calls. Using video adds a personal touch and helps at better understanding each other. One on one video calls are possible via Skype and for more participants solutions like Dimdim or WebEx can be used. At least the weekly team meeting must have video, as well as most of the one on one Skype calls.
Meeting at the beginning of the project in person
While not possible for all teams, meeting at the beginning in person offers a boost hard to replicate otherwise. It is easier to agree on responsibilities and see each other’s communication and work style in such an environment, but it can as well take place later in the project. Many distributed teams meet in person at least once a year for this reasons.
All meetings are well documented with clear agenda and meeting notes
While a remote meeting has less human interaction this can be overcome by better managing the meeting process. Setting the agenda and sending back and forth some emails to clarify what is to be discussed will help set the focus better when the actual meeting takes place. A team member, taking the role of the meeting facilitator, will keep meeting notes and will ensure the agenda is followed and the meeting stays on time.
Attached below is a section from Wikipedia on the corporate culture Steve Jobs implemented at NeXT out of the frustration of working on a bureaucratic environment at Apple and eventually being removed from the company by the very people he employed to implement it. The result is a completely different approach, apparently similar to what one can find at Apple now.
Jobs had felt stymied by Apple’s corporate structure and was determined to avoid the bureaucratic infighting that led to his resignation. He created a different corporate culture at NeXT in terms of facilities, salaries, and benefits. Jobs had experimented with some structural changes at Apple but at NeXT he abandoned conventional corporate structures, instead making a “community” with “members” instead of employees. There were only two different salaries at NeXT until the early 1990s. Team members who joined before 1986 were paid $75,000 while those who joined afterwards were paid $50,000. This caused a few awkward situations where managers were paid less than their employees. Employees were given performance reviews and raises every six months because of the spartan salary plans. To foster openness, all employees had full access to the payrolls, although few employees ever took advantage of the privilege. NeXT’s health insurance plan offered benefits to not only married couples but unmarried couples and same-sex couples, although the latter privilege was later withdrawn due to insurance complications. The payroll schedule was also very different from other companies in Silicon Valley at the time: instead of getting paid twice a month at the end of the pay period, employees would get paid once a month in advance.
Jobs found office space in Palo Alto on Deer Creek Road, occupying a glass and concrete building which featured a staircase designed by architect I. M. Pei. The first floor used hardwood flooring and large worktables where the workstations would be assembled. To avoid inventory errors, NeXT used the just in time (JIT) inventory strategy. The company contracted out for all major components such as mainboards and cases and had the finished components shipped to the first floor for assembly. The second floor was the office space with an open floor plan. The only enclosed rooms were Jobs’ office and a few conference rooms. As NeXT expanded more office space was needed. The company rented an office in Redwood City, designed by Pei. The architectural centerpiece was a “floating” staircase with no visible supports. The open floor plan was retained although furnishings became luxurious with $5,000 chairs, $10,000 sofas and Ansel Adams prints. Temporary art exhibitions were mounted with an in-house curator; in at least one instance Jobs ordered the exhibition removed.
Source: NeXT – Corporate culture and community
Fourth post in The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely: The Series.
Online collaboration and sharing tools
Google Apps for Domain
With Gmail being the email option of choice for the vast majority of Internet users nowadays having Gmail for the domain name used for the company is a welcome addition. For this one can use Google Apps for domain for free by only setting up an account and changing the MX records with the domain register.
Google has thrown into the mix a number of other apps that the remote working team can benefit from like Calendar, Docs, Wave and a couple others.
For pushing files between team members nothing beats Dropbox’s simplicity. One just needs to install the Dropbox plugin and throw the files in the shared folder. Changes are automatically pushed to everyone who was invited to see the folder content.
Basecamp / Pivotal Tracker
Both Basecamp and Pivotal Tracker are two simple tools that can help distributed teams maintain focus and have clear next actions.
While Basecamp is focused around To-Do lists and Milestones, on Pivotal Tracker the team can do Agile development on a story-based method. Pivotal Tracker calculates the team’s velocity and accordingly estimates how much work will be done in the next iterations.
Git is a version control system created by the same person who wrote the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds. He used this for the development of the Linux kernel, which is created by the effort of thousands of developers.
Using Git lets everyone easily make changes to the code, while keeping a clear record of every change and push and pull changes back and forth from other team members.