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.
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.
Third post in The Ultimate Guide to Working Remotely: The Series.
Skype and how to use it properly.
Open group chat
The Skype group chat is the direct correspondent of the open space in an office environment, with some nice extras.
Each domain group can have its own group chat, so messages don’t get mixed up.
When a team member needs to focus he can turn Skype on Do Not Disturb and stop receiving chat notifications.
Skype stores the messages on every client and automatically makes sure the chat session is synced among the participants. If the team is chatting in a group chat and all by one leave the session afterwards, the remaining participant Skype client will automatically broadcast the chat history to all group chat members that were offline at the time of the chat, but come online at a later date.
Skype offers a cross platform screen sharing solution. This makes activities like remote pair programming and live discussions on design wireframes convenient and accessible.
Sometimes it’s easier to show something on the screen and make the modifications on spot as opposed to moving files back and forth and discussing via email.
Conference calls with up to 25 people can be easily done for free via Skype. By using the Skype-Out feature one can include in the conference landline or mobile phone numbers too, at the expanse of call credit.
Adding new participants in an existing conference is an easy as drag and drop from the contacts list.
One on One video calls
Connecting between team members requires personal communication done on a regular basis. With emails and group chat providing clear and efficient communication, video calls will be used between team members to better connect with each other and discuss topics that can be misunderstood otherwise. In a perfect world such video calls would not be necessary, as they are more time and energy consuming, but sometimes they also help at getting faster to an agreement.