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Lastconf2017 Synchronous communication is overrated!

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A presentation which explores the issues and joys of working with a remote team and outlines what the approach one particular team has taken.

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Lastconf2017 Synchronous communication is overrated!

  1. 1. Synchronous communication is overrated How to thrive in a remote team
  2. 2. A video conference call
  3. 3. Who am I? Name: Kelsey van Haaster From: ThoughtWorks Role: Not a consultant! kelseyvh@thoughtworks.com @kelseyvh
  4. 4. Overview ◻What is a remote team? ◻Why do I care about remote teams? ◻Step 1 - do some research ◻Step 2 - make some changes
  5. 5. What is a remote team? ◻ A Remote Team is one where the team members work from locations other than a corporate office ◻ Team members are rarely (if ever) co-located ◻ A group of people working on an Open Source project is an example of a remote team ◻ A Distributed Team is made up of groups of co-located people in more than one location ◻ A team where groups of co-located people work with other groups of co-located people is an example of a distributed team ◻ Both kinds of team, can be Globally Distributed
  6. 6. In the US alone, the number of remote workers has grown more than 103% in the last decade. Further, more than 50% of people will work remotely by 2020 Forbes Magazine March 31st 2016
  7. 7. Why do I care about Remote Teams?
  8. 8. Why do I care about remote teams? NORTH AMERICA Atlanta Chicago Dallas Denver New York San Francisco LATIN AMERICA Belo Horizonte Porto Alegre Quito Recife São Paulo Santiago EUROPE Barcelona Berlin Bologna Cologne Hamburg Istanbul London Manchester Munich AUSTRALIA Brisbane Melbourne Perth SydneyAFRICA Johannesburg SINGAPORE SingaporeINDIA Bangalore Chennai Coimbatore Gurgaon Hyderabad Mumbai Noida Pune CHINA Beijing Chengdu Shanghai Shenzhen Wuhan Xi’an Our customers are ThoughtWorkers
  9. 9. Why do I care about remote teams? NORTH AMERICA Workspaces NA Identity SLAM Infosec Finance InfraDel LATIN AMERICA Workspaces People Data Labs InfraDel Staffing Systems EUROPE Workspaces SLAM (+CIO) Our People Lead AUSTRALIA Workspaces Identity AFRICA Workspaces INDIA Workspaces Digital Operational Insights Finance Finance Lead Connect InfoSec People Champion Identity CHINA Workspaces Finance Systems Recruiting Systes Sales Systems Connect M&A InfoSec We are part of TechOps
  10. 10. Why do I care about remote teams? NORTH AMERICA Identity Support Sys Admin Engineering Tech Lead AUSTRALIA Identity Support PO/BA Engineering INDIA Identity Support Sys Admin DevOps We are Identity
  11. 11. My team is both remote and globally distributed. We can’t even be together on the same day of the week!
  12. 12. We’re pretty good! But we wanted to make it even better!
  13. 13. The really great stuff ◻We have taken the time to get to know one another socially ◻We are all experienced and can work independently ◻We are all multi-skilled and competent ◻We have a strong feedback culture ◻We trust each other and our colleagues ◻We all love what we do
  14. 14. The challenge ◻ Working too many hours ◻Too much (unsuccessful) video conferencing ◻Very, very long complicated email threads ◻Lots of effort expended trying to keep people on the same page ◻Struggles staying in sync with other remote teams ◻Some frustration with the time decisions/discussions could take
  15. 15. We realised we were trying to work like a co-located team.
  16. 16. Step 1 - do some research
  17. 17. What do the experts say
  18. 18. 125 companies with entirely remote workforces 10up Citrix Help Scout Origin Eight TELUS Acceleration Partners Clevertech Hippo Education peopleG2 Tessitura Network AgileBits CloudPeeps Hubstaff Percona Cheat Sheet Aha! Codebusters ICUC Social Plex The Geller Law Group AIDS-Free World Collage.com iDoneThis ProofHQ The Wirecutter appendTo DataStax Incsub Receiptful ThirdPath Institute Art & Logic Devrix Inspired HR Remote Year Time Doctor Articulate Doist InVision RevolutionEHR TNTP – The New Teacher Project Attentiv DuckDuckGo Jackson River Scrapinghub Toptal Authentic Form & Function DVMelite Kin HR Seeq Tropical Travelers Automattic Edgar LoveToKnow Severalnines Universal Mind Axelerant ElevenYellow Lullabot Simple [A] Upworthy Balsamiq Evolving Wisdom MariaDB SitePen Ushahidi Baremetrics Fire Engine RED MCFTech Skillcrush Varsity Tutors Basecamp Five Q Melewi Sococo Virtual Law Partners (VLP Law Group) Beutler Ink FlexJobs Mobomo SoftwareMill WAKA Kickball & Social Sports Big Universe FlexProfessionals Modern Tribe SpiderOak WooThemes Blossom Four Kitchens Mokriya Sticker Mule Wordfence Bluespark Genuitec MomsRising StudySoup Workfrom Buffer GitHub MoveOn.Org Summit CPA Group Working Solutions Canonical GitLab Mozilla Sutherland Global Services World Wide Web Hosting Catalyze Go Fish Digital MySQL Taksa X-Team Chargify Greenback Expat Tax Services NodeSource TeamGantt YNAB Chef Groove Olark TeamSnap Zapier Ciao Bambino! Haynes and Company OnTheGoSystems Teleport
  19. 19. These folks must know something!
  20. 20. Also some user research - What does the community say? ◻Short anonymous survey, distributed via social media ◻32 responses in total ◻47% of respondents currently working remotely ◻53% have worked remotely in the past
  21. 21. The respondents
  22. 22. The Balancing Act
  23. 23. What do the experts say ◻Autonomy is a big benefit ◻Remote working results in better work life balance for employees
  24. 24. What did the community say? I love the autonomy and flexibility I get from remote work My work life balance is better with remote work
  25. 25. What did the community say? Having odd working hours (very early or very late) is an issue for me.
  26. 26. “Working from home allows me to create an environment that is geared toward my optimal working environment, which may or may not conflict with other people's necessary environments”
  27. 27. “Having gained an extra 2 - 3 hours a day (from not commuting) I am much more content. Although it's not expected by my company, I often use those extra hours to work on things for the company that I find interesting, but aren't necessarily a core part of my normal 8 hours!”
  28. 28. What did we say? ◻We agree in general ◻We all love the flexibility and autonomy we have ◻But: early morning and late evening calls can make balancing things hard
  29. 29. Rethink communication
  30. 30. What do the experts say? ◻ Synchronous communication is overrated ◻ Network and bandwidth issues make it minimally productive ◻ Time zones can make it impossible ◻ It’s actually easier/better if everyone is remote ◻ It doesn’t actually matter if you can never be all online at once ◻ Use other ways to communicate ◻ Rotate meeting times and attendees ◻ Record meetings for later consumption
  31. 31. What did the community say? Having an always on video link is essential Having some time when the team is all online is essential
  32. 32. “For any remote team to work, there should be an anchor person who is able to reach out to all members of the team. If possible they should meet so that they can have more informal talks and hence understand each other.”
  33. 33. Even if good comms tools are in place, there is still a challenge in keeping everyone connected and on the same page. With poor comms tools & strategies, making the whole team feel like a team is difficult.
  34. 34. communication is critical - all forms of it, being flexible and adaptable and always growing / learning are really important to keep communication effective. It takes more effort to build a remote / distributed team that works as well as once where everyone is in the same office, however the benefits are great. ...Of course, when it's bad on a remote team it can be much much worse than when everyone is together...
  35. 35. What did we say? ◻At the start - we could be online together ◻And we wasted a lot of time (VC technology still sucks) ◻Later - A new team member and another timezone ◻Double the trouble for not much benefit ◻Working collaboratively with other (also remote) teams was really hard
  36. 36. Culture eats methodology for breakfast
  37. 37. What do the experts say? ◻Hire the right people ◻Spend time and effort on cultivating your culture ◻You can’t over communicate
  38. 38. What did the community say? I miss the social (water cooler chats) by working remotely I don’t feel like I am plugged into my organisations culture
  39. 39. “Not being involved in the social activities and sometimes that time lag waiting for decisions or input from co-located team members.” [is hard]
  40. 40. Getting to know each other and establishing trust - once that's done everything runs better!
  41. 41. What did we say? ◻As a global organisation, we work hard to achieve a homogeneous culture. ◻As a remote team, we accept that we need to work harder at it than a co-located team might.
  42. 42. A tool is just a tool
  43. 43. What did the experts say? ◻Picking the right tools is essential ◻It’s good to experiment ◻Automate everything (see Github)
  44. 44. What did the community say? It’s important to pick a consistent set of tools and stick to them How many different tools does your team use?
  45. 45. Tools is an important factor for remote teams. Tools for quick screen share, remote pairing, chat, document sharing and collaborating, task management, etc play a big role in ensuring remote teams work well together.
  46. 46. ◻We tried hard to make sure we only used internally provided tools at first (dogfooding). ◻But we realised that finding something that worked mattered more. ◻Email is an awful choice What did we say?
  47. 47. Step 2: Make some changes
  48. 48. Finding balance must be deliberate ◻ What we do now ◻ Call it out when someone is working at silly o’clock ◻ Be personally accountable for not burning out ◻ Put sleep time and weekends in your calendar
  49. 49. You need to rethink what collaboration looks like! ◻ What we do now: ◻ An asynchronous standup ◻ Ad Hoc video chats for specific topics ◻ Swarming on Google docs ◻ Always make sure you can hand off to the next person ◻ Don’t get territorial about the work
  50. 50. You need to make more effort to get to know one another! ◻What we do now: ◻Recognise that not being co-located requires tradeoffs ◻Recognise that social connections need to be deliberately and differently made ◻We take the time to chat and share socially (sometimes out of work hours) ◻We don’t restrict our work chatter to just work
  51. 51. There is no perfect tool ◻What we do now: ◻If something doesn’t work, we change it - as many times as we need to ◻Recognise that often tools can be overloaded (Google docs) (If you only have a hammer - everything looks like a nail) ◻Recognise that effort spent on automating is like earning compounding interest
  52. 52. General Principles ◻ Don't fight remoteness - embrace it ◻ Level the playing field, if anyone is remote, everyone is remote ◻ Find the right cadence ◻ There are always things you can do to make it better
  53. 53. Message There are many benefits from being able to work remotely for both individuals, teams and organisations. But you have to embrace remoteness, trying to ignore it or counter it doesn't work.
  54. 54. Questions!

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