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distributed teams

Should a Distributed Company Hold All-Team Meetings?

I’ve spent a significant portion of my career working in companies that are at least partially remote/distributed. One of them was globally distributed, with no central headquarters at all. Everyone worked from their homes. When I founded VividCortex, I wanted to blend the best of both worlds, and to my credit, some of what I did has been an improvement. There are still downsides, though, and in this post, I want to explore how distributed teams can address a basic human need: seeing each other in-person.

I have a lot more thoughts about many aspects of remote/distributed work and the culture that develops with them, which I hope I can share in other blog posts someday when I get time. If you’re curious about whether I think remote/distributed teams have advantages, and whether being in an office has advantages, and whether the first or the second one is better, and whether people with clear and universal answers are wrong, the answers are "Yes, yes, yes, and yes." Beyond that, I will not go in this post, because I want to focus on the topic.

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6 Tools for Building Distributed Dev Teams

Regardless of our feelings about it, the fact is that distributed teams have become an integral part of the software development ecosystem, with more and more companies and projects including team members dispersed around the world.

The reason for this range from cost-effectiveness, through access to better talent to the proliferation of new technologies and solutions that enable such teams to work in unison.

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The Secret to Agile Remote Teams

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It all started when software development teams were physically present in the same office and interacting with each other face-to-face. At that time, this was thought to be the best way to get work done. Not many employees worked remotely. But, that era is long gone. By comparison, most of the organizations today have distributed teams. They ease the burden on project infrastructure and improve the employee’s comfort level.

A good infrastructure cannot have the dependency on only one system or person. Infrastructure needs to be distributed to avoid SPOF (Single Point of Failure). Similarly, it makes more sense to have distributed teams. This helps in a DR (Disaster Recovery) situation and also in hiring talented people without the time or location constraints.

The latest figure shows that 63% of departments have someone on their team who works the significant portion of time remotely. That said, is it easy to handle Agile remote teams for an organization?

It’s definitely not a piece of cake. Here are the secrets to working smoothly as an Agile remote team:

  • Structure global teams according to time zoness
  • Nurture trust between teams
  • Uniform software development culture
  • Regular scrums take place when all teams are online at the same time

Structure Global Teams According to Time Zones

In a modern business, software development is structured in a way whereby every sub-team works on a specific technology. Dependency is lower if the team is self-sufficient to manage and develop the project. This minimizes the collaboration of teams in different time zones.

Distributed teams in different time zones can easily manage production issues. It can be solved by the team that is online in that specific time zones if the other team in different time zones is offline during the time of issue.

Nurture Trust Between Teams

To run a successful Agile software team, trust is crucial. You can pass work between teams only when there is a good rapport between employees. Personal connections build trust and minimize misconceptions. To build a great culture and increase employee morale, encourage employees to interact with each other. Learn more about your teammates in your office and do the same thing with the people who are in remote teams. Wherever possible, build personal connections with your coworkers. This improves productivity, collaboration and makes it easy to work remotely.

For remote locations, a video conference is a key to build trust between teams. Encourage team members to conduct a weekly 1:1 video chat session. This can be less formal. Employees can use this opportunity to build trust between them and work better together.

Build a Uniform Software Development Culture

There are four simple ways to unite software development culture for a distributed team:

Communication

When you move from local office team to a distributed remote team, share every decision with all the team members. Communicate all big decisions on time to the team. Use a content management system or a channel like Slack to allow every employee to share updates.

Consistent Development Environments Across the Team

Adopt a consistent development environment across the team to make it easier to work together and track down issues.

Complete the Action

Have a complete action plan that includes code written, pull requests created, code reviewed, tested, and merged into the appropriate branch.

Have Clear Guidelines for Bug Reports and Troubleshooting

It is very unlikely that everyone is online when some problem occurs. Maintain proper guidelines for the bug reports and troubleshooting with steps on how-tos stored in a local repository. Make this accessible to everyone. Consequently, anyone on the team can narrow down an issue. Conduct code review and automation tests about the code base. This will help the affected team to ensure that the change/deployment doesn’t create unwanted side effects.

Conduct Scrum Sessions, with Both the Teams Being Present at the Same Time

Scrum is a good instance for Agile development teams, who share work between different time zones. Video conference for Scrum is a great platform for Q&A and also to discuss any upcoming agenda. For an Agile development team working remotely, having a daily Scrum can be a good practice. A video conference to discuss goals and set agendas could be a simple yet effective way of ensuring the entire team is in sync with the agenda. Moreover, one of the things you could do to ensure everyone’s happy, no matter what the time zone they work in is to rotate the meeting between time zones.

In a distributed organization almost every team is a remote team. They need to adjust among themselves and understand how to share the roles and responsibilities between different workplaces. Good communication and great company culture is the key to the success of remote Agile teams.

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7 Companies that Make Remote Teams Work Efficiently

The freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms add to employees’ happiness. Technology and the internet have made working from home possible for many employees. This option not only eliminates the need for travel, but also offers more flexibility.

Some companies still believe that employees are more productive in the office, a notion challenged by many companies today; some firms are going 100% remote with a distributed team. Even without a physical office, they achieve productivity and success.

The approach to building a successful remote team is simple. Companies hire the best candidates and provide a great work-life balance. They spend money on employees rather than the office space. The focus is on ensuring the team’s productivity.

Here are some popular companies that have embraced the remote working style.

Buffer

Buffer has close to 80 employees working in different countries. Their social media management tool is very popular and used by over 60K paid customers. The company goes out of its way to elicit a feelings of equality and inclusiveness.

Buffer believes in transparency. Hence, they share their recruiting practice, salaries, and revenue details on a transparency page. Moreover, employees at buffer enjoy many perks like unlimited vacation and annual retreats.

BufferImage Credit: Buffer

Automattic

Automattic is one of the most popular brands on the market. They have products like WordPress, Gravatar, Simplenote, and Longreads under their belt. The employees of Automattic can work from anywhere they want. At present, the team is 500+ strong with employees across the globe.

So, how do they manage remote teams?

To work across different time zones, the company uses Slack. The management of Automattic looks for applicants with strong writing and communication skills. This is the key to their success even when it comes to the support they offer.

To check for writing skills, even the interview process is chat-based. Employees enjoy annual retreats, co-working allowances, paid sabbaticals and an open vacation policy.

The company is currently hiring for positions like business support, and product marketing.

Automattic - A new way to writeImage Credit: Automattic

Gitlab

Gitlab is a code collaboration platform that built for the modern enterprise, and programmers across the globe use the platform. Gitlab is a 100% remote company with staff located across 3 continents.

Their remote working policies are pretty interesting. Their employees can work from anywhere they want. This saves time for commute and gives employees the freedom to be with their loved ones.

The company encourages the employees to use various chat tools to communicate. For meetings, they use apps like the Hangout.

GitlabImage Credit: Gitlab

Invision

Invision is a design collaboration and prototyping platform. Popular companies such as Airbnb and Adobe use the platform. The Invision team has the freedom to design and test products from anywhere.

They have around 220 employees working in 14 countries. Invision’s CEO believes that it is important to give employees the freedom to work on their own terms. Something that’s not possible with a traditional desk job.

The company places more emphasis on outcomes rather than the physical presence in the office. Employees get medical insurance, free gym memberships, travel allowances and unlimited Starbucks drinks.

InvisionImage Credit: Invision

Zapier

Zapier is an automation tool, which connects your favorite web apps such as slack and Gmail. This company currently has around 80 employees working from 13+ countries. The company is fully distributed without any headquarters. Employees enjoy the flexibility.

The company saves on cost for office space. The employees can also cut down on their travel expenses. Zapier believes that people are more productive in a remote setting than in the office.

Slack connects the employees of Zapier. Zoom helps in video calls, and Hackpad makes their documentation easy. Employees also enjoy profit sharing, medical coverage, annual retreats and unlimited vacation.

Zapier Image Credit: Zapier

Trello

Trello is a popular project management platform. It has 19+ million users including brands like National Geographic and Google.

Two-third of the Trello team works remotely. The key to their success is seamless communication. Most employees connect with each other via video conference. The company has taken to promoting a healthy collaborative work culture.

They have an optional weekly event that encourages employees to network. Every week, four employees receive an invite to meet and talk for 30 mins about anything.

These initiatives help employees connect with each another, outside of work. Additionally,  employees are also given perks and incentives on a regular basis to keep them going strong at work.

TrelloImage Credit: Trello

Github

Github is a platform where users get to collaborate on or adopt open source code projects. The work culture is different here. You can work from anywhere, at any time.

As there is no solid structure, formal meetings hardly happen. Employees use online communicators to interact. Most of the work gets done online.

Github enjoys many benefits with a remote workforce

  • Hiring – Github believes that if you need the best talent, then restricting yourself to the talent in a single city is like shooting yourself in the foot.

  • Diversity – With a team aligned to company culture and values, you can tackle any challenge.

  • Productivity – Remote teams can effectively utilize their day and communicate with coworkers. Employees have greater focus when they are not exhausted from energy draining commutes.

GithubImage Credit: Github

These companies have managed to a strike it off well and hence, are successful. Company culture evolves over a period of time, and the way remote work fits into that has to evolve as well.

Companies must view it as a continual investment. Remote working may not suit all companies. For companies who can adopt this model, it is a sure shot way to offer flexibility and work-life balance. 

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The Remote Future: How Tech Companies Are Helping Their Remote Teams Connect

A few weeks ago, I was surprised when I saw the following tweet from Manu Kumar, investor of Lyft and Twilio, among many other successful startups:

Manu Kumar was known for his clear determination to invest only in startups whose team were at a bike distance from his house in Silicon Valley. And maybe he still wants the founders to be close to him, but he is also clearly seeing and accepting the huge problem companies are facing when trying to find talent.

However, in order to make that remote future possible, we need to look at why companies have resisted the idea of creating and managing remote teams. Managers and founders are afraid that remote collaboration will prevent their employees from having impromptu conversations, which will then kill innovation within the organization. There are also issues connected to trust between managers and the people that report to them, interpersonal problems due to isolation, increased complexity in communication, and so on.

However, companies are being forced to start considering hiring remote employees if they want access to the best talent they can afford. An outdated education system and strict immigration laws are making this a real issue. Isn’t that ironic considering the Internet has made access to knowledge and distributed collaboration easier than ever?

How to Make Remote Work Work

The best way to understand what innovation in the remote workspace is like is to look at what companies with distributed teams are already doing. And if there is something they have in common, it is that they all create plenty of opportunities for their team members to have face-to-face conversations.

Encourage Virtual Face-to-Face Time

GitLab, for example, has created an internal system to coordinate weekly “digital coffee breaks” between its employees, who are encouraged to dedicate a few hours a week to having social calls with any teammate. They can also join a Slack channel where, every Monday, a bot will pair them with a random team member. This way, GitLab is creating intentional spaces for spontaneous and personal connection to happen between its employees.

However, no video conference or digital solution can replace actual face-to-face communication.

Anecdotally, a friend of mine recently quit the agency where she used to work as a remote software developer. She moved to another agency where she now does the exact same job. Why? Because even though she works as part of a remote team for clients who are based all around the world, the new agency puts a lot of effort into creating a local community of colleagues where my friend can find a network of support. And this is just one example of how “remote work” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “alone work.”

Make Time for Real Face-to-Face Time

A clear example of how remote companies are creating opportunities for real face-to-face conversations to happen is team retreats. GitLab, Buffer, Zapier, and HelpScout are some of the companies who organize at least a yearly team retreat where all of their employees travel to the same place and spend a few days, or even weeks, together.

Zapier’s co-founder, Wade Foster, said

“Some things are just better done in person. For instance, it’s hard to have an impromptu, deep conversation with a teammate over Google Hangout about their kids, some random idea you’ve had improving a secondary process in the company, or company values. All those things tend to naturally happen in person, while they don’t happen in a remote team unless you force it.”

But also, as companies evolve and their teams grow, their retreats change to serve the right purpose.

Buffer’s CEO, Joel Gascoigne, said in an interview with Inc….

“When we were a team of less than 30 people, the retreats felt like they could be a productive day-to-day work time for us, a shift towards working together, but continuing with the projects we happened to be working on. Today our retreats serve less of a purpose of immediate productivity and are more geared towards long-term productivity and meaningful connectedness of the team.”

Learn From What Others Are Doing Right

Other initiatives, like the Running Remote conference taking place in Bali on June 23-24, are also trying to create spaces to help distributed companies learn strategies to manage and grow their remote teams. In the case of the Running Remote conference, the fact that they have chosen Bali as their hosting place is no coincidence. Due to its weather, culture, food, and waves, Bali has lately become the place chosen by a lot of companies with distributed teams to organize their team retreats.

At my company, Microverse, we are trying to tackle this issue at an earlier stage. We’re constantly looking for talent all around the world and training it to become remote software developers. Our students learn in small distributed teams doing remote pair programming, all while working on freelance and open source projects. And even though learning is happening in an online and distributed fashion, my vision for the future of education and Microverse, is one where our students will also have access to local co-learning spaces where they can find a community that will support them, because everyone benefits from face-to-face time, and that doesn’t have to be with co-workers.

What’s really great about the future of remote work is that it doesn’t only help companies access the best talent in the world, but it also helps talent flourish regardless of where people are born. As they say, talent is evenly distributed, but opportunities are not, and we now have the chance to change that.

Hopefully, we will all continue learning how to better manage remote organizations and how to make people in those organizations connect at a much deeper human level And in the process, we will make the world a much fairer place.

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Squaring the Collaboration Circle in a Distributed World

Software development – like that of any product – is a highly collaborative team game played in a complex, constantly shifting environment, whose currency is high bandwidth communication. The simplest, most powerful way to build those communication pathways is to have the close team at close distance, ideally within a couple of meters. But in contemporary enterprises, it’s often impossible to draw the talented people needed to a single city, let alone a single building. So how do you cope when your organization is necessarily distributed around the country, or world?Senior Transformation Consultant Martin Burns re-squares the circle.

At CA, we’ve seen the power of colocated teams. Our Agile Central team grew up in Boulder, Colorado, in one building, with a shared kitchen to amplify collaboration through chance meetings across teams. We felt the power of those communication pathways every day, and that collaboration was so powerful, it became a touchstone of ours. That’s hardly a surprise, as good research supports it.

From that stalwart of Product Development, Don Reinertsen:

“Colocation is the closest thing to fairy dust that we have to improve communications on the development team. We have been in contact with thousands of people who have worked on development teams. Without exception, those that have worked on colocated teams insist that this is the most effective way to do development.” – Don Reinertsen, Managing the Design Factory.

Don doesn’t just have widespread anecdotes to draw on, he cites research, too:

The impact on this on outcomes is born out through further MIT research:

The relative frequency of collaboration on patents among MIT faculty as plotted against their daily physical distances on campus. As the distance increases, the likelihood of collaboration decreases. Source: “An exploration of collaborative scientific production at MIT through spatial organization and institutional affiliation.”

My own experience of nearly 20 years echoes this: distribution starts as soon as I can’t see your screen and get your attention without raising my voice.

Where you have people on the other side of the globe, you remember that they’re remote, and make an effort to overcome the huge barriers involved. The people at the other end of the floor, or on the floor below: it’s just too easy to forget.

But What About…Modern Communications Tools?

The natural response to Allen’s 1997 research reflexively generates the response that things are different now.

It’s true that collaboration tools such as email, chat (from IRC onward), Skype, WebEx and so on make collaboration with remote teams possible. My own Services tribe at CA has a constant rolling set of conversations that run over Flowdock.

I’ve seen some great teams work done at distance, not only in startups, but in large institutions such as IBM. I recall seeing the sole member of a dev team in our office in Hursley take part in a standup each day for a massively distributed team. At the designated time, he dialed into the call, and actually stood up while doing so. On his desk were photos of the team’s members, and as each spoke, he moved a mini-rugby ball onto that person’s picture.

Indeed, IBM has a whole book on Distributed Scrum, and it recalls very strongly my experience running remote teams even before discovering Agile and Lean. In those days, I overlapped times with my dev lead in Kolkata, and while we were both in the office, we were constantly available on Instant Messenger, consciously talking informally many times a day, on top of the regular cadence of calls our group maintained.

With all of this new technology and the experience of the possibility, the expectation is that the Allen curve has shifted significantly. But this is not so. Allen updated his research in 2007, without much change in the result:

Probability of Communication. : TJ Allen, The Organisation & Architecture of Innovation, 2007

Ben Waber’s research shows that greater interactions with people correlates with better results in complex tasks, and face-to-face meetings are particularly effective in this. On the other hand, reaching out to a wider network via electronic means is indicative of failure.

My current team—and wider, my team of teams—worka across 3 buildings in one city, with no consistency of seating. Mostly I’m not sure where my colleagues are sitting, with the result that rather than Waber’s suggested informal, frequent, face to face collaboration, we have a heavy load of conference calls. When even one person is not in the close area of seats, we’re forced onto the phone. Including that one person is traded off against a very poor experience for everyone. This has a further impact on our default behavior: rather than walking over and directly collaborating, we’ll initiate a conversation over Skype for Business or email; both are lower bandwidth. Or worse, just not bother.

Having the tools convinces us that they’re sufficient. It dissuades us from trying anything richer, and from challenging the constraints.

It leads to the worst example I can remember, where one Scrum Master was supporting two teams, each of which had members in California, Colorado, Atlanta, Ireland, and Bangalore. The timezone pain was intense. Synchronous conversations were almost impossible. Understandably he was a significant voice in arguing against that organization trying Big Room Planning and the fantastic collaboration it brings.

I have certainly seen very few teams come even close to being fully effective in deep, rapid communication, or fulfilling their potential in delivering outcomes. That’s true for newly formed teams, inexperienced people and existing teams who are new to deeply collaborative methods. The teams I’ve seen where this works either don’t work at this pace, or are established, and select for experience at overcoming the struggles. Even looking ahead, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of virtual reality techno-utopia and assume that there will be some real time, life-size, holographic telepresence technology just over the horizon that will fix all this. I’m highly skeptical of this.

The more effective use of electronic collaboration tools is to give individuals on a team more freedom and choice over where to contribute on any given day. A team should have a single location where they can collaborate; a place where face to face collaboration can easily happen, and that is their default location, while allowing them to punctuate this and intermittently work remotely, as even the most collaborative work has some tasks that benefit from space and focus.

Distributed organizations; Colocated teams

In today’s large organizations, sourcing enough talented people is very difficult to achieve when you’re limited to a daily commute radius. My current customer has seventeen engineers, and can’t source them all even in one country, let alone in one commutable city.

It’s inevitable then that the organisation will be distributed, and therefore at some level, the communication pain will exist. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this should occur at every level. Optimise such that the most rapid, high bandwidth, intensive communication—that within a single team—occurs within a single location. Not just in a single city or building, but the whole team within Hey Jo! Can you look over here at this? distance.

A constraint that many organizations will face in enacting this is that they have sourced silos of skills from particular suppliers in particular locations. Changing this will take some tough conversations, most particularly with suppliers who are focused on a single skill. With larger suppliers who have multiple skills in multiple locations, this will be much easier as you will not be changing the overall outline of their work, just the mix within it.

The second implication of this approach is that the location of the will change. Conway’s Law pushes the shape of the organization and the design of the system to the same boundaries. This is useful, as your new co-located teams will find a domain in which they can grow their mastery, with positive impacts on their motivation .

The effort to overcome the barriers of distribution within a product team is too much of a risk for new teams, and those learning collaborative approaches. Challenge your organization’s assumed constraints and organize teams around locations, shifting and growing skills as needed to make this possible.

Leader Takeaway:

Non-colocated teams can work; it’s just harder , particularly with newly formed teams or inexperienced people. Make their lives easier: align team and location boundaries.Original Link

Hello From the Other Side: Asynchronicity as Optimal Communication

I not only love talking in real time with my teammates whenever I can, either online or in person—I also strongly believe that sharing some moments talking in real time with our teammates, at least from time to time, is something crucial for any teams, as talking in real time is an exceptional way of establishing or building up bonds between the parts—which, of course, ends up adding to an entire team and, consequently, reflects on what that team delivers.

However, communication in real time clearly is not an optimal model nowadays and should be avoided in most situations. Thanks to the plethora of communication tools available in the market, we should all be taking advantage of asynchronous communication, which is, most of the time, the optimal approach.

Asynchronous communication is a method of segmental communication in which the parties involved can interact with each other at different times. Usually, each part communicates at the time most appropriate for them. For example, when you want to send an email (an asynchronous tool), you don’t need to wait until the receiver is online because you don’t expect synchronicity. Instead, you can send the email at any time (asynchronously). And the same will happen on the other side: the receiver will answer when is appropriate for them. The communication will build up that way.

Synchronous Is, Mostly, an Outdated Model

Synchronous communication, either online or in person, is the model which requires that the parties involved communicate at the same time, synced. Although synchronicity has certain advantages, as mentioned before, it often tends to be inconvenient, logistically harder, overly time consuming, and not optimal when it comes to developing complex ideas and getting to rock-solid conclusions.

Synchronous communication is inconvenient because when you ask someone to stop what they are doing to discuss something with them, often you will be breaking their flow—and flow is, unquestionably, one of the most critical essentials of the process of creating/doing/making/delivering great things.

Synchronous communication is logistically harder. People must “sync”—and frequently adjust—their individual agendas in order to be online or present at the same time, and only then they will be able to talk. It’s certainly a burden for modern distributed teams, but it’s often inconvenient as well for people who work in the same time zone, and even for people who work in the same physical location, especially if the discussion involves multiple people.

Synchronous communication is overly time consuming. Many topics require time for research, reflection, and experimentation, and when we’re communicating synchronously we tend to extend a discussion to go through such things on the fly, as instantaneous decision-making is expected. Also, when a certain discussion involves multiple people, having all of them discussing together at the same time makes things move slower, at times very confusingly.

Lastly, synchronous communication is not optimal when it comes to developing complex ideas and getting to rock-solid conclusions because, as I’ve just mentioned, we all need to take the time to research, reflect, and experiment, and when we try to do those things on the fly, we often end up doing them poorly, without thoughtful ponderation, due to the obvious time restrictions. (By the way, forget about Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink theory).

Asynchronous Communication Is King!

With asynchronous communication, we don’t need to interrupt people and break their flow state, there is no logistic onus, we don’t waste time, and we have more time to better work on ideas and to get to better conclusions, improving our decision-making process.

Plus, as a bonus, asynchronous communication naturally present us with a reliable record of communication (trains of thought, change requests, decisions, datetime of events, etc.) that can be referred to whenever needed—and we all know how important proper logging and documentation are.

Not to say, of course, that asynchronous communication doesn’t bring its own challenges to the table. For example, people need to learn how to avoid noises, how to be concise, and how to use the proper channels when communicating asynchronously. And, again, not to say, either, that synchronous communication isn’t better in certain situations, especially when it comes to establish or build up bonds between the parts. Nevertheless, for most situations, asynchronous communication is king.

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Notes from 3 Years Working Remotely

During the last 3 years, in which I have been working exclusively remotely, I have been taking diverse notes on the things that, as a remote team, we cannot fail to observe and those we must work hard to avoid, among other general thoughts and conclusions. The following are 5 of those notes.

Documentation

Company’s norms, guidelines for communication, and processes must be clearly documented—with comprehensible clarifications about roles, tools, metrics, goals, etc. The documentation must be close at hand, and leaders must frequently encourage people to take a fresh look at it, as well as keeping everyone informed about any relevant updates. Well-written and faithfully updated documentation is handy for everyone. Bear in mind that old saying often used by business analysts: if it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist at all. There’s no such thing as implicit.

Processes

Before we can document our processes, we must, of course, define them. Well-designed processes will provide the structure and the direction for getting things done efficiently. Also, they facilitate onboarding, communication, planning, tracking, predictability, improvements, etc. I like to believe that well-designed processes work towards making everyone happier.

When designing or improving processes, remember to involve everyone, to keep things as simple as possible but as comprehensive as useful, and to leverage technology—automate all the things. And, of course, never forget continuous improvement.

Feedback

Some remote workers will find harder to give that kind of spontaneous and genuine feedback they would give more naturally in person if they were working in a co-located model. To overcome this hurdle, we must nurture an outstanding culture of openness and exchange, where feedback is encouraged at all times. This is besides, of course, keeping a proper agenda to often gather formal feedback, both from one-on-one meetings and from group meetings (e.g. retrospective meetings).

Appreciation

Of course, at this point in time, all companies, remote or not, should be heavily nurturing a culture of appreciation. Still, remote companies must take an even closer look at how to effectively make employees feel valued, due to the lack of face to face.

Also, keep in mind that appreciation is not only about notice, commend, celebrate, and reward employees’ efforts; it’s also about relentlessly working to create the best remote work environment for them; respecting the individuals and their different opinions and cultures; and supporting them whenever they need, including being mindful when they have personal problems.

Mixed Teams

A mixed model of allocation in which a team has both people working remotely and people working from offices brings in additional challenges. One of them is the communication. When part of the team is working co-located, they must communicate as they were working remotely in order to not create a feeling of segregation and to not break the flow of communication. Everyone must be on the same page at all times. And if occasionally, for any (valid) reason, the co-located team members hold a discussion exclusively among them (which in general should be avoided), a clear and comprehensive summary must be shared with the remote team members straight away.

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Consolidated View on External Jira/Tracking Tools

Wіth mоdеrn web tесhnоlоgіеѕ, yоu can fіnd the bеѕt реорlе for thе job, no matter whеrе thеу live. But wіth distributed tеаmѕ соmmunісаtіоn bесоmеѕ muсh hаrdеr. If уоu hire single соntrасtоr fоr a tеmроrаrу рrоjесt, you mіght encounter minor issues lіkе mіѕundеrѕtаndіngѕ about ѕресѕ, but іf уоu have multiple distributed teams, thеrе іѕ muсh mоrе аt ѕtаkе. That’s where tools like Jira and Confluence come to help. Still in case you run an IT service company there are various challenges when it comes to cooperation with several customers or between several teams with their own Atlassian environments.

What are Top Challenges Here?

Challenge 1: Nо In-Pеrѕоn Intеrасtіоn

Wіth remote соllеаguеѕ, уоu саn’t juѕt ѕtор bу ѕоmеоnе’ѕ dеѕk and have a water сооlеr conversation. Lіkеwіѕе, durіng meetings уоu mіght not be able tо rеаd emotions, feel the еnеrgу in thе rооm, оr рісk uр оn сluеѕ frоm beyond thе ѕсоре оf уоur соllеаguе’ѕ wеbсаm. Communicating effectively becomes fаr hаrdеr, if you try to manage several development groups working distantly.

Solution: Simulate virtual reality for your team—use Stride, Slack or other messaging and video conferencing tools to run stand-ups or other meetings.

Chаllеngе 2: Tіmе Zоnе Mіѕmatch: Issue Or Privilege?

It can be dіffісult to fіnd tіmе overlaps for рrоduсtіvе meetings, especially іf уоur tеаm іѕ mаnу tіmе zоnеѕ аwау. However there are a few advantages—while you were sleeping, several members of your team delivered their work. So if you plan project accordingly, you can deliver even more within the same 24-hour period of time!

Solution: Jira and Confluence for easy documentation management and task tracking in one place. We’ll list some planning tips below.

Chаllеngе 3: Planning & Estimating Tasks

As a project manager you must maintain the task flows for team members and optimize their productivity. If your team is distributed, group planning and tasks estimation might be tricky. If each team plans their internal activities in their own Jira, you need a hub for consolidated view.

Solution: WatchTower add-on for Jira project management tool resolves the issue—that’s how we sync activities with all the customers & their Jira instances. Besides, should we mention you can use Agile Boards?

Chаllеngе 4: Switching Between Environments

If all our teams worked with the same tools before starting to work together, that would a dream case. In fact, we often see that even using the same Atlassian tools, teams work with different add-ons, cloud/server versions, or replace some of the tools with others. This applies to the Client-Contractor cooperation, too. It is often the case that Client is using his Jira environment for communicating and assigning tasks for Contractor. While Contractor uses his own Jira instance to log all tasks and keep activities for different clients in one place for better tracking. Here we face the challenge of cross referencing of issues in different Jiras and the necessity to switch between various environments.How often do you find your developer’s hours logged in your internal Jira, but not in Client’s one? If your billing is chained to Jira, that’s what can happen one day.

Solution: Install WatchTower to save time on copy-paste operations and syncing.

So How Does WatchTower Really Work?

Watchtower рrоvіdеѕ уоu with a capability of collecting tasks frоm multірlе environments, merging JIRA projects, аnd showing thеm on a single Agile board. Install it and create your own consolidated bоаrd by аddіng addresses оf JIRA hоѕtѕ from which рrоjесt dаtа will be pulled. The app can be connected to Clоud and Server іnѕtаnсеѕ simultaneously. Bу dеfаult, аll уоur іѕѕuеѕ аrе not vіѕіblе оn the bоаrd. As another dimension you can split issues by swimlanes organized by sources for instance. There уоu саn еаѕіlу rеоrdеr the соlumnѕ and rеnаmе thеm. Thіѕ wау уоu саn сuѕtоmіzе the lооk оf your bоаrd and mаkе іt handy tо use. After easy configuration the WatchTower board looks much like any other task board you already got used to. You can update statuses and provide supplementary information, including worklogs or cross-references to related issues.

What else? You саn еаѕіlу сhаngе thе ѕtаtuѕ оf уоur issues by dragging thеm across thе board tо thе appropriate column and by that updating the status details in the original destination—it is all done without leaving your WatchTower environment. Besides, WatchTower can be еxtrеmеlу helpful іf your сlіеntѕ аѕѕіgn tаѕkѕ to уоu іn their оwn JIRA іnѕtаnсеѕ—this way you will always see new critical assignment in your “home” environment.

Since this tool was created by the team, who worked with customers with their internal Jira instances, we know the issue from inside and also plan to аdd mоrе fеаturеѕ: applying quісk fіltеrѕ, viewing іѕѕuе dеtаіlѕ, commenting оn іѕѕuеѕ or pulling data from other project management teams.

If It’s Your First Time Meeting Watchtower, Here Is Our Current Set of Features

Keep track of all projects you are involved in.

WatchTower acts as a unified board for multiple Jira instances by compiling the issues from numerous sources. Having the app installed, you can easily monitor all your issues pulled from Cloud and Server Jiras to a single Agile board. After you configured the locations, where the necessary data resides, you are free to:

  • Fine-tune the pulled data based on JQL;
  • Map issue statuses of all configured instances to board columns;
  • Enjoy the user experience from JIRA Agile Boards;
  • Make use of custom transition screens from source Jiras.

Stay current with the project changes.

Once you have all issues arranged by swimlanes and allocated in appropriate columns you can start using WatchTower to the full. Change statuses, provide comments, worklogs and other details on the issue within the WatchTower board alone—all updates will be reflected in the original Jira. It goes the opposite track as well, WatchTower traces the status changes in original sources and notifies you if the configuration should be adjusted.

Board sharing is another useful feature to keep up on the project performance—share the board, add users and assign different access roles to them.

Have secure and reliable control of sensitive data.

When configuring your Jira environments in WatchTower, you are asked to provide relevant credentials to access the remote sources. However, WatchTower doesn’t store any of your personal data—it uses unique access tokens to interact with configured locations.

Wrарріng It Up

Dіѕtrіbutеd wоrk bесаmе a rеаlіtу. Mоrе аnd mоrе соmраnіеѕ choose thіѕ wау to bооѕt their prosperity. Sоmе bіg рlауеrѕ оn thе mаrkеt already рrоvеd tо be grеаt еxаmрlеѕ оf distributed tеаmѕ. These соmраnіеѕ іnсludе Buffеr, Zаріеr, InVіѕіоn, Hеlр Sсоut, аnd many more. So іf уоu are wіllіng tо оrgаnіzе уоur work and switch tо dіѕtrіbutеd tеаmѕ, you can do it more easily now. Did you also stick to Jira? Book a demo of WatchTower to see, how you can keep your team focused on their work!

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Project Management Tools for Distributed Teams With Free Plans and Trials

Working on a software development project isn’t easy. There are a lot of involved people, resources, and a plethora of other project related details. Each task can be a real challenge to anyone from a team. But a project manager as a coordinator faces challenges of different natures on a regular basis. And one of the most significant points to deal with for him or her is to organize the way a team works on a project.

There are two scenarios of working with a team. If every team member works in the same building, or let’s say, under the same roof, you have a co-located team. If someone works not in your office space but remotely, even in a different time zone far from you, you have a distributed team.

Regardless of locations, it is not easy to establish a sound software development project process. Yet, it seems that managing a co-located team is a little bit easier. In this case, you can assign tasks, share spontaneous ideas, and control processes even during a coffee break.

Does it mean that managing distributed teams is much more difficult? Yes, in some way it is. Fortunately, there are project management tools that help to be on the same page of a project even if you are countries and oceans away. Unfortunately, there are so many of them with different functionality and performance capacities so it is easy to get lost.

I narrow a long list to 5 tools with free plans and trials to save your time. In the article, you will find only project management tools. If you need some other software, please, refer to this article.

1. JIRA Software (Cloud)

Best for: Bug and issue tracking and organizing sprints.

As they state on their site, JIRA is number 1 software development tool used by Agile teams. Actually, there is nothing false in this statement. You probably know it for yourself.

In the cloud version, developers are able to plan, track, and release software anytime from one place. Users can also create real-time reports based on visual data. Thus, a manager and a team can be sure that their project has a complete coverage from the start and till the end. In general, no serious development team can do without this all-in-one solution.

What’s special about the tool?

JIRA Software has hundreds of add-ons on Atlassian Marketplace. Users can organize all their work in one tool, choosing apps they need for better performance. Also, a great variety of other popular tools have integration with JIRA.

At the same time, you will need much time to explore it. This is definitely a significant drawback.

Pricing

There is a free 7-day trial. It costs $10 per month for teams up to 10 users. For Growing teams, it starts from $7 per user per month (up to 100 users).

2. Trello

Best for: Kanban boards.

This simple and intuitive, yet powerful tool gives users a visual way to collaborate on projects. It deploys a popular Kanban approach. It means that here you deal with boards that are actual projects and cards that represent tasks.

The tool is very simple, indeed. Users have all boards and all cards right in front of them. At the same time, it is possible to limit the number of tasks for any given stage. Trello allows keeping track of project progress and following deadlines. These are basic but significant features needed for work with distributed teams. Also, collaboration in the tool allows commenting on tasks and attaching files.

What’s special about the tool?

As I’ve said, Trello is simple, easy to understand, and powerful tool. It is popular among small startups as well as huge companies like Pixar, Google, and National Geographic.

The app offers rich integration options and lots of power-ups to get most for your distributed teams.

Pricing

There is a free plan. Paid plans start from $9.99 per user/month.

3. GanttPRO

Best for: Gantt charts.

Based on a Gantt chart approach, GanttPRO allows working with tasks right on a timeline. This is what makes differences with other above-described tools where users have cards. Once you create a task and set start/end dates for it, it gets a clear visualization as a horizontal bar along a timeline.

All the team members have immediate access to their projects and tasks from any place. The tool has intuitive UX/UI design. Even if you are new to a Gantt chart, it won’t take much time from you to become an advanced user.

At the moment, the tool has integration only with Cloud version of JIRA Software.

What’s special about the tool?

Collaboration makes GanttPRO stand out from other competitors. Users can comment on tasks and attach files to them. Real-time notifications keep team members updated about any changes. History of changes allows you to browse the whole project and, if necessary, restore any needed version of a chart.

In GanttPRO, there are plenty of ready-made templates designed for a variety of professional spheres.

Pricing

There is a free 14-day trial with all the features open. The tool offers dynamic pricing plans.

4. Asana

Best for: for complex workflows even in large teams.

This is one of the most popular project and tasks management tools that you can find on the market. Users organize their work in it in minutes and follow all the progress with great visualization.

Collaboration is vital when working with distributed teams. Asana makes collaboration and communication go smoothly, with significant facilitation. In general, teams organize their work in a common way. They can create workspaces with multiple if needed, projects. The latter, in their turn, can include multiple tasks.

What’s special about the tool?

There are more than 100 integrations with this software. Also, focus mode features looks solid. It offers possibilities for users to create custom fields and track only relevant and important tasks. Thus, teams do not get lost in an endless chain of upcoming tasks.

Pricing

There is a free plan that allows up to 15 team members and unlimited tasks and projects. Paid versions start from $9.99 per user per month if billed annually.

5. Mavenlink

Best for: Project management, resource planning, time tracking, and billing.

As you see, the tool has a few spheres of application, not only project management. It also offers resource planning, collaboration, and financial tools. This powerful software allows distributed teams to work with tasks and their dependencies in real-time. Also, users keep track of time frames and see where troubles can occur.

As Mavenlink is rich in features, for small teams it may be too overloaded, thus, difficult to work in. But big teams with multiple projects and resources will benefit from using this powerful tool.

What’s special about the tool?

A manager can follow the whole lifecycle of a project. Mavenlink serves well for collaboration, team management, time and budget tracking, invoicing and reporting.

The tool has powerful searching possibilities. Once you put data, you’ll never lose it. You won’t need to waste your time searching for required information in a variety of comments and attachments.

Mavenlink has integrations with a lot of other popular tools.

Pricing

There is a 10-day free trial. Team plans start from $19 per 5 users per month.

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