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Open Remote Collaboration

06 Jan 2014

Creating an open culture with a remote team can be tricky. To create software effectively we need to be supporting each other, coordinating what work needs doing and sharing what we learn. When we are sat around a table in an office this can happen naturally (although often doesn't), when you're remote it needs to be deliberate.

When we are hundreds of miles apart we can't see when our teammates need help. We can't overhear conversations. And they can't hear us. This can help us stay focused but at what price?

For a team to be a team it needs to be open. Openness brings trust through mutual understanding. If I run in to a problem that you were associated with, and I can't see what really happened then I'll blame you. If I don't do this openly, you don't get to clear up the understanding; the trust between us deteriorates. When this happens the team quickly dissolves into a group of "Us and Thems" and work stops being satisfying.

So how can we make remote more open?

Remote Pairing?

If pairing is your thing (and if it isn't "have you really tried?") then doing it remotely is even more joyous. With a shared screen or terminal and speaking through a headset you can be connected without feeling crowded. Some people have even started working this way when they're in the office.

A virtual standup?

Getting together and sharing what you've discovered and what's bugging you, can get people into an open mindset for the day. Ideally I'd do this with video but just audio or a chatroom can work, but please not email.

An open chatroom?

Some things just can't and shouldn't wait. Updating a team chat with what you've just discovered or asking for some help can encourage openness in real time, but is this enough? Tools like Sqwiggle also allow you to see what each other are doing at any time by taking still picture of you with a webcam every few seconds. This is really open, there is nowhere to hide, but then if you really trust each other...

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