As companies look for more ways to entice talented people to join them, remote working has become a big part of their pitch. By remote working, I don't mean simply telecommuting—I'm also including those who work in an office away from management. At Mediacurrent, we have 30 employees in seven different states and only five of them work in the same office. That requires us to have tools and processes in place to make sure we serve our clients superbly as well as maintain at least some coworker bond.
Some of what we do has evolved over the years the company has been in business—some are ideas we've borrowed from other companies. We wanted to share some of what we do with you in the hopes that you'll find these ideas useful.
Virtual water coolers
Everything we will talk about boils down to one thing: communication. If I can't walk over to your desk to talk about a project or see how things our going, that level of touch has to be replicated. We do this a few ways at Mediacurrent. Our most intimate level of communication is one-on-one sessions. We have many frustrations with Skype but, right now, it serves our purposes and no other instant messaging client gives us the same level of features. We also will group chats by project—I have a group for each project I manage so I can hit the whole team with a question or update when needed.
We also use those same groups to have short morning meetings to catch up on status and needs for the day. Since all our team members serve more than one client, these morning meetings have proven very useful to keeping everyone updated. Because any single person can be involved in two or three, I keep these as short as possible—we report status and blockers and close the call. I also freely cancel them if there is no apparant need and the team just reports their status through chat.
We also use Yammer as a tool to communicate companywide. Skype is good for quick conversations but can be noisy if everyone is using it at a whim. Every day, each person puts a list of three to four things they are going to tackle that day. While I already get that on a project-specific basis when I do the morning meetings, there are times when the Yammer thread comes in handy if I need to see if anyone's available. We also use it to ask advice or technical questions - everyone has quick access to it, yet it's a _pull_ communication. By that, I mean that it can be ignored if I'm buried in a client deliverable becuse I can choose when to go look at Yammer. Skype, as a push communication, is a little harder to ignore.
Finally, we use Open Atrium as our project management system. OA keeps me informed on when a teammate has completed a task or is asking the client for further direction. It also serves as a way to store historical information about a project that Yammer and Skype don't do.
These are all vital tools for business purpose but we also use them to help keep our coworker bonds growing stronger. In Skype, we have a couple of non-project related chats. There are eight of us who work in Florida. We get together often for coworking so we have our own chat, mostly about who's working where and when, but also about cycling and the weather (high of 72 today for those of you suffering in the snow). We also have a companywide chat that serves as a sidechannel for our weekly staff meetings. At the most informal level, we have an internal IRC channel. This is mostly where developers can visit the virtual water cooloer to blow off steam or take a break.
Livening up staff meetings
Speaking of the weekly staff meetings, those serve two purposes for us. First, it allows us to pass along any companywide details regarding holidays, benefits, etc. but we also use the last part of the meeting as a knowledgeshare. Every week, someone will do roughly a half-hour on a subject—mostly Drupal related but not always. This adds to the cohesion as it allows the whole company to interact with that one person and get a better feeling for their personality. This is actually something I've used at other companies - knowledgeshares give a person the chance to show off, the chance to grow their speaking skills and the chance for everyone to find out more about that person.
On the purely whimsical side, we also started TMI (too much information) Thursdays. The idea here is completely optional participation in a question sharing something personal about each team member. We've kept the TMI part of it pretty light—the questions have ranged from pictures of each person's office space to what they got for the holidays. Again, this serves as a way to get to know everyone better as people and not just the themer I need for that project.
Dave spoke previously about the culture we have at Mediacurrent. Each of these tools and how we use them also shape who we are. We continue to find new ideas to incorporate into our day-to-day lives and look forward to hearing about others.
[video] Working at Mediacurrent