This is a guest post by Simon Herd, Co-founder and CEO of ThinkTilt, creators of ProForma. ProForma provides an extensive library of easy-to-use, customizable forms to bring the functionality and convenience of JIRA Service Desk to all business teams.

We are everywhere. 

Well, maybe not everywhere, but we do have a team that is spread across multiple continents. As a small software company with a diverse team of engineers, marketers, and operations folks, we each have a lot of responsibility and ownership over our projects and product. We rarely get to see each other face to face, and getting everyone online at the same time is a challenge. So how do we manage to function as a team?

We are guided by few simple principles:

  • We believe in transparency. It’s important to the team that everyone can know and share what other members of the team are working on.
  • We believe in efficiency. We want all communications and information to be easily accessible and not produce undue admin overhead.

In order to support these principles in our work as a distributed team, we’ve come up with some interesting strategies that we think can help other teams who work across a wide variety of times, places, and spaces.

1. Daily blog posts

While each member of our team is working on different tasks, the outcome and overall success of our project depends on our ability to collaborate and build on each other’s strengths.  We want to cultivate the spontaneous flow of ideas that happens when people from different disciplines work together. We want to be able to brainstorm, question, comment and compliment work well done.

Meetings are a geographic impossibility and getting together online would require some members or our team to be working in the middle of the night.  So instead we ask every team member to write a quick blog post about the work they did on a given day. Here’s how it works:

  • Team members create a post in a central space on Confluence.  We use our initials and the date as the title of the post (e.g.  SH – 20 January 2017)
  • In the post, we list what we worked on that day, including links to Confluence pages or Jira issues as appropriate.  We also list what we’re working on next and Issues encountered.  This way everyone knows where everyone else is at, where they’re going and what help they need.
  • We read each other’s posts and use the “Like” button to indicate that we’ve read them.
  • We use comments (inline or at the end of the post) to pose and answer questions.

2. Just say no to email

Our team does not use email for internal communication.  Instead we have discussions in HipChat rooms or one-to-one HipChat sessions.  The advantage is obvious.  Nothing important gets buried in someone’s inbox.

However, this system also requires adherence to a few ground rules.  Just because HipChat is an instant messaging tool does not mean we expect everyone to respond instantly, unless it’s the Support/DevOps room of course. We also encourage good messaging etiquette by asking people to summarise their messages by tagging the people they need input from, setting out what they need them to do and the timeframe in which they need a response.

3. Everything in its place

Everything we create – be it a written document, a presentation or a screenshot – is stored so it can be referred to and, hopefully, reused. This means it has to be easy for any member of the team to find. 

The secret is to get everyone accustomed to storing their work in the relevant Confluence space and page. In Confluence, everything is organized in spaces, which are a collection of related pages. For example, we keep all of our marketing content and draft blog posts in our “Content & Marketing” space. The space is then made up of individual pages for each piece of content or post, which can be created, reviewed and discussed by the whole team. Having a clear idea of how you want to organize your Confluence space before creating content in it is a great way to stay organized.

Pro tip: For more on how to organize Confluence, check out this helpful guide.

4. Clearing the clutter

Of course, with everyone creating documents in Confluence, there is the risk that, left untended, our space could become just as disorderly as the worst email inbox.  Like good roommates, we take joint responsibility for the housekeeping. Comments, in particular, is one area where helpful information or decisions can get buried. That’s why everyone is responsible for ensuring that anything important in a page’s comments is actually incorporated back into the page itself and the relevant comments deleted.

Just because you work on a distributed team doesn’t mean you have to attend meetings in the middle of the night or feel disconnected from your colleagues! With the right collaboration strategies, practices and tools, remote teams can easily get things done together and contribute toward the same goal, no matter where they are in the world.

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Get your team on the same page with Confluence. Confluence is a great way for distributed teams to stay connected, share information, and collaborate (in everyone’s own timezone).

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