At about.me, we are a geographically distributed team. This is how we worked in the early months as a young startup and it has basically continued in the same manner, after our site went live and after our company was acquired by Aol.
In practice this allows us a great deal of flexibility. Although we have a corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, we do not have to work from there all the time. Some of us come into the office regularly, while working from home on other days. Others come in occasionally, while working from other places (such as their home office, coffee shops, etc.) the majority of the time.
Especially in this industry, there are of course a good number of other companies who allow similar flexibility. However, each team is unique and a distributed team arrangement does have its challenges. In this post I am presenting a few things that have been working well for us.
- We start a lot of conversations around new features or ideas for the product in email. User Interface and other design discussions are carried on in Basecamp and we make sure to keep track of development issues, such as bug fixes or feature development in Fogbugz.
- The entire team meets up in a phone conference twice a week. Every team member gets to update the others on what they have been up to and point out any stumbling blocks. We’re a small team and everyone has a good general idea what everyone else is focusing on during the week.
- We use Campfire for group chat. It allows us to have quick, informal conversations to discuss designs, features, development approaches and team news. This is where we coordinate releases and it is also our water cooler. Since we aren’t all in the same office, we get together here to just shoot the breeze, too.
- Some collaborations really benefit from quick chats. In those cases we tend to use instant messenger, skype or an actual phone call, often in that order of preference.
- Every couple months or so, we all make an effort to get together in person. It is often great to share a whiteboard while bouncing ideas back and forth. At least as importantly, it is also good to simply get everyone together in the same room, have lunch together.
- We are of course always interested in trying out promising new tools – and have done so multiple times over the past year.
It is all about communication.