Colony Tips for Remote Working

So you’ve decided to join the Hackathon. What next?

Well, first you’re going to want to register by creating an issue for your project.

You should also join the gitter to say hai and connect with potential collaborators.

That last point is an important one. Collaboration is key, and collaboration can be much harder when everyone is not in the same physical space as they might be during a Hackathon IRL.

But coordinating entirely on teh internets is really what this hackathon is all about, and we on the Colony team have some tips for getting your projects and teams working smoothly, even if you are scattered around the planet, and have never met IRL.

How the Colony team works

The Colony team is distributed around 8+ countries and 7+ time zones, which means communication can be difficult.

On top of that, we have a pretty lightweight and autonomous culture; continuously balancing sufficient formal processes and systems to keep everyone in sync and accountable, with enough flexibility for self organisation.

This means everyone needs to be just a little bit more conscious about how we communicate and coordinate with each other.

That starts with some general attitudes:

Communicate with candor and kindness.

  • Empathy can go a long way. Feedback is a gift; it’s how we grow. But, remember that the person on the other side of the fiber-optic has a life every bit as complex as yours, and they too are working within that larger context of challenges, obligations, hopes, and fears. Be an adult and everything will work out.
  • Be as precise and thorough as possible. It’s better to spend the extra time to say something once rather than needing to elaborate again later.
  • Emoji, pictures, and video are your friends. Text is not the only way to express yourself, and especially when explaining a point or clarifying an issue related to work, it’s often a good idea to tell and show.
  • Keep it open by default. Even if others are not directly involved in a conversation, they should still be able to read it to keep informed about what’s going on. Back-channeling through direct messages is a sure-fire way to discombobulate a team, and should be avoided unless you’ve got to talk about truly private matters.

So attach a screenshot or terrible M$ paint drawing to clarify what you mean. Specify the lines in the code you’re going to refactor today and remind your team that they’ll need to rebase. Ask teammates for help earlier than you think you’re going to need it. Give someone a 💪 🙏 🙌 when they’ve done you or the project a solid.

The right tool for the right job

Sometimes where you choose to communicate is just as important as how you do so. These are the general best-practices that Colony uses to segment and organize work-related conversations:

  • For real-time conversations and quick correspondences, the chatroom is good. Just be aware that messages are ephemeral, and it’s a pain to scroll through a bunch of chatter to get to something important.
  • For asynchronous and more technical stuff, use Github. Issues keep things organized, and are much better than a chat thread for focused discussions. Take some time to write your messages clearly, especially if the relevant people are going to be reading and responding hours later. Keep the first line in your commit messages short and to-the-point, then elaborate on the next line.
  • Really important things should go into a permanent document like Github gist, Dropbox paper, or Google doc. Keeping a single, canonical record of an idea is a best-practice to avoid confusion or repetition. These standalone documents can be pinned, updated, and shared so that everyone is on the same page, all the time.

The Hackathon Gitter and colonyHackathon repository are good for coordinating generally and interacting with other teams, but you’re likely going to want to utilize more tools to get your project going.

Whatever extra tools or platforms you use, remember that it’s easy for the lines of communication to get fragmented — try to strike a balance between having things all in one chaotic place and having things scattered around in isolated channels.

Set stretch goals, check in often.

At Colony, we use the OKR method to help stay in sync.

We set ambitious objectives for ourselves and decide the key results that will tell us how close we’ve come to meeting them.

Our OKRs get set once per quarter, and take this form:

Objective: An ambitious goal to achieve

KRs: How that goal will be measured

A snippet from our last OKR grading session

One important principle in OKR setting is that objectives should be stretch goals. When scored between 0.0–1.0, the ideal score is 0.7. If you get a 1.0, you sandbagged on your goals.

For the Hackathon, a full set of OKRs is a bit much, but your team might find it helpful and motivating to set just one or two goals for the project, and decide together on the best way to make your goals specific and measurable.

An all-team video chat is a great way to go over your goals and check in with everyone. For a distributed team, this face-time is also a really important opportunity to bond and connect with the people you work with.

We do an OKR meeting every 2 weeks, and start each meeting with a short ‘icebreaker’ question for everyone to answer in turn before getting down to business. We also put all the updates into a document before the meeting for people to follow along and reference later.

Finally, we stay aligned by sharing a daily status report in our #daily_standup channel on Slack.

The daily standup is just a quick update to keep the rest of the team informed about what you’ve been working on and what you will be working on, so that others can plan their own work more effectively.

Build together

So those are some of the principles and practices we’ve used to build Colony as a distributed team. Perhaps they’ll be some help for the Hackathon teams also seeking to maximize their remote coordination potential.

We hope that you’ll take the philosophy of open organizations to heart, and keep your projects welcoming to any and all who want to contribute, wherever they’re signing in from.

If you have any feedback or stories to share, reach out to us on Twitter.

Colony is a platform for open organizations.

Join the discussion on Discourse, follow us on Twitter, sign up for (occasional) email updates, or if you’re feeling old-skool, drop us an email.