Mono is a remote team: Xavier is in Ghent, Jan is in Brussels and I am in Tokyo. Our clients are mostly located in Belgium, but we are looking to expand our clientele across the border.
There is a time zone difference of 7 hours between Brussels and Tokyo. We solve this by scheduling meetings when it’s morning in Belgium. Mostly the time zones are not a big issue because we use a lot of asynchronous communication tools.
As noted in my recent presentation sometimes this gives us the benefit of handing off work to a member of the team in a different timezone, allowing us to get things done faster.
We couldn’t do our work if it wasn’t for the internet and the great tools available these days to do remote work efficiently. The main tools we use for communication are Slack, Skype, Basecamp, Github Issues and e-mail.
Slack is used for day-to-day communication. There are channels like
#feedback to post designs and ask feedback from the team,
#theloop to show what you are working on, and private groups for every project to keep things tidy. I love the Slack feature that when it detects you are not online you get the messages you missed in your e-mail.
Basecamp acts as a reference platform, mostly for storing decisions and keeping a larger group of people in the loop. We find that when working across multiple teams it’s helpful to have a single point of reference for all communication. A chat channel for 10+ people gets too wieldy, so we prefer to keep everyone in the loop using Basecamp.
Skype is heavily used for meetings. We especially love the screen sharing functionality. We’ve tried and tested a number of other solutions (including Hangouts and solutions by Cisco) but keep returning to Skype. Not everyone is used to remote communication, but people are likely to have a Skype account (Thanks Microsoft!). Recently we were charmed by the ease of use of appear.in.
Github Issues acts a shared to-do list in larger code-based projects. If the project doesn’t have a coding component, the to-do lists in Basecamp work well.
All this talk about remote work might make you wonder: what about the real life? Isn’t it better to meet in person?
I think it’s essential to do so, especially at the start of a bigger project. Whenever we have the chance, we will meet in person. This counts for our relationship with our clients as well as the team.
As for the team, to strengthen our bonds we are planning a little get together in Tokyo for the end of the year (read: eat sushi and drink Japanese sake while debating user interface design). We are also looking for a design conference to go to together.
For us, remote work is a balance act where remote wins at the moment. There are obvious advantages like a reduction in travel time, location independence and efficiency. But working remotely can have disadvantages as well. It can be lonely at times (even in a coworking space); and it’s harder to grasp the emotions that are going on in “the office” – for better or for worse.
From a “manager” perspective it’s hard to track what employees are doing, so you need a team that takes a lot of responsibility themselves. This requires trust and a certain kind of person.
I think we have to be careful as a company to strike the right balance between online and offline communication.
If you have any questions, notes or comments, feel free to e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would please me if you could share our interface designer job offer to anyone you think would be interested.