A unified team that works from several different locations can be a challenge. Especially when they’re in several different time zones. Not to mention that we work on projects spanning three continents.
Then how did we manage to work like a well-oiled, problem solving machine and do it well?
Introducing our favorite communication tool: Slack!
First you should know that we only hire top-notch people with complementary skills. Moreover, our team has to be dedicated and ever curious, always willing to learn new things and never take their eyes off the deliverable.
Let’s just say that the bar at Vitamin Software is quite high and we can’t find colleagues located in the same place. That’s why our team is spread out over 3 time zones.
Slack keeps reminding us of that, every time we want the mention the whole #home @channel. And it’s exactly this app that helps us create a cohesive team and the feeling that each one of us is part of that team. This is our main solution for fast and efficient communication, which gets centralized in one app: the Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge.
Be it that it’s within the team itself, with our clients from all over the world or just our dependable, no-fuss butler-bots, informing us about recent dev-ops events.
Moreover, it’s adaptable, so we can customize it in any way, to make it easier for us to connect.
Here are a few insights:
Slack lets us create channels, which we can name so they can be easily identified. Access privileges are managed through invites and varying degrees of visibility.
This enables us to create a different channel for each project we work on, and get both clients and team involved in the back-and-forth. Of course, there are also messages that are of no interest to our client, so why bother them with it? We just create an #projectname-private channel for internal messages.
The result is a fast-paced feedback loop for everyone involved, since participation is as easy as chatting. Including the client means that we can get relevant feedback much faster and thus minimize going down paths that the client ultimately might not approve of. Work is more focused, the team less stressed. Faster delivery. Happier clients, that really admired that we:
“[…] consistently reach out for feedback and try to find ways of doing a better job.”
— Ben Phillips, CTO and CoFounder of YCombinator success story Thread.com
However, as you already know, sometimes writing slows things down. We don’t fret though, because Slack provides integration with Google Hangouts (which is our preferred video chat app). This makes setting up an online video call and inviting an entire channel to join in as easy as typing “/hangout”.
And since the team members who work on any given project and the client are already on said channel, we can jump right to it. We also know that putting a face to words and work is important, because it establishes a deeper connection between us.
All of the integrations! (or not!)
This is not the only integration Slack provides. You can find one for most of the tools you use to communicate, manage projects, handle dev-ops or you can write your own. The hazard here is that a lot of teams clog it with a lot of integrations that look or sound cool, but that they end up never using.
That’s why keep our collection to a bare minimum and make the most of it, by using each one on a daily basis. After all, the purpose of these integrations is to make life easier and projects smoother, not just exist, forgotten.
We take the pulse of a project in an instant with the Github integration. We use Github for most of our projects and Slack allows us to track post commits, pull requests and any activity on Github issues, in the channel of our choosing.
Jenkins is our dev-ops butler. Customizable to no end, it supports building, deploying and automating any project. The fact that we can funnel build notifications to individual Slack channels just makes dev-ops (which most managers dread) that much easier.
“Dev-ops: no problem!”
We handle project briefs, meeting notes, sprint breakdowns and so much more with Google Drive. Saying how secure and accessible it is or how easy it is to have others collaborate is probably a moot point by now. Not only does Slack provide an inline file preview, but it indexes shared files so that you can find and access them easily.
Which brings us to our next point: content management. How difficult is it usually to find that one file? That awesome testimonial? That important feedback you got from a client? For us it’s a piece of cake.
That’s because its search function is adaptable, so that we can quickly pinpoint whatever tidbit of content we’re looking for. Because it indexes what we share, we can efficiently set up and then retrieve a project’s files repositories. In turn, fishing for the needed result becomes unbelievably fast. It saves us a lot of time, which we can then spend solving the client’s issues.
Never miss a thing
Last, but not least, Slack is mobile. You can have it on your desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, smartwatch, just name it. This means that we get notifications, even if we’re at our workstation, on a lunch break or just answering nature’s call, and can quickly reply. This also makes it feel as though all of us were in the same office, even though we’re oceans apart.
We would also like to tip our hat to a mobile feature. On the smartphone app, channels with unread messages appear at the top of the list, so you don’t have to scroll to find them. This gives us a quick overview of the messages we’ve missed while not looking at the app (after all, we’ve got work to do).
The Bottom Line
Our team is our pride and Slack is the most important communication tool we use. Not only does it allow for transparency with the client, but it also offers our team an office space. It allows us to chat, comment and give feedback, as if we were never more than two feet away, and offers quick overviews of all of our projects. Because we’re always just a @mention away.
But most of all, it creates a community feeling for our spread out team.
Truly being a united team is how we get the job done. It’s how we take on challenges…