With the current coronavirus crisis (also known as COVID-19), we thought it could be useful to share how we have been working remotely over the last 10 years and what you can learn from our experience.
Coding Mammoth was originally founded 16 May 2008. From day one, we did not work like a typical company. We have only recently moved into an official office a few months ago (more about that in our blog) . In the past, Coding Mammoth was a virtual company and we worked at multiple locations, like coworking spaces in Ghent and Antwerp and rented private offices in Edegem. We even worked on a boat for some months! Coding Mammoth is not registered as an employer, so we only work with contractors (designers, software developers, marketers and more) with long-term contracts. This requires a "remote setup" so that our people have the opportunity to work when they want, and where they want.
Communication is crucial for any company. We have been using Slack since day one and it works great. However, it's important to set some rules. Don't expect or enforce instant replies. (Otherwise, everyone will just be staring at the Slack window to be able to give prompts answers.) Instead, allow "slow, async" discussions. Only use mentions (which is mentioning someone's username, which triggers a notification on their screen) when you need an immediate reply. Otherwise, they will lose all power and you'll jump back to calling people... which is counterproductive. Slack works on all platforms and so do the notifications.
For every meeting, we quickly evaluate if we want to use a Slack text channel (in this case we expect full attention from the participants - as if they were sitting in the same room), or if we should do it over a video call. Slack allows video calls and you can even share your screen. This way you can give a presentation or just show people what you are talking about. Of course, there are other tools that you can use for the same purpose, such as Zoom , Google Hangout and Skype, but Slack is still our favourite. We try to avoid (video) calls at all costs, but some discussions and stand-ups are way quicker and more efficient over a video call.
In order to reduce internal communication, it is important to have a knowledge base so that people can look stuff up instead of bugging each other over Slack to get answers. It's important to have a great tool that supports real- time collaboration. It should allow people to edit files at the same time and add comments in real-time. It is important to have a structured approach (use the right set-up, labels, categories and rules) and of course access rights. We experimented with multiple tools, such as GitHub Wiki, Google Suite, Atlassian Confluence, .. but we eventually ended up with Notion. The great thing about Notion is that it combines all powers of the other tools and provides a nice working environment. Notion is like a wiki, while allowing real-time collaboration and allowing easy organisation and structure 🙌
We try to reduce emails to a bare minimum, but sometimes there is no other option. We wasted quite some time in hosting our own email server... and ended up switching to Google Suite . Even though we don't like their Google Hangouts (what a CPU consumer) , Google Docs, Google Drive,.. the email hosting is 👌
While communication and having a knowledge base is important, task lists are still necessary. Everyone needs to know what they should be doing, and the work should be organised. We tried multiple tools like GitHub issues, Trello and more, but decided to use Atlassian Jira for this. While it's quite complex to set up, Jira allows you to easily manage multiple projects, sprint boards, file tickets and organise them without turning it into a day job. We also connected Jira to our Slack to get instant notifications of the progress, and we use Google Calendar to easily plan meetings 😀
Coding Mammoth is a software company, so we have an agile workflow consisting of two-week sprints. At the start of each sprint, we have a short retrospective during which we review the previous sprint and go over the achieved or missed targets. We tend to do this face-to-face at our office so that we can combine it with brainstorm sessions for the next sprint and discuss any problems we want to tackle, but you can do this remotely as well.
After seeing this list, you may wonder why we got our own office a few months back... Even though we love working from home or from a coworking space, it is still nice to have our own spot, especially when you are working with other people. Our office is empty or half-empty most of the time, but it allows us to have clients and guest over for coffee and meetings whenever we want. Working remotely is lovely, but it also has some downsides like feeling lonely (we try to fix that by having fun on our off-topic channels on Slack, and in virtual coffee rooms ). Oh, another reason for our office is of course that we needed a place to store al our mammoths 😬— So, in conclusion: you are always welcome at our office for a coffee, but lets first follow the best practices of the WHO. Good luck with setting up your remote workplace, and stay safe!