Working from home is a hot topic in recent weeks–this will not change soon for sure. At SoftwarePlant, we used to believe that only direct communication could deliver significant results. That’s why this work model has been occasional.
The entire crew of over 100 people has switched to a remote mode overnight, including our Design Team. What challenges did we have to deal with, and how did we do it?
Arranging face-to-face meetings in the office was a big challenge before. Our team is involved in the work of all the development and product teams on a daily basis, so the chances of finding 30 minutes to “catch up” were often quite poor. It has changed.
We are proud to have a flat organizational structure, so we went a step further. We decided to rotate the role of a Scrum Master every day. We believe that everyone should be equally involved in such ceremonies, especially at this special time. It certainly strengthens the team spirit and makes each of us more engaged.
Since we work in cozy slippers, we all are on Zoom every day at 8.30 AM. We tried to do stand-up’s on Skype and Hangouts before, but finally, we chose this magnifying platform for a couple of reasons:
- The quality is close to perfect.
- Sharing the screen does not exclude the presenter from observing other participants when working on a single monitor.
- Managing all users (silencing them, switching video focus) is a child’s play.
- Sharing insights on an e-whiteboard is pure fun.
- Playing with the virtual background wakes up better than coffee.
- With standard plans, the 40-minute limit per meeting is not a problem.
Tools we use
We keep the Sprint goals in the very App we design–BigPicture (we are the dogfooding enthusiasts). With the Roadmap module, we can easily track the status of all Sprint objectives and observe the overall progress in percentages. That’s how we all are on the same page, and we can prevent possible delays.
When the Sprint objectives are defined, it’s time to decompose them into tasks. That’s when the BigPicture Board module comes in handy. We can effortlessly divide large pieces of cake into smaller ones–easy to specify, work on, and deliver.
During the stand-up’s, Scrum Master shares the screen and goes through all the task reports available in BigPicture. We are giving comments on specific Jira issues and sharing feedback on ongoing sketches. We mostly work in Figma (big hugs for you, guys 🥳), so the embedded designs are always on the table.
When the Sprint comes to an end, it is time for a demo and retrospective sessions. These meetings last about an hour, so Zoom (with its standard plan) stops being the right solution. As the whole company is using the G Suite, we are hanging on to Hangouts (yeah!) where meetings are joined by PMs and stakeholders. With this Google Chrome plug-in, we can see everyone on one screen–it’s a real lifesaver.
When it comes to daily work, the entire SoftwarePlant crew communicates with each other via Slack. Each team has its public channel, which is extremely useful to “trace” the people responsible for the particular areas of the ongoing tasks.
Slack also offers video calls. The quality is not as good as it is in Zoom, but it’s just right for ad-hoc communication, even if it’s just a voice one. You’ll appreciate the ease of adding more colleagues to an ongoing call, the ability to share the screen, and “drawing” on the presented material.
As I have written before, we use Figma to design the BigPicture App. Paeans about its online collaboration abilities have already been expressed in about a billion other texts on the Medium. Compounded with a voice call, Figma is simply a perfect tool to work in these days for us.
As a team leader, I also appreciate the BigPicture Live sync feature. Using the Board module, I can keep an eye on my team’s progress, being sure that we are on the right track to complete all the planned work. With the Reports module, it’s even smoother–I see an up-to-date overview of all ongoing initiatives without the need to look at individual pieces in detail.
This part of the pre-virus reality is more difficult to substitute. We have different personalities and skillsets that we try to use simultaneously on projects, so the lack of constant, natural communication was–and still is–a big problem for us.
Each of us knows what remote communication usually looks like and what its limitations are, the lack of the other side’s “emotional feeling” being one of them. That’s why we decided to implement a company-wide rule of turning the cameras on during online meetings. We also learn the culture of running such gatherings by avoiding interruptions when the other person speaks (the conference tools’ mechanisms do not know then who to knock out or dim).
And finally, we genuinely miss each other. We are a growing group of people who like each other very much and enjoy each other’s company. The whole crew notices the absence of shared lunches or morning coffee chats. Maybe a remote integration with the bottle of beer is a good idea for these days? We are especially eager to get to know those new colleagues who have joined our company in the time of plaque and, consequently, are often just a new Slack nickname for most of us.
Take care! Stay healthy and safe!