Good communication in a purely virtual team is essential. Over the years we have used everything from IM, Skype, Asterisk, and now Campfire. One of the great benefits of working virtually is alone time and focus. At the same time, sitting on IM all day can have an opposite effect. Today we came up with a way to use Twitter to maximize communication, while still giving us the alone time we need. First, I want to give a little history on how this evolved…
A variety of tools
At Wildbit, we use a variety of tools to keep in touch, such as IM, Campfire, Subversion (Project Alpha), Basecamp, Fogbugz, Email, and RSS. Each of these tools has a specific purpose and are great for specific scenarios. For instance, Campfire is a way for all of us to meet in the morning or to discuss topics together. RSS and Email are mainly used as notifications. Fogbugz, Basecamp, and Subversion are used for managing our projects. IM is used for personal discussion.
The problem with all of these tools is distraction. Emails coming in, IMs blinking, wasting a few hours joking around in Campfire. When it comes time to focus and get some work done, we need to turn these distractions off, but still stay connected in some way. We started out with limiting IM usage and using only Campfire for discussions. This way anyone could chime in and we have shared transcripts. It works very well and we can easily revert to IM for personal communication.
Knowing what’s “In progress”
Out of all the tools the main thing we are missing is way to know what people are working on “right now.” This “status” is extremely important for my role as a team lead, but also important for the rest of the team. It helps us decide what to work on next and when to discuss a feature or tool with another team member. Until today, we did not have a consistent tool for this purpose other than IM “away” messages. Since we are trying to hide from IM usage, this was not an option.
Hello Twitter for Business
This morning we decided to give Twitter a try. Whenever we switch a task or step out, we simply add [wildbit] in front of the message so the rest of the team is notified.
So far it seems like a great solution. We can turn off IM and leave Campfire, but still easily keep each other informed about what we are doing. If someone finishes a task, it is posted to Subversion or Fogbugz and the appropriate people are notified. If a discussion is required we simply jump back on IM or Campfire.
It’s only the first day, but I am excited to try out this new method. Having an acute focus on a task is one of the hardest challenges in knowledge work, so we constantly strive to make this easier.