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Tips for remote work

Nick Warren
Remote-first was always the case

With the founders split between Newfoundland and San Francisco, our organization always worked remote-first. Not just because of 4.5 hour time distance. We are a group where some engineers do their best work late at night or early in the morning in isolation. Where childhood gaming PCs tucked away in bedrooms now double as workhorse graphic cards. Where some went through school partaking in extracurricular competitions on a remote team. The distance required us to put remote-first, but it was always something we inherently did.

Not a close distance
Grass is always greener

Growing the product team, we thought it would be most easy and productive to do it face-to-face. We got our first dedicated office, and had some talented engineers join us. Within 3 weeks of move-in, Newfoundland experienced an event referred to as Snowmaggedon. It left the city in a week-long state of emergency dig-out effort. What did we do? Pick up a shovel, checkin with the neighbors, and then default to our remote ready system.

St. John's, Late January 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, we're once again relying on our remote ways. Now, more than ever, it is critical to build the default tool for remote and collaborative hardware work. We'll all miss the views and the daily camaraderie in the office, but are confident in our team's ability to continue executing.

Our Tools: Advice for Transitioning Organizations

We know other organizations trying to navigate making this transition might not be as ready we were, so we'd like to share some tips in making remote work, work.

The Usual Suspects

Having the right tools for the job that give maximum communication bandwidth for the team is key (which is why we're building that for our users!). We absolutely use and recommend the tools that most often get praise when the word "remote" is brought up:

GitLab for code, and issues for everything (even BizDev and Marketing has its own repo to track issues!). HubSpot for its extensive suite of tools for sales and business functions. Slack as a primary (but mostly text based) communication tool. GSuite for a shared filesystem, calendar, and email.

We are also conscious to never let Slack be a replacement for actual conversation. When several people are typing..., we generally take that as a hint to hop on a call. Zoom is our favourite, and well worth the money over Google Meet, Google Hangouts, or whatever branding is currently stuck on Google's free video chat app. It makes potentially sketchy internet connections bearable, and does everything we could ask of it. It's great for scheduled meetings, or when screen-sharing is required.

Staying Human

Something was missing from our remote-ready stack. Something to keep the team intimate, to add an element of human contact to a once-again fully-remote team in an uncertain time. For us, that was Sneek. It is quite simply a virtual office. Team members join the virtual office with a snapshot, and can one click tap someone on the shoulder or knock on their door to start a video chat. It's weirdly not as invasive as you think it would be. From coffee breaks to development that approaches remote-paired-programming, Sneek keeps remote work human and increases the communication bandwidth of our team.

Asynchronous for results

Everyone is generally online and responsive normal business hours, but normal business hours for us differ by 4.5 hours. On top of that, real life happens and people need to step out for this or that. People aren't always going to be online when you are, so the way remote work happens need to accommodate that fact. For us, that means using asynchronous collaboration tools that enable transparency of information to complete work items.

Concretely, that's GitLab issue tracking. We use it extensively. Everything that contributes to producing a result, whether code, marketing efforts, or business development has an issue that contains references elsewhere or appropriate Information. Having so much of this information communicated in a feed format reduces the need for meetings, and puts a focus on results - not long hours.

Influence on our tool

Conway's law says:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.

This is probably true in the underlying design of our software, but is absolutely true in the design of our product.

We recognize that the synchronous, human connection is important to collaborating effectively - tools like Sneek allow us keep that. Our tool makes it possible for anyone that works with circuit boards to screen share inspectAR with their colleagues and communicate about it in real life.

We found value in relating work back to one source of truth, throughout its entire life cycle across all stake holders. Our tool doesn't currently do that, we'll leave this hint of an upcoming product feature there. If you want to be among the first to know what we're eluding to, complete the form below to receive product updates.

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