Collaborating without an office Part 2: Habits and strategies

January 31, 2011


2nd of two guest posts by Ben Hanna, the lead user interface designer of CouchSurfing.org which has no formal office. Part 1 covers their Remote Tool-set.

I work for CouchSurfing.org and we are 100% remote with no central office. We have 30 full time contributors spread over 15 time zones in every continent but Antarctica and have been working this way for over a year.

We have a great remote toolset, but it’s not enough to be successful. You also need good training and a solid understanding of remote work practices. This will serve much better, especially in the long-run. This is what how we follow.

Communication

Prompt response to incoming alerts and empathetic communication between team members is important since misunderstandings can occur easily via online mediums. This is especially true if your team is made up of people from many different cultures and languages. Ensuring that people have the chance to at least meet once virtually via video chat or voice is important so that they can feel each other out and learn who they are talking to. This keeps the human element intact.

Email Etiquette

Keep subjects short, and to the point. Think about AP style here. If the rest of the message doesn’t make it, can the recipient get the gist from the subject? This allows people to prioritize, and respond in kind.
Also, finish emails with options. Because of the time delay in remote work companies, a single question can lead to a day or more of down time. End emails with:

If Option A is correct, please do project 1, if Option B is applicable, then do project 2… ect…

Time Zones

Prioritize tasks based on time zones. If something needs to happen first in an early time zone, get it to the person responsible there. Good timing can make a project literally zip around the globe with work being completed 24 hours a day.

Meetings

We have a bi-monthly full company meeting to make sure we all know we still exist. You may not need to do this, but for us it is good to hear voices we may not interact with on a daily basis.

We also have one-on-one meetings, conversations and project management meetings to keep everyone on task, but people are generally on a “do your own work” basis. This allows for long periods of uninterrupted work time.When we do have to have meetings, we rotate the times so that they are not at odd hours for an individual every week.

Connection

We have a company conference every 6 months to ensure face time and personal connection. This is critical as it allows us to understand who we are working with. Few people like to be isolated all the time!

We are still learning and constantly try new programs to see what works for us, but these allow us to maintain a location independent workforce with minimal delay in communication.

Ben Hanna is the lead user interface designer of CouchSurfing.org which has no formal office. CouchSurfing.org is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit.


about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.