How we fought loneliness, inefficient communication and collaboration as a distributed team
A hack for more efficient remote team collaboration
For us working remotely for three years with a completely distributed team of 3 people today and 7 people in 2016/17 by the time we built @thangs is quite an experience. Besides having fantastic freedom, inefficient communication and collaboration quickly became our biggest challenge. Some of us even felt lonely and disconnected.
Sometimes we did not even know who was working in the exact same moment. Often we waited hours for replies on conversation threads on Slack. Most of the discussions on Slack interested only half of the people in the channels. Nevertheless, the other half followed up with the conversation in fear of missing out on something — highly inefficient!
We knew we needed to change something. We started experimenting. We made it mandatory for our team to work at least an hour-long session with video on (via the platform of choice for video conferencing) 3 times per week. This rule helped us a bit dealing with these issues. But still, it didn’t feel right. One problem we ran into with these tools, having to set up a dedicated call. Setting up these calls was horrible and someone always needed to be the host or being kept busy inviting others. And the pressure on us to turn on our webcam, even if we just crawled out of bed.
So we looked for alternatives. Something simple, voice only, no video that’s distracting us from work. That’s how we discovered Teamspeak. A VoIP gaming software which is using a server as host for your communication. Quickly our Teamspeak server became something like our virtual office. We commited that whoever is working joins the TS server and a channel of their choice to show their presence. Just being generally available for others to talk to as in a real world office.
Using Teamspeak boosted our productivity tremendously. We knew exactly who is working and had those quick “drop by my desk” conversations again. By having more real-time conversations, we wait much less time until someone replies. And strangely we experience fewer interruptions. Maybe because talking with someone is a more significant hurdle than messaging someone. Also, a text message implied alway urgency for us.
Teamspeak, a tool built for gamers has its limitations when it comes to productive team collaboration. Missing features like screen-sharing caused us to jump over to other tools constantly. This broken workflow motivated us to develop our own tool tailored to the specific needs of distributed productive teams. We call it Lito. Lito is a web-based voice collaboration tool that lets you better collaborate with your remote co-workers. Think of it as Teamspeak on steroids in the browser or a virtual office that lets you feel like you’re in the same room as your co-workers, even if they’re remote.
Just like a regular office (and Teamspeak), Lito has different rooms, called channels. As in real life, you only can be available in one room. You and your teammates can join and leave on their terms and choose the channel they want to be present. With that, you only listen to the conversations that matter to you.
Like in gaming we want you to focus completely on your work, not a co-worker making a silly face. This is why we believe voice is the best way of communicating for distributed teams and the reason why we still have no video-chat.
Lito lets us feel more connected and talk to each other instead of messaging the whole time. Like in the old day when we were gaming teenagers rambling on a TS server all day. It brought back these casual water cooler discussions we all missed. Today we launched it, and we hope it has the same impact on your remote team the way it has on ours.