The tech we use

The Satori Lab is a small company and though we are proudly based in Cardiff we’re not all based in Cardiff all of the time. In fact we work hard at being a remote company. Members of the team are very welcome to use the office but, apart the occasional get together, no-one is required to go to the office.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

We’ve been working at making this work for a while now and I thought you might be interested in what we’ve learned and the tools that we find have been helpful for us.

Key things we have learned

  • Remote working is a team sport. We all have to work like remote workers, even if we do actually use the office. Many of us may have had the experience of working in an organisation with a few people based in the field. It rarely works that well for the remote workers or for the people in the office. Even though we have an office we all focus on making sure that no-one needs to be in the office. Ever.
  • Remote working is different to working in an office. Remote workers have different rhythms to each other, different pressures, different noises and different contexts. We tried for a while to create the feel of being in the office together even though we were in different towns and cities. It was the worst of all words. The rhythms and norms of remote working have to be different to the rhythms and norms of working in an office.
  • Remote working really can work. And it brings a whole set of benefits to the workers, with shorter commutes, more flexible working it makes it easier for them to fit in other aspects of their lives. That in turn relies on us focusing on as much asynchronous working as possible. Another way of putting this is that we minimise the number of meetings we have (now who wouldn’t be in favour of that?

Key tools we use

  1. Basecamp.
    I always feel a bit self-conscious admitting that we use Basecamp. It’s not, well, cool. Cool digital teams use JIRA or Pivotal tracker. Everyone uses Trello. 
    But Basecamp is relentlessly optimised for small agencies who work with multiple clients. It’s flexible enough to support a wide range of projects (we deliver long-term support to some clients, work with partners on long-term projects and deliver all manner of shorter term projects with all manner of sizes of team).
    We use Basecamp to talk about projects, to consult each other, to hold all of the relevant documentation about a project and to track tasks. 
    It has a really attractive charging structure. Basically you don’t pay more when you add more users. This is VERY attractive to a small business.
    And it works, really well. 
    It’s boring. In a good way. It just does the job.
  2. RealTimeBoard
    We’re all the sort of people who, if we are gathered in the same room, will gather round a whiteboard with a bunch of post-its. That is hard to replicate remotely. 
    Hard but not impossible.
    RealTimeBoard comes really, really close and we use it A LOT for, well, everything you do on a whiteboard or flipchart and a lot of things that you do in meetings too.
    It is the piece of technology most universally loved across the team. 
    If I had to ask for any changes I’d ask for a less clunky way to give guests edit rights on individual boards and the video calling (you can host video calls on boards that everyone is working on in real time… see I told you it was good) can be flakey.
  3. Zoom
    Though we minimise how much work we need to be there for at the same time, there certainly are times when we need to work together in real time. And for that you need video calling. There are many video calling options out there and we’ve tried an awful lot of them. It turns out that what we are looking for is:
    - reliability, good quality and resilient to flakey connections
    - low friction (every second spent waiting for a call to start of the other person to pick up makes it a bit less likely you’ll reach for the call in the future)
    - loved and respected by the paranoid folk who run public sector ICT networks (we spend a lot of time making video calls to people in local government and other bits of the public sector).
    Zoom hits all those points, it also makes it seamless to record calls (video and audio or just audio… which means we can share stand-ups with those who couldn’t make it each morning). And when you start paying (it’s not cheap mind) it has many attractive functions (including webinar hosting)
  4. Slack
    Obviously.
    We don’t send each other emails. Who does that?
  5. G-Suite / Google Docs / Whatever it’s called now
    Some of us LOVE Google’s office suite. Some of us merely like it a lot. It is reliable, easy to use and, frankly, the bees knees when it comes to collaborating. Seamless version control, handles realtime editing by multiple users brilliantly. 
    It’s a bit like Basecamp in that it’s just boringly useful. 
    There is a rearguard action amongst some of us (me) to preserve access to the Windows version of Excel. Because sometimes (quite often) only Excel will do. And sometimes only the Windows version of Excel will do.
  6. Hubspot
    We’re not brilliant users of a CRM but we do need a tool to keep track of our customers, and more crucially, our potential customers. But we’re more about delivering useful projects than flogging stuff. So though we do use a CRM it hasn’t reached RealTimeBoard levels of importance for us
    Hubspot has an attractive freemium model and we’re finding it pretty useful this year. It also provides a neat Deals/Projects pipeline function. That could certainly be replicated on Trello.
    I predict that by the end of 2019 we’ll be using a CRM with more enthusiasm (though not necessarily Hubspot) and tracking our projects pipeline on something like Trello.

There’s more

We do use a lot more tech. (QGIS for me, Data Studio and PowerBI for Luke, Polinode and Sigma.js for Esko and Liam) but those 6 tools are the key ones necessary to make the company effective as a remote team.

We also have to work hard at making sure our working patterns are effective in a remote working context. We’ve been focused on getting better at decision making in the past couple of months and have been drawing from the Patterns for Decentralised Organising that Enspiral use (we should write about how we’re finding those practices soon).