Remote Team Collaboration Techniques

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Whether your team has recently moved to a distributed setup or you’ve been working remotely for some time, keeping team collaboration up can be difficult. Working in a silo, not physically surrounded teammates can make morale and code suffer. I was fortunate to be on a team that found ways to not only make us feel united in building projects together but also as a team of people who could laugh, commiserate, and be open with each other. In this talk I’ll cover the techniques and tools teams have found that strengthen team bonds and morale while keeping up productivity and collaborative project work.

24 min
25 Oct, 2021

Video Summary and Transcription

Welcome to Remote Team Collaboration Techniques. Telecommuting has led to professional isolation and a lack of networking and mentoring. Companies are encouraged to adapt their work policies to the new reality of telework. Remote work has impacted stress levels and employee autonomy, but not productivity. GitHub and Jamstack are effective collaboration tools. Mob pairing promotes learning and progress in projects. Engaging in fun activities and taking breaks from work can boost team morale.

Available in Español

1. Introduction to Remote Collaboration

Short description:

Welcome to Remote Team Collaboration Techniques. Today we will discuss how we got here, how we are doing the work, how we are feeling, and what we need. Telecommuting started in the 70s and has led to professional isolation and a lack of interpersonal networking, informal learning, and mentoring. As teams move remotely, these challenges become more prominent.

Hey, everyone. Welcome to Remote Team Collaboration Techniques. Remotely, how fitting. Very excited to have you here. So let's go ahead and jump in. So today I want to basically cover what we're going to talk about, so you're prepared.

First, we want to think about, how did we get here? How did we get to this point where a lot of us are working remotely? And what put us in the situation that we are now, that we need to talk about Remote Team Collaboration Techniques? Then we'll talk about, how are we doing? That's usually quite a general question, but we're actually going to talk about, how are we doing the work that we're supposed to be doing? Then we'll talk about, how are we feeling? Because funnily enough, that matters. So we'll look into that. Mostly, though, how to make ourselves feel better as a team and in collaboration, et cetera. And then I'm going to say, what do we need? And then that is basically, I'm going to recap all of the tools that I've covered in this talk thus far.

So how did we get here? Thanks to the creator of Buxana, Zahid Mahmoud. He actually did his whole dissertation on how we are doing remotely, working remotely, or you'll see it as telecommuting, which is the way that it started in the 70s. He actually offered me up a bunch of different research papers. So we have a very smart section coming up for you right now. So here's one of the papers. And this is actually a much older paper because telecommuting started back in the 70s. They wanted to push this forward of trying to get people out of offices and working from home, which they called telecommuting. They were mostly on telephones then. But this one is from the 90s. And it already talks about professional isolation, employee development, and public and private organizations. And a few things stick out to me that we're really seeing a lot of as a lot of teams are moving remotely from where they used to be.

In this paper, we found that telecommuters missed three types of developmental activities that occur frequently in conventional workplaces. And that is interpersonal networking, informal learning, and mentoring. So you may be aware of this now. If you or your team has moved from being in office in a location to now being remote, that it's not as easy to network with each other. It's not as easy to just pick up different things as you're walking by somebody's desk. And you say, oh, I've never used that tool. I've never used that technology. How are you doing that? Because everything is usually much more kind of set up now. And we call it like you're kind of coding in a silo, unfortunately now.

2. Remote Work Impact and Policy Changes

Short description:

Mentoring in remote work can be challenging, but the majority of respondents have found positive impacts on conventional work elements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are encouraged to reexamine their work policies and expectations to adapt to the new reality of telework.

And then mentoring, it's not as easy to mentor unless you're doing it very intentionally seemingly. And then there's another paper that we looked at recently. So, how did a lot of us get to moving too remotely? COVID, unfortunately, a pandemic happened, pretty unavoidable. So, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on conventional work settings. So again, this is all of us moving from how we used to work to now. And so, one of the things it said is the majority of respondents found that overall conventional work elements either remain the same or had been impacted positively. So, we're seeing that hey, maybe this telecommuting or this remote working thing isn't such a bad idea. There are things that are actually maybe it have a positive impact. And it said, it is biased that companies reexamine their conventional work policies and expectations so as to better adapt the new and emerging reality of telework. This probably isn't going away soon. I know my company did not re-up their lease for their building, we've all made remote work. We had always been a half distributed team at least. And so, now more and more we're working from home and we don't need a place to convene or now you have the option of going to places that you can rent out for a day or whatnot.

3. Remote Work Impact and Collaboration Tools

Short description:

The impact of remote working on management and employee responses during COVID-19 is discussed. Increased stress levels, changes in employee autonomy, and weakened sense of relatedness are observed. However, code contribution, productivity, and code quality are not negatively impacted. Sleep disorders and increased stress levels are reported, along with a decrease in mentoring activities. Tools like Whimsicle, Miro, and sprout.place are used for remote team collaboration.

So the next paper we're talking about remote working management control changes and employee responses during the COVID-19. Okay, so how we see that the regular way of working isn't impacted too bad. What about talking about management and employee responses. Employees reacted to this by engaging in voluntary visibilizing practices. What? For instance, by doing overtime. That doesn't sound great. I mean, unless you're getting paid for overtime, which doesn't really happen in our industry, you know, we don't want to be overworking. So we see that increased stress levels among employees changes to employee autonomy, changed perceptions of hierarchies, and a weakened sense of relatedness with others in the organization, which we could kind of guess might happen if we were already saying that, you know, the networking is weakened, the mentoring is weakened. You know, those things of just walking around the office, grabbing lunch with people, that's not happening.

The very last thing we got really drilled into, a deep dive into the impact of COVID-19 on software development. So these are things that kind of give us a positive outlook on how remote working is good. In general, working from home during pandemic period does not impact code contribution. Observation five, overall productivity and task completion time did not decrease during the pandemic period compared to the usual time. So when do issues get closed? When do PRs get approved? Observation six, according to our survey, respondents working from home during pandemic period does not impact code quality. So I know that that could be an issue for people thinking about their teams going remote, is, you know, is the quality going to deteriorate as their home, you know, eating bon bonds in the bathroom? Not that any of us do that. But now we see a study says no. Observation 11, 41.60% of survey respondents do not think that the newly introduced interruptions along with the old ones are negatively impacted their productivity during the pandemic time. But then we look at this side of it, 39.40% of the survey respondents agree that sleep disorder increased during pandemic period. 50.53% of survey respondents indicate that their stress level increased since they began working from home during pandemic. And we saw that in the last survey as well, 35.12% of the survey respondents mentioned that mentoring activities for newcomers have decreased during the pandemic period. So we're seeing these patterns of not being able to interact very much, not having kind of casual or informal learning, not being able to mentor as much because the activity amongst each other that you tend to become, you tend to be working in a silo.

So with that in mind, I wanna talk about how we are able to do things as a remote team, collaborating together, how are we doing, how are we doing this? So these are actual tools that we use often, very often. So feel free to like comment to each other other ones that you have seen that you like, but there you'll see a common thread in them. So one of the things that we know that we like to do, so this is Whimsicle, and it's basically a platform where you're all in there at the same time and you can make graphs. So this is us basically trying to wrap our minds around the content model for the JAMstack Explorer site. It's a learning platform that we created as a team. With this one, with Whimsicle, we're able to collaborate in this way where we'll usually do this with another platform that I'll show you either zoom or around so that we can see each other, we can talk about these things, but we're able to actually put pixels on screen together. And we talk through it, so this is another one, Miro, where we're actually taking, this is the workflow for doing activities in the site, and we can watch these patterns but we talk through it together. So we're able to really collaborate synchronously in making these things, but the biggest point of this is we're all being heard, we're all seeing the same thing on the screen, so we can work together. This one is called sprout and it got a little out of hand, it was our first time trying sprout.place, and we had a little bit too much fun to see everything you can do, but this one was really fun, but it got chaotic pretty quickly.

4. Collaboration Tools and Techniques

Short description:

GitHub provides a structured environment for project setup and collaboration. The Jamstack architecture allows for easy contribution and rollbacks. Collaborative deploy previews facilitate team collaboration by integrating with tools like Jira and Trello. Use online tools, version control, and mob pairing to make collaboration easier.

But we kinda had that mindset in our minds, like let's test the limits of this. So that's definitely a really fun one to try as well, but just to show you how it can get out of hand if you want it to.

GitHub, yes, we all know and love GitHub, but one thing I always wanna point out is that you can structure GitHub. So to make their environments a place that it's easy to set up the project. So you can set here in our read me, we tell you how to get it, so no matter where you are, you can set this project up. And then we have PR rules, which is really nice so that you always have to have a reviewer, you can set up different things so that the whole point of this part is make your project, whatever you're working on, your code base, make it as accessible as possible, make it easy or easier to actually get your project running so you can contribute as fast as possible.

You see in the Jamstack architecture, the way that we approach contributing to a project, everything lives on get, you can easily roll back up to an existing build that isn't broken if you happen to break something, not that it ever happens, but we just wanna make the process of contribution as easy and as smooth as possible. So even we do things like all of our environment variables live somewhere. We have ours in our Netlify projects where you just basically set your environment variables and everybody can run the project from there. But most importantly, the whole aspect of get, version control and push often. So getting a healthy, get hygiene basically. It's a very great tool and it could easily be misused or underused.

One other thing that we have, that I'm a big fan of is, it's collaborative deploy previews. And so this is basically you can make a deploy that we'll have like you see at the top of the screen is deploy preview, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we can see all the changes, but we also have all these integrations. You can add team members, you can hook it up to Jira, to Trello. And I really liked this because like you could see it on mobile, you can do screenshots and like just say, hey, look at this, that whole thing is wrong. And then it goes into your GitHub issue, which is really nice. And you can see all the browser data where everybody is coming from. All these interactions that you're doing here, where you're marking things resolved, you can see the actual build process, find all that information easy and it goes to the GitHub issue. So everything that I was doing on that deploy preview page is going onto the issue. So that's a really great way to collaborate with your team. But there are a lot of tools, like I said, there are tools out there. Just if you can find these tools to collaborate, to make it easy, like not only to code together, but to collaborate together easily, that's gonna, it removes the blockers, it removes the hurdles, because we have enough of those in the code we write. So make collaboration easy, or easier, because collaboration can sometimes not be easy. So online tools to plan and brainstorm together, diligent version control and code pushing, make your environment set up easy and find a way to bridge comps and process together. One of my favorite parts of this though, is mob pairing. So, I'm a huge fan of mob pairing and I'll kind of show you what this looks like. We're all working together, and we have everybody on screen on audio, if you're comfortable with that. And then somebody drives and shares their screen, which is kind of what we're used to.

5. Mob Pairing and Collaboration Environment

Short description:

When mob pairing, it is recommended to switch drivers to promote informal learning and mentoring. The more people involved, the more opportunities for learning. Schedule regular mob pairing sessions and also have random pop-up mod pairings via Slack. Create a conducive environment with tools like Zoom and Spotify playlists.

But we have in mind that we're pairing. I strongly recommend that people switch drivers as you go through the process of mob pairing. So, this is sanity. And so, if you have somebody in your team that's not used to sanity, have them drive. Like, this is your way of informal learning. This is your way of mentoring. You can help walk people through something that you already know. And they're able to have that mentorship and learn something and be excited, like Sarah is there. So, there's a lot that you can step through. You can work through DevTools and everything. It's just a really great process for you to be able to do these things.

So, the more the mentorier. So, obviously the more people you can have, you can always learn from somebody. So that informal learning and that mentoring can be the more people you have, even if you just have two people and then a standard pairing. You're learning something. So, change drivers often, like I said. And so, I schedule these with our team twice a week, dependent on where we are in a project. I want to make sure there's a plan so that we don't step in there and say, spent the first 10 minutes, like, what are we doing? What's happening? But then also, we do random pop-up mod pairings via Slack.

So, somewhat, we have the Zoom integration in Slack and we say, hey, I'm opening this room. We either do Zoom or Around, which I'll show you later. We open these up and we say, hey, is anybody around to do this? And, with that, we basically jump in. Whoever can jump in randomly. We have a playlist on Spotify. We have a shared playlist that we listen to all together and we just, you know, have a great time coding together and helping each other out. But it basically gives us an environment to do so. So, this can happen, though. Just be prepared for things like this. ♪ Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum. ♪ ♪ Controls, hands, knees together now, bum, bum, bum, bum. ♪ ♪ We're awake.

6. Benefits of Modpairing

Short description:

We're working on programming issues together. How can we really love things? Her bass playing is so good! Sometimes you can forget to press merge, but we were able to make significant progress in a project and celebrate together. I'm a huge fan of modpairing.

♪ ♪ From dreaming. ♪ Remember, we're not here to have fun. This is a serious business. We're working on issues right now together. Programming issues. ♪ How will I know? How will I know? ♪ ♪ How will I know? If you can see then, how will I know? ♪ ♪ How will I know? If you can see then, how will I know? ♪ ♪ How can we really love things? I say it's practical... ♪ Her bass playing is so good! ♪ I'm all alone, and never with me. I'm asking you, how will you know? ♪ Total pause. We're part of the bass set there. ♪ How will I know? If you can see then, how will I know? ♪ Aw. I actually forgot to press merge. Oh, I did too. Yep. So as you see, sometimes you can forget to press merge, but we actually were there creating all different data models in Sanity, and we did a huge chunk of the project that day, and it was really great not to be able to just make significant progress in a project but then celebrate together. So I'm a huge fan of modpairing, and I highly recommend it.

7. Team Bonding and Morale Boosters

Short description:

To ensure our teams don't get too stressed and feel connected, we can engage in fun activities like virtual escape rooms, puzzles, or food adventures. Taking breaks from work to discuss non-work topics and trying different snacks from around the world can boost team morale and foster a sense of community. It's important to remember that team bonding should be separate from work hours and should prioritize the happiness of team members.

Which leads us into how are we feeling? Again, we heard stress levels and sleep problems, and not saying that can just be from work. There's a lot happening right now, which we definitely need to acknowledge. But on the work side, how are there ways to make sure that our teams don't get too stressed? Are feeling connected enough that they can feel relaxed and feel confident in contributions and feel empowered to do the work and not feel totally burnt out? What can we do as a team to make sure that we're feeling good? Because that is important.

Game time is a pretty funny one because I feel like this can be done wrong. We've definitely done the escape rooms, the remote escape rooms, and we basically finished it in record time. It wasn't very challenging, it was definitely fun, but as silly as it sounds, there was another person there that wasn't part of our group and they ended up maybe not liking us so much afterwards because we were very silly. So maybe that's not the route to go for your team. Really converse with your team, or try it. We like codenames a lot and there is a virtual version of it, but we've also done things like puzzles, doing virtual puzzles together, but basically taking the time to do something fun that's not work. The company at Netlify actually set up a Netla frame that they sent out to everybody during our last All Hands where you have an electronic photo frame that then everybody in the company is able to push different pictures from the team like the one at the lower right hand corner from when the last time we were able to do In Hands All Person, January 2020, but it's just nice because then the teams can contribute putting things up and every so often you just get flashes of people who you're on a team with. You know you might not see them all the time but it's nice to have just a little reminder these are all people that you're working together to create something great. My favorite, a really great mood booster in my opinion, are food adventures because one of my favorite things was taking a lunch break with my co-workers going somewhere to eat and not necessarily talking about work even though sometimes you know things pop up because you get these epiphanies on your walk you know or something happens that makes you think of something or what's going on in the communities because it's really exciting stuff to talk about but when you're in a meeting on a specific topic sometimes you don't get to reach these different community-based topics or whatnot. Talk about what's going on with the latest ECMAScript release. Things like that that aren't necessarily on topic for meetings but you want to talk about. So there are these different like food boxes that you can trial run different snacks from countries. So no matter where your team is located you could ship these out to the team members or you know sometimes we get so excited we just buy them ourselves and or we like all DoorDash together and go on and around or Zoom and just sit and chat with each other. We try to mute when it's a loud chomping or crunching but you just get that team time that relaxed time and it's really nice so there are rules for fun not really but you know try not to talk about work. Communities and tech yes, projects maybe not, but again you know if it comes up it comes up but it's not like hey you have this thing do like um share audio and video if you can and are comfortable. So like especially with the games and stuff if you can do it great. If you're just comfortable doing audio great. I mean it's just a way for everybody to remember there are actual people on the other side of the computer and not outside of work hours like if people decide to have a social thing great but you know don't say we can do this one thing if we're not working, because this is part of building a great product is having happy team members.

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