As you know, at Nozbe we don’t have a central office. We all work from our homes. When I talk about it, people look at me with disbelief and doubt. Especially when I tell them that our core team consists of more than 20 people and we also regularly work with several other companies. We do everything remotely and over the Internet. And with the use of the latest apps. Today, on December 1, 2016, I’m releasing a new book that talks all about it: “No Office Apps”:
The fact that we work entirely remotely may seem like an obstacle but it has made us think about effective forms of communication. We can’t simply walk up to a colleague’s desk so we had to learn to communicate in different ways. Working in a remote team made us realize that effective work in a distributed group requires communication on many layers and that using modern apps can help us achieve our objectives more easily.
In this article I’m going to describe the apps that we use and briefly discuss how we use them.
If you want a longer version of this article and a deeper dive into this subject, please get my latest book here: “No Office Apps How the Nozbe team uses modern technologies to communicate better and get more done.” - it’s completely free! :-)
In traditional offices, communication occurs either verbally during conversations or often via e-mail. We discovered there are more ways to communicate and that they form a kind of pyramid:
- Level 1 - Focused work
- Level 2 - Feedback
- Level 3 - Chat
- Level 4 - Audio calls
- Level 5 - Face-to-face or video meetings
Level 1 is the most important and it’s where we should spend most of our time. After finishing our work we have to ask other team members for feedback (Level 2), wrap up the details with some of them (Level 3), clarify certain topics (Level 4), or simply meet up (Level 5). The idea is that we should spend as much time as possible on Level 1 and the least time on Level 5. Unfortunately, in many companies it’s quite the opposite.
Level 1 - Focused work
On Level 1 we use our favorite tools. They depend on each person’s function in the company. Our designers use Adobe Creative Cloud tools, while developers use various editors for writing code, such as Atom, Sublime Text or simply Xcode on Mac or Textastic on iPad.
For writing text, we use Scrivener or AI Writer on the Mac and 1Writer on the iPad or iPhone.
After finishing work, we save the results to Dropbox and add them as comments to appropriate tasks in Nozbe.
Developers send code to our repositories on GitHub. Thanks to this all changes, new functions and bug fixes are visible.
Level 2 - Feedback
At Nozbe, we don’t use e-mail. We communicate through tasks in projects we share in Nozbe and by means of other apps that allow us to comment on our work.
As I’ve already mentioned, we comment on code directly on GitHub. As for other files, we often save them on Dropbox and attach them as comments to tasks in Nozbe.
Next, we delegate our tasks to a particular person or mention him/her in a comment with “@,” for example: “@Magda, what do you think?”.
On Level 2 we still work asynchronously, so we send the results of our work to others and ask them for feedback but we don’t expect a reply immediately. We move on with our work, trusting our colleagues will respond soon.
We often paste text to Google Docs or Confluence to get precise feedback from team members and to be able to apply changes immediately. Unfortunately, neither of these apps works well on iPad. The fact that Google neglects iOS for “political reasons” shouldn’t come as a surprise but is nevertheless discouraging.
All hope is in iOS10 and “real time collaboration” on iWork. I hope it’ll work more efficiently in the future. There are also other alternatives such as Dropbox Paper.
One way or another, on Level 2 we focus on feedback like comments regarding the work we’ve done on Level 1. That’s why the more apps will offer effective means for commenting on content, the better. For this purpose we mainly use Nozbe and GitHub.
Level 3 - Chat
This is the level on which we exchange instant messages. We use this form of communication when we need to get information quickly.
At Nozbe we use Slack for this purpose. It enables us to send direct messages to each person individually, have conversations on private channels with a few selected people or talk with anyone in the team on public channels. A huge plus of Slack is that it’s available on all platforms, so it doesn’t matter what devices we own – we can all chat with each other.
Apart from Slack, I personally use iMessage for chatting with colleagues who have Apple devices. Privately, I also use Whatsapp and occasionally Facebook Messenger.
At this level of communication, the most important thing is quick feedback. The advantage of text-based communication is that it allows access to the entire history of conversations, so we can always go back to a discussion and check why we made the decisions that we made.
Level 4 - Audio calls
Sometimes, traditional phone calls are also useful but personally I rarely use the “Phone” app on my iPhone.
We use this level of communication to quickly clarify various issues. Especially when we feel that we’re writing a lot but can’t reach an agreement. In such cases it’s better to have a quick phone conversation.
But even when we want to move to this level, we ask our colleagues when we can call them to allow them to finish their work. We don’t want to disturb each other, so at Level 3 (chat) we decide when we can call each other on Level 4 (audio call).
Here we also use Slack, which enables audio calls as well. Personally, I like FaceTime Audio, and when I’m on the road – Skype – which still offers good audio quality.
Level 5 - Meetings
Meetings are a plague in many companies and offices. In our “no-office” company they take the form of video calls and are the most rarely used method of communication.
We have a few regular weekly meetings and sometimes we plan additional ones but we always make sure we’re prepared for them. So, first we work on the lower levels preparing for meetings, and we only arrange them when we’re prepared. If a meeting’s already planned but we didn’t prepare any topics, we postpone or cancel it.
For audio calls we use Zoom. It’s great for meetings with a few people and works on mobile devices such as iPhone or iPad. It’s much more stable than Skype or Google Hangouts. We also use this platform for holding webinars for a couple hundred people and it also works great.
How did we establish this communication pyramid at Nozbe?
We’ve been developing this communication concept for years based on trial and error. By consciously choosing to work #NoOffice in an entirely remote team that doesn’t have a central office, we were forced to find the best ways to communicate with each other.
On the other hand, while developing Nozbe, which allows teams to share projects and delegate tasks thus promoting asynchronous work, we discovered the advantages of this approach for managing our time.
Ultimately, we don’t work to waste all of our time on meetings. To do our job well, we need to have time for our own work. Time for concentration. We also need an established way of exchanging information and communicating within the company so we don’t get in each other’s way too much. We have to value our time and the time of our colleagues.
Thanks to this approach, the continuous improvement of our work and constantly improving applications, we’re able to work more effectively and create a good working atmosphere. I hope you’ll be able to implement some of these tips in your team because they’re universal and suitable for working with others, regardless of whether you’re working remotely like us or share a common office.