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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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Nov 1, 2018

To mix things up from our usual magazine format we have just one long substantive interview for you today, where we really dig into the detail about how one organisation manages their communications using Slack. We’re sure you’ll find it interesting to go really in-depth into this example, and reflect on how you select and use tools within your own organisation.

And a quick shout out to listener Stephan for recommending our show to someone on Twitter, and in turn we recommend an episode in the show Reasons to be Cheerful, episode 55, ( where they interview the founder of Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, where they have been experimenting with the four day week (which we mentioned in episode 179 but didn’t talk to them directly).

Why not let us know what you think, we’re easy to reach on Twitter, either @PilarOrti or @Virtualteamw0rk

Meantime, on with the great big chat:

08.25 Voice behind the blog: Jamon Holmgren

Jamon is the cofounder and CTO of Infinite Red, and author of the post “5 Slack Channels Every Company Needs.”

With a team of 25 fully remote colleagues, Infinite Red have been building apps since forming from a merger in 2005. (We interviewed Gant Laborde earlier this year about a great blog post he also shared with the world).  But Jamon remains conscious that their setup is unusual, that society is still not ready for remote universally – something those of us immersed in this space can easily overlook. So they had to find their own ways of getting things done, as they created their team and found ways to collaborate effectively.

Infinite Red use Slack very extensively to segment their conversations, through channels which evolve organically (and get archived after use), and also guest channels for external collaborators - in fact, they insist that their clients use Slack, as part of their terms of operation, either in shared workspaces or via guest channels.

Jamon and Pilar discuss how in a larger team, Slack can evolve from being an asynchronous collaboration platform to more of a real-time communication tool, with higher expectation in terms of response time. To manage this requires some forethought and alignment of expectations, such as use of threading to control the signal to noise ratio, especially in important channels – whilst other channels can fill the need for more casual chat. For Infinite Red this led to the creation of the 5 channels which were the subject of the blog post in question:

20.56 The 5 Channels

Roll call: For checking in, rather than checking up on, saying “hi” when you arrive at the office. They use it for really brief greetings and signalling - it’s a little more personal and connected than just indicating through your status when you are working or not, or popping out for lunch or into a meeting. It creates a good snapshot of where everyone is at at any given moment, particularly in a team spanning multiple timezones.

Kudos: For recognising the accomplishments of co-workers, in as authentic a way as possible. A good way to make different aspects of the work visible across the organisation (though private praise matters too). They also use to reward effort and endurance as well as obviously positive outcomes, and try to keep it spontaneous and genuine.

Chitchat + Funny: These are actually two channels at Infinite Red, split from the default Slack ‘Random’ channel. Separating them in this way allows all employees join in chat without needing to dive down the rabbit-hole of memes and GIFs (and some ultra-geeky stuff that is really only funny to developers anyway) - and recognises that people bond over different kinds of content and humour.

Announcements: Some things need a destination of their own, things which have an impact on the company as a whole: team updates, role changes, policies etc. Responses in here should be threaded, to allow for rapid skimming and updating of these important messages, without diving into the discussion of it. They advise everyone to have visible alerts for this channel, and people can check-off that they’ve read each item with an appropriate emoji. 

Scheduling: For longer term scheduling type topics, eg discussing planned absences and use of shared resources, they have this dedicated channel for “determining how we’re going to spend our time as a company”. So as well as syncing plans, they work out loud at a high altitude in here - stating what they’re working on in any given week, to create that overview of the big picture for everyone on the team to see.

Jamon recognises that he is the power user and evangelist when it comes to Slack, and that perhaps every team needs one, to keep the channel usages on track and consistent (whilst also being dynamic and evolving), leading by example at all times.

Of course they do have other channels - so be sure to check out the article!


42.40 Podcast

Pilar and Jamon also discuss the podcast, Building Infinite Red

This project enables Jamon and his co-founders to work on something cool together outside of their client work, and share and reflect upon what they’re doing and how they make decisions. It lets them be quite straightforward and authentic, and develop their thinking out loud together – in the spirit of podcasting, as a conversation between people in a synergistic and fun way to evolve creativity.

Season 2 launches soon (but there are already 13 to get stuck into from last time). Thanks Gant Laborde for tipping us off to this one.


47:25 Academy

Finally, we also discuss their Academy.  

It’s in Infinite Red’s DNA to share their learning with the world, as they’re all from an open source background. So the Academy offers online and on-site workshops and on-demand resources, and it’s all based on things they have tried and tested and used with their own clients  They also teach workshops at conferences (especially if you like jokes, apparently)