Remote Team Productivity Tools – aligning tools, culture, and collaboration

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Sphere’s Preferred Products for the Digital Workplace – Remote Team Productivity Tools For Aligning Tools, Culture and Collaboration

By Rita Ginsburg

When your remote teams don’t get free cupcakes, onsite massages, or Foosball tables, how can you use technology to bridge culture cupcakes - engagementacross multiple locations, time zones, languages, and more? Can the combination of culture and intelligent use of technology improve alignment, context, and productivity? Can better tools help you win the battle for information technology talent?

At Sphere, we’re spread across the globe. Our remote developers build beautiful software for some of the world’s most innovative companies. Some of our developers work from Sphere offices (we just opened a new modern development center in Minsk, Belarus), while others work onsite at client locations, and others work from airports, coffee shops, and home. 

Because everyone is spread out, we’ve experimented with almost every technology tool available to see if it will impact our productivity and sense of community.  If it promises productivity, chances are good the Sphere team has reviewed and tried it. We’re experts at quickly evaluating productivity software in our quest to optimize and improve team collaboration, onboard new developers, use data more effectively, selectively automate tasks, bridge time zones, and boost engagement. 

Not all technology platforms make all of these things possible. Below, we’ve made a few notes about some of our favorites and we’ve tried to explain how our culture is benefiting from each of these technologies.

Pick up Some Slack

Slack’s recent public offering and $20billion valuation demonstrates the value companies (and the market) place in productivity improvements. If you manage a remote workforce, Slack is a lifesaver for connecting people and ideas to each other. 

“Slack is the rare platform that is worth all of the hype,” said George Michalson, VP of Solutions at Sphere. “It provides us a way to communicate that just makes more sense than static email. For example, if you send a link in Slack it allows you to provide much more context about the link than just using email. And its this context-based structure that allows usage of Slack to reduce unnecessary meetings and other productivity-killing actions.”

Slack’s key benefits for the digital workplace include:

  • Channel hashtags make it easy to organize projects and discussions
  • Advanced search function allows people to find the right data, conversation, or other information quickly and accurately
  • Direct message capabilities that function better than email

Slack also connects with pretty much everything. Developers can connect their tools to Slack and raise visibility into builds, errors, or anything else that needs the team’s attention. Some popular integrations include:

  • Github
  • Sentry
  • Stack Overflow for Teams
  • Zapier
  • Jira Cloud
  • IFTTT
  • Jenkins CI
  • Bitbucket Cloud
  • Hubot
  • Zeplin
  • CircleCI
  • PagerDuty
  • New Relic
  • Travis CI
  • GitLab
  • Sentry Notifications
  • Datadog
  • Pingdom
  • Pull Reminders for GitHub
  • Crashlytics
  • Mobile crash analysis and reporting.
  • Rollbar
  • Bugsnag
  • Nagios
  • OpsGenie
  • Codeship

When privacy and security matter(s) most

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about Mattermost – the open source Slack alternative. Mattermost recently received a $50million investment from YCombinator. Specifically designed for privacy-conscious enterprises seeking to increase productivity and empower technical teams through workplace messaging, Mattermost is focused on security and keeping ownership of data with the company, not with Slack. This is why organizations that care about privacy and security (such as the Department of Defense) are adopting the platform.

“It is impossible to imagine the internet without open source technologies. Open source brings a new level of trust and transparency to everything it touches,” said Craig Williamson, Sphere’s Client Partner. “Mattermost has an open architecture and is perfect for our clients with heavy compliance and regulatory overhead.”

Zoom

Zoom Conferencing is a unique conferencing tool that just works. Zoom combines HD video conferencing and webinars from desktop and mobile in one simple solution.   Most people start using Zoom with a free account, then usually upgrade to a paid or enterprise account. For remote team productivity, the best part is that only one person needs to download Zoom. Everyone else can jump right into a meeting right from their browser. Our IT team loves it, too, because you can use connectors to patch it directly from the Zoom cloud into the internal network.

Collaborate and Listen with Atlassian

On the collaboration side, no development team should be without Atlassian’s Jira for project tracking. It’s squarely focused on keeping teams on track throughout every stage, and it presents key dates and issues in a graphical and transparent way. Nothing matches Jira for remote team productivity.

According to Hanna Sud, a Sphere project manager, “at Sphere, we’re using Jira for all departments – marketing, development, help desk, and even recruiting. We can choose which methodology to use for different departments (Scrum or Kanban) using the same tool. Jira is powerful because of the speed it allows development teams to operate. The most important feature is the customization. There are several thousand apps you can use with it, not to mention the easy integration with other Atlassian products. Jira is also very configurable, so teams adjust it to meet their needs, and don’t feel like they’re boxed in by a templated solution.“

With Jira Align, organizations now have a tool that looks at the broader picture. It’s about aligning the enterprise’s goals with actions. There are measurement metrics and real-time visibility that work together to create a more agile company. Remote teams using Jira Align appreciate the added transparency into the company’s goals and will understand how speed and first-to-market are vital. 

We use all of these Atlassian tools not only because they’re simple and intuitive, but also because they actively talk to one another. It’s easy to flow data and tasks into and out of the tools. This is an essential benefit for keeping communication and sharing flowing between remote teams and internal staff. 

Moving into the G-Suite

The first (and sometimes only) technology platforms for many firms is the G-Suite collection of creation, collaboration, and connection tools. For remote teams, the G-Suite is attractive because it’s used by so many people, is incredibly intuitive, and is backed by Google’s reliability. Google Partner Consulting

Jira, Slack, Zoom, and other tools are also integrated with G-Suite tools such as Docs, Calendar, Hangouts, and more. With so many integrations, teams enjoy some of the benefits of the G-Suite along with more powerful project management, collaboration, and planning tools. 

“Google’s tools are often overlooked or taken for granted, but they remain simple yet powerful ways to get work done collaboratively,” said Alex Pirlya, head of recruiting for Sphere. “You can collaborate, store and share, conduct Hangouts video calls, and manage your calendar in a single-platform. It’s why we continue to like G-Suite and think of it as the baseline for managing our distributed organization.” 

At Sphere we understand the benefits of well-designed and highly functional digital workforce platforms. Everything we do should improve remote team productivity. We’ve tried them all because our teams work around the world. Picking the right mix of platforms is necessary for collaboration and productivity, and also culture. These tools connect people from Budapest to Silicon Valley so they can work simultaneously while getting to know each other on a personal level. Companies that use the right tools for their in-house and remote teams will see significant gains in engagement, effectiveness, and ultimate results. 

 

 

 

Ms. Ginsburg brings 12 years of corporate experience to Sphere and is well-versed in the day-to-day HR and business administration activities as well as strategic initiatives and long-term planning. Rita has transformed the Sphere HR function and, more importantly, win the battle for information technology talent.

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