The MediaLeaf team is a great example of a distributed team; we’re located in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. None of us live close to any other team member. With these geographical barriers it’s easy to run into communication issues. Here are a few things that we’ve done over the years to help ease the pains and keep an open line of communication.
1. Instant messaging is the primary means of communication. Most of our communication is through IM, whichever particular client/platform team members choose doesn’t matter to me. (I use and recommend Adium, by the way). IM is great for keeping conversations short and to the point. Plus, a good client will keep a history for you. Those chat transcripts are invaluable to me and I reference them often for links, questions I’ve already asked, and more. Note: We tried using Campfire from 37signals for a while but found that it didn’t offer any major improvements over what we were already doing, plus it required another app or browser window to remain open.
2. Email for long-form questions. I believe that email is the ultimate communication tool. I tend to send emails to team members when they are away or aren’t signed into IM. I also tend to send emails when I request new features or ask for research to be done. It gives me the space/time to write out the entire request without being interrupted.
3. Scheduled team calls for major events. We’ve had scheduled phone calls when major development projects are under or to have brainstorming sessions. Sometimes we’ll include screen sharing if it’s warranted. Note: We experimented with Webex and determined that we didn’t need it. We typically just do Mac screen-sharing now.
4. Phone calls are a last resort. Phone calls are always secondary to IM. Phone calls take all of your attention, so they should only be used for conversations that require 100% attention. The beauty of IM is that conversations there can take place while you’re actively working on something else. IM also lets you have multiple conversations at one time, which can’t be done over a phone.
What are your tips for keeping in touch with team members? Comments welcome!