Tips for Distributed Workforce Success
By: Kevin Fleming, Communications Director
Secure, speedy internet and cloud technologies have revolutionized the modern office. For many of us over the past decade that has meant moving to a distributed workforce and working in a remote office environment. Foghorn was built on this model and has engineers in most major markets in the USA. We have our HQ in San Francisco, but otherwise, we “office” together using Slack as our main conduit.
The distributed workforce has served Foghorn well. It enables us to hire the best engineers, no matter their location. It is greener, as our teams don’t have much of a commute. And as we are unfortunately seeing now, if one of us gets a bug, it doesn’t cascade through the office.
As more and more enterprises head this direction, here are some of our tips for distributed workforce success, not only making the arrangement work, but making it thrive.
Utilize the Cloud
AWS, Azure and GCP have built useful DaaS (Desktop as a Service) platforms that can securely and quickly scale up your teams and work with Linux or Windows. Companies also have success on their own hardware with VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). With both solutions, zero company data can be stored on the device, companies can utilize a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy that meets security and compliance needs. Plans are flexible and can scale up and down as needed, (billed in even hourly increments.) As a peripheral benefit companies don’t have to address the costs and stress of managing hardware inventory, OS versions and patches.
Amazon Workspaces is a great solution for performance efficiency and dynamic, collaboration opportunities.
Cloud based SaaS has made secure collaboration easy. At Foghorn, we utilize Google Docs and Hangouts, Harvest, Atlassian tools like Jira and Confluence, Github and Hubspot to name a few. Gone are the days of spending precious resource managing internal systems for back office functionality that isn’t a Foghorn differentiator. Sure, SaaS services have outages at times as well but when that happens we know that there are teams ready and able to bring systems back online as soon as possible given it is their companies core competency and lifeblood.
While Slack is stellar for conversation threads and sharing information with a team, there really is no substitute for a face-to-face real time call. As a default organizations tend to lean on email and Slack when working from home. As we have all experienced, tone can often be hard to accurately interpret on text, email, and slack (even with use of emojis). At Foghorn for conversations that require solutioning we like to drop a web conference link in chat and have a video call. We don’t have to invest thirty minutes trying to find the perfect words that won’t be misunderstood, and instead just hop on a call and talk it out in five minutes!
Make it Productive
Slack is a great way to communicate with clients, and streamline teamwork to push projects forward in a documented and organized manner. Our most critical Slack Channels are our engineering collaboration channel- “Help-Me-Help-You”, and our “Delivery” channels which quickly keeps us in sync across many conflicting priorities. We also have special interest Slack channels like,“talking-aws”, “talking-gcp”, “talking-security”. These are valuable places to stay abreast of the latest cloud developments.
Although there are some areas where a chat based tool is weak, like loss of nonverbal cues, etc., there are areas that it is very strong. Leveraging these features can more than make up for the pieces that are missing. We use bots in Slack to automate the delivery of important information to teams that need it. Our bot keeps our customers informed of our project progress and budgets on a daily basis. Since the history of our day is captured in the channel, stakeholders can scan and review at their leisure even if they miss status meetings, and can escalate quickly if they believe the project is drifting off course. Our bots also notify customers in real-time about the activity in their cloud environment, allowing them to investigate abnormal events, like an elevation of permissions for a group of users, or a large increase in resource utilization.
By integrating bot commands into the channel, our customers can quickly run macros without even needing direct access to their cloud infrastructure, like “/stop my development environment”.
Make it Personal
Without a communal water cooler, it is more challenging to create those meaningful office bonds. But it is important and can be accomplished. Via Slack we create company culture and communicate that we are here to support and encourage each other to live their best life personally and professionally. We use our “General” Slack channel to celebrate birthdays, babies being born, to celebrate work anniversaries, new cloud certifications and company milestones. Our “Talking-Pets” channel is popular, and a place to highlight the contributions of our furriest coworkers. We love our pets and they are a great way to get to know someone on a more personal level.
Create Distance from Work
One of the dangers of working from home is there is not a firewall between work and personal life. While silos are not entirely possible, it is important to “clock off” when not working. We encourage our engineers to work set hours each week, and if possible set aside a place to work that is only for work. We encourage everyone to turn off Slack alerts outside of business hours. For companies that need to be “on call” outside business hours taking turns helps spread out responsibility. At Foghorn we believe in vacation and any “not work time”, and truly want our team to use the time to relax, recharge.
Foghorn has deep experience setting up remote desktops and virtual offices. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can assist in these unprecedented times.