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What Is the Best Way To Build a Virtual Team?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the make-sure-they-don't-play-warcaft dept.

Businesses 175

stoolpigeon writes "The department I work in is growing and including new members that live quite far apart. Right now most people are in the same office but new members are in Singapore and South Africa, with more coming from other places. I would be interested in Slashdotters' recommendations for software, practices, services and anything else that can help build strong virtual teams."

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175 comments

Keeping in touch plenty! (3, Interesting)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815382)

Try to have a quick team meeting meeting every day on Skype/VOIP, if possible. People can start to stray "off message" if left to themselves too long (not through laziness, or anything). If they are in the same office, that can is normally regulated.

Lots of small targets as well as an overall project target.

Do try to have face to face meetings occasionally.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

matt_lethargic (1420947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815404)

Used to work with people in China, France and Poland and completely agree, good regular communication is the key. And if people can have some face time to put a name to a face and bond then all the better.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816142)

This. For all of the above. 'Face-to-Face' doesn't have to mean travel.

Do NOT have an all-day/every-day team chat in Skype / AIM / Whatever. Frankly, even an 'every day' check-in sounds a little drastic. Maybe just have everyone log into the same IM client. Use VOIP. Treat your employees as if they are adults. If they are not performing up to expectations, talk with them about it like you would anyone else.

This is a challenge for both management and rank-and-file employees, if either side is not willing to work on it, it will fail until the sides are replaced by people who are willing to do so.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

matt_lethargic (1420947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816200)

"'Face-to-Face' doesn't have to mean travel" - If you want your team to work better and as one yes it does! If you want your team to bond, work well and more importantly understand each other then at least one meeting of the entire team or at least team members that work together is a must. I've done this for years and have seen it good and it bad. The bad always got better if you put the team members together with a beer in their hands and let them get to know each other. "it will fail until the sides are replaced by people who are willing to do so." - so you're suggesting that you fire people just because they don't understand someone they've never met and perhaps don't share the same native language. I'd be looking to get shot of you if that was your answer! Again, brining them together is a lot easier than replacing.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (3, Informative)

Malc (1751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815530)

As somebody who's been doing this for over a decade, let me emphasise the importance of this. You will need a good travel budget, and you will need to be willing to make sacrifices in your personal life, in addition to ensuring other good and regular communication commitments.

I've just got off our weekly engineering call that went for the last two hours (10pm California, 6am London and 1pm Shanghai). Yawn. Somebody always gets the arsehole timeslot with this many timezones. We've managed to keep it down to one of these a week, with some extra duplicated two time zone meetings in between. Any less and things noticeably fall between the cracks quickly.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

Eraesr (1629799) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815658)

Another important thing is to be aware of cultural differences and deal with them. I'm not talking about fundamental Christians having to work together with extremist Muslims or anything on that scale, it's just that cultural differences lead to different interpretation of facts or requests and assumptions made on different grounds.

For instance, we used to work with a group of people located in the Ukraine (us being in the Netherlands). Turned out that in ex-soviet countries, the culture is still to never oppose those that give your "orders" and do what they ask of you, no questions asked.
So if we asked them to do something, they would literally do what we asked them. This may sound like a good thing, but often it wasn't because it resulted in them also not doing things we took for granted as things that came with the task. Also, if things weren't entirely clear to them, they'd rather find a solution the way they thought we wanted to have it rather than actually go and say "you didn't specify this clearly enough, please elaborate on this".

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816038)

That most likely is a lack of competence and/or sign of sabotage from their side, rather than cultural differencies (I tell you as an ex-soviet software developer with 10+ years experience of work in distributed teams)

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816094)

That all stems from a lack of ownership of the quality and customer satisfaction of the result. Instead, the people you described felt ownership of the specific literal tasks that you gave.

With people like that, you have to get them to care more about quality. You need to put them around customers or customer representatives who can interact with them so they get a better sense of the whole product, rather than their little sub-tasks in building it

Like you say, their feelings are deeply rooted in culture. Ownership of anything material or significant besides pride in your country is anathema to Communism.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816292)

Culture can be a huge breaker if your team is not aware of it. I worked on a global team before. Here were observations we found.

1. Japanese would never question anything in a meeting. If they disagreed with it they would say nothing until after the meeting and then in private.

2. Japanese/Chinese/Koreans would never straight out say "No". Instead you would get an excuse which you were supposed to interpret as a "No". To give an example, you say "I need X completed by Y", their response would be "Well with our current headcount we can do Y+Z time". Westerners would take this to mean they need more resources.

3. Koreans would agree to deadline X where agreeing means "we will try our best" instead of "We will hit that date or sooner".

4. Irish tended to be very anti-establishment. So for example "Can you do X by Y" actually means "We need you to do X by Y". Using the latter sentence tended to illicit a negative response, kind of "Well I can do X by Y but because you were rude about it I am not going to bother".

5. Americans tended to be very blunt in what they said and would routinely walk in and out of meetings when they felt like it. Also would never respond unless you had CC'ed a manager or you were a higher grade then them.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816358)

So you really see a cultural divide due to Ukrainians being hard-line communists? And I suppose you're dealing with guys in theirs 20s-30s.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815782)

Call often and try visit whenever possible.

We work with people in US, EU, China and Japan. I've found it absolutely crucial that at least some members in each office have physically met members of the other teams. It makes communicating 10 times easier when you've had a beer with someone and know a little more about their environment. Even if you think you don't need this, others probably do. Keep in mind that not all cultures are as direct and forward as you may want them to be. It can take a lot of bonding for you to get the details you need to make a difference.

If you can't send people back and forth on "exchanges", consider a yearly retreat. There are plenty of locations in the world where good facilities for such an event are dirt cheap and tickets affordable.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

hbackert (45117) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816636)

I can highly recommend this: let people meet once in a while. One member from each country visiting one other office. So for 4 office locations, 4 people need to travel per year, e.g. for one week. Makes a huge difference if within some years everyone has met everyone else. We have regular video conferences including some fancy Telepresence meetings (highly recommended when face-to-face meetings are not possible due to costs). Nothing replaces personal meetings though.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

Confused (34234) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815938)

Before people didn't meet face to face, communication will be inefficient due to cultural differences and the fact that it's a lot harder to relate to an email-address than to someone you spent an evening having beers. Even simple things like Yes or No have very different meaning in different countries.

What seems to work well is to have at least one big team meeting per year where everyone meets in one place. Even if the meeting itself might not be that productive, the face-to-face time is crucial. Also, if close cooperation on some topic is necessary, specially in the start-up phase, plan to send some team-members to other sites to work together for a week or two in the same office. This investment will prevent a lot of communication problems later on.

Next, make sure you have plenty of short time goals which can be easily tracked and checked. This makes it harder to get distracted and communication problems will be identified earlier on.

And if you're the team leader, make sure you have enough individual communication one on one with your team members. If you communicate with them only as a group, you start to see them just as interchangeable ants and they'll sense of this.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816078)

Also, if you're having regular conference calls, make sure it works smoothly. If you spend the first fifteen minutes every time trying to get everyone connected, people will hate you for it.

Re:Keeping in touch plenty! (1)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816136)

And learn to use the mute button, and be sure that you get a good quality connection, and use good microphones. CLI_I_G and DR__OUTS are really hard to stomach for a long meeting.

IRC (0)

Narcocide (102829) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815384)

Frosty fucking piss.

Re:IRC (4, Insightful)

Skuto (171945) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815430)

Seconded. IRC works great for group discussions. Most IRC software is also very customizable in what messages should cause it to pop up or alter you, so you can continue working concentrated when needed. You can easily move from group discussion to 1-on-1 or seperate chats if needed.

You can also leave an IRC client running and see discussions that happened when you were away/asleep, which is nice if there are timezone differences.

I've used Jabber on a previous job, because this was supposedly more secure, but I don't think there's any advantage over IRC+SSL.

Skype doesn't work as well in my experience, as it's less customizable. During the working day, I want to have my colleagues able to interrupt me, but not my friends. Separate accounts isn't really a good solution for that. Maybe there's add-ons for that?

Re:IRC (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815452)

I just HATE it when my IRC software alters me.

Any attempt by it to alter me results in it's swift deletion from my computer. Assuming it doesn't alter my brain to leave it alone and send all my money to it's developer or order me to build robots with guns.

Re:IRC (1)

rpresser (610529) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815578)

Use Pidgin, attached to your skype account -- skype needs to be running too, but it will be invisible -- and customize which windows make noise.

Re:IRC (1)

maswan (106561) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815766)

I agree, IRC is by far the best group communication tool for distributed teams.

I also use jabber for one distributed work project (the one where I've been spending most of my work time the last 3-4 years or so), but it is often troubled and seldom "just works" for all involved.

Voice, video, etc might be occasionally useful, but not the basis for working. Running most stuff that needs coordination through the group chat is not very distracting for others, yet gives them a chance to know what's going on in the team too. If it starts getting too much, there is always the option of private chats or a new channel to talk in.

Talk (1)

Builder (103701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815410)

Constant communication is important. Getting each member of the team to have their voice heard in a call each day reminds everyone that they're dealing with Real People(tm) and not just names behind e-mail addresses. If you have a travel budget, try and get 1 person to the bigger team now and then. This can be a PITA with visa requirements for South African's - not sure about your Singapore staff.

Video and Voice... (1)

Uzull (16705) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815414)

A chat and email solution is one aspect.

But we humans can convey more information via spoken language and mimics. An audio and video connection for interacting with the team member across the globe is important.

Use IM with integrated Audio and Video, and which enables desktop sharing for collaborative working.

To stitch further the sense of a team despite of the distance, you can extend the office with the view of the other offices' common room filmed from a camera onto a video wall. Of course there is a privacy issue, and not everybody is comfortable with it. It is worth a try

When do we get the connected rooms across several rooms from Dan Simmons' Hyperion???

Ugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815424)

Keeping a team together across extremely disparate timezones in a gigantic PITA. I wish you luck.

My 2 cents... (2)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815426)

So, there's two categories of things you need. You need equipment/services to make it possible. And you need to create a sense of "team" among the members, which is harder to do when you're not in the same room.

Stuff:
-campfirenow.com. A web-chat for multiple users, where you can see what you missed while you weren't logged in.-
-Webcams. There's still such a thing as body language.
-Project management software. We use fogbugz to track dev projects. Whatever you industry is, you might want something similar, because you can't just lean over and explain the issues to your team members. Also, it's good to have a record of issues so you don't forget.
-Various kinds of shared desktop software. You'll want to be able to show people things, instead of just typing out descriptions.
-Extra desks. We have extra desks for team members who work from home. If they come in, they won't be homeless, sitting on a tripod, and working on a 10 year old machine.

Teambuilding:
-Try to meet for socials now and again, wherever you are in the world. Paintball/Steak/Strippers, depends on what people want to do, but don't skimp on money. You don't want people to feel like they're just sitting in front of their computer taking orders from a web page.
-Sometimes, you'll need people to actually work together. Looming deadlines and important launches will benefit from flying people in to work face-to-face.
-Generally, the more life-like contact, the better. I've seen offices where remote users were on webcam, able to join in the banter.

Re:My 2 cents... (1)

Panaflex (13191) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815614)

Just to add a bit to this excellent advise -

Formal and informal - have IM available during work hours, it's less formal and fast. Let email be for hashing out big issues and letting people know your sick 'having a team chat is good, but it can get a bit overwhelming for more than 4 people, so use it for meetings.

Screen sharing - we use gotomeeting, it's good stuff and works on nearly anything.

Weekly targets - you need to get people used committing to goals and reaching them. If people are done early, then I usually let them off for the day as long as they are available for questions etc. Absolutely let people know they're doing a good job too- often it's hard to judge how things are going just through text, so a phone meeting once a week is fine - I don't do video conference all that much - too many technical glitches, but here and there it's helpful.

Good luck!

Offshore? Traitor! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815432)

If your an american and your giving american jobs to people offshore, your a traitor to your country,.

Re:Offshore? Traitor! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815462)

If your an american and your giving american jobs to people offshore, your a traitor to your country,.

you're, not your

Re:Offshore? Traitor! (1, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815714)

you're, not your

Times three. The GP makes me think I should just hire Indians instead, both bastardize the English language but the Indians are cheaper...

Re:Offshore? Traitor! (1)

zevans (101778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815626)

American economic growth over the last 20 years has been entirely driven by American companies getting costs down through outsourcing. If you hadn't "given American jobs to offshore" you'd be in a lot more shit than you are now.

Re:Offshore? Traitor! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815970)

Except that the growth has been in the top earning category (who don't need it), while there's been stagnation and even economic decline in real terms in the rest of the country (who need it).

So OP has a point.

Re:Offshore? Traitor! (1)

kiddygrinder (605598) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815700)

what are you talking about, shipping jobs offshore is like saluting the flag in the morning nowadays.

"Stoolpidgeon" i knew it! This is Google. (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815438)

Seriously, i would go for Google Apps for Business. Whats not included by default, you add as an app.

Correction: "stoolpigeon" (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815450)

Seems my copy-paste skills have degraded.

Aeroplanes (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815458)

As someone who manages distributed teams, I think the most important thing is for people to work together in person for a short time regularly.

If a new person joins a team, fly them over to work with the rest of the team for a few weeks. Fly them over again next year for a while.

This sounds expensive, but in my experience the way in which it engenders trust, and facilitates better communication and collaboration across your skype, webcam, irc, messenger, campfire etc channels once they go back is invaluable

Re:Aeroplanes (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815534)

That doesn't sound expensive, it is expensive. For some projects it's an absolute must, but it has to be a pretty substantial project to justify the outlay of cash.

Depends on what you do and how your teams work... (1)

boef (452862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815460)

What are you trying to achieve, how are your teams split up, what kind of collaboration is required. South Africa will have the downside of expensive broadband (due to Telkom monopoly), but it is better than it was a few years ago.
For video conferencing you can do small teams / groups with software like Oovoo, skype etc, or you can buy a decent dedicated system like Lifesize (now owned by Logitech). There are other more well known names in vid conf as well, but that you can just search to find them. Google docs (or M$ road if you want) will give you mail/storage/collaboration on documents.
A WAN optimiser (Riverbed etc) or at least some form of caching on either side if you want to go the VPN route will also improve performance. As mentioned by other posts, the most important thing is plenty of communication between different locations. Some form of decent intranet with regular updates, plans, comment posting etc would also not hurt...

Re:Depends on what you do and how your teams work. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815550)

One of our C-levels installed Lifesize kit in our inter-continental offices last year - for about $10,000 an end. So far I've failed to see how it's any better than "ordinary" video conferencing through IM-like software such as Skype, but he loves being able to point a big remote control at a big Sony screen and push buttons to make stuff happen. Sure, the high-def video from the pan-tilt-zoom cameras is pretty but the sound is so bad we're still using the Polycom spiders we've had all along to make international calls in parallel.

use git or mercurial (2)

ccabanne (1063778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815464)

Well, first use git or mercurial. Then set up an in person meeting of the team at least once at the beginning of the project. A lecturer at UCLA told me that projects are 70% more likely to succeed if people meet face to face once. I don't have a link to the original research that claims this, though.

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815528)

Isn't having the whole repository, including all past changes, cached on your local machine, a drag? As opposed to svn?

Re:use git or mercurial (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815786)

Isn't having the whole repository, including all past changes, cached on your local machine, a drag? As opposed to svn?

No!

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

the_enigma_1983 (742079) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815826)

Technically speaking, it uses up a chunk of your hard drive, yes, but also makes commits way faster. The only two down-sides that I've found so far, working with git/hg/bzr, are the hard drive usage, and initial clones can take some time. I still hate going back to SVN where needed, simply because commits, and checking logs, aren't instantaneous.

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815998)

Might one downside be that no single repository has the full history of all possible paths that all devs took, and failed/not ready experiments?

Might not matter in free/open source dev, but it could for a company that wants a record of what approaches have already been tried.

Also, any "gotchas" for folks coming from the venerable cvs/svn background?

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816156)

So, first, I'm a big fan of Mercurial, and our team just switched to it. The "gotchas" that I can enumerate are:
  • "I have to type TWO COMMANDS to get my bits onto the server???!!!!?!
  • "I have to type TWO COMMANDS to get new bits from the server???!?!?!?! (use "hg pull -u")
  • It's not quite as easy to secure through Apache -- if, say, you are using Trac for project management, that was what kept us using Svn for a while. I'm not saying "impossible", I'm saying "not as easy", especially in an open source project.

The first two items, people eventually figure out how wonderful it is to be able to do local commits, without having to explicitly create/name/manage branches. The third item, not an issue if you use ssh for distributed authentication to servers, which you surely will.

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

Skuto (171945) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816320)

Might one downside be that no single repository has the full history of all possible paths that all devs took, and failed/not ready experiments?

No. Experience says that with a single repository, the developers often just don't commit stuff they don't feel is ready to make public. It gets worse when the centralized system is slow, because there's even less incentive to commit early-commit often then. That makes the problem, and the risk to lose stuff, worse. So the ability to always quickly commit "dirty" stuff is an advantage for distributed version control, not a disadvantage.

Also, any "gotchas" for folks coming from the venerable cvs/svn background?

Yes, because you don't have to wait ages for a "commit" operation to complete on an overloaded server or a slow connection, you will have less free time to post on slashdot. This is a significant disadvantage.

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

Skuto (171945) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815828)

No, it's a massive, gargantuan advantage. Unless you somehow have a repo that is bigger than your disk, in which case: "you're doing it wrong".

Advantages for this scenario:
- Speed of all interactions with the version control system is independent of networks speed (or amount of developers - it scales)
- Developers can continue working if the remote network or the repository server goes out (with different timezones, this gets more important)
- Better branch+merge support helps when there is potentially less direct coordination between devs

Disadvantages:

Re:use git or mercurial (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816140)

If you're a distributed team (point of this article), then it's a huge advantage to be able to operate easily against the entire repository no matter where you are or what the status of your connection to the centrally-shared repository.

Additionally, these distributed source code control tools are where the real development action is happening. Awesome features like bisect (which lets you zone in on which commit broke the software) and the attic (which is a little like branching but local, convenient, and not committed to everyone else's repositories) have been appearing and advancing first on hg and git.

Going back to SVN after using Mercurial (hg) for a while is like going back to CVS after you've been using SVN.

This can be a good thing. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815470)

I'm assuming you're taking about software teams.

- Make sure the usual stuff is in place: Bug tracking, version control, build servers,...
- Agree on a common language. In this world and age, English would be a good choice. All documentation, email communication, variable names, comments etc. are to be written in that language.
- Different time zones can cause wasting a lot of time. Have team members from different areas work on different modules/parts of the project so that you don't need to depend on each other *too* much.Do have occasional meetings (ugh) to stay on track. Where you must have more interdependency between different parts of the project, try to have those bits worked on by time zones that are closer together to avoid wasting time. But the physical separation can also help encourage modular code.
- Make sure you have some kind of instant messaging in place to contact these team members in real time.
- When working in international teams, network availability will become an issue - you must have your network infrastructure under control. If you have one version control repository or bug tracking system and the network is unavailable to a remote location, their work may grind to a halt. Redundant network connections help. Also, if you can cater for "offline" working by running periodic syncs, that could be very helpful.
- Finally, agree on which software to use and make sure everybody in the team can use it. Using Visual Source Safe as version control system is probably a bad idea if some of the team members are running on Linux.

Group Emails (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815476)

There is no reason this should not work. As someone said earlier, a chat and email solution are a necessity.

I work for a virtual team. Roughly 50% of the team work in the building where I work, but the rest are scattered all over the country, The first thing that happens in virtual teams is that people lose track of each others' skills. For something that would take five minutes to find from a team mate, I have at times spent hours finding the information from other teams, because I didnt know someone had worked on that before. Then we started sending out emails to the team - At First these would start with elobarate apologies for sending out emails to tne entire team - slowly people realized that it was effective, and the apologies are being cut down. If a culture is set where such emails are not seen as offensive, then it helps a lot. However, There are elitist techies in every team who somehow snigger when an email is sent to all the team. If such attitudes can be kept minimal, it works.

posting anonymous on purpose, most of my team do follow slashdot

Tools/Hints (1)

MartijnL (785261) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815478)

Use tools like Webex/GoToMeeting/OCS where you can have an integrated A/V meeting and use local telco numbers to control costs. Be aware about the telco plan of the vendor (included or not and at what cost per minute). Webex used to charge for the telco minutes but I don't know what they do these days. GoToMeeting is free as far as I know but check to make sure.

Set up a collaboration environment like BaseCamp (if it's for Project Management) or MS Team Studio, Atlassian JIRA/Confluence if it's for development work.

If possible implement a way to easily work on documents together (either in-house or externally with something like Google Docs/Office 365 depending on what's allowed by company security policy).

Heavily promote the use of these tools and train people in effectively using them. Some people have difficulty starting up with these tools and end up not using them to initiate anything.

'Virtual' (1)

smooc (59753) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815482)

virtual(a): existing in essence or effect though not in actual fact; "a virtual dependence on charity"; "a virtual revolution"; "virtual reality"

So are you actually looking for the best way to create a team that does not exist but does produce an outcome? I think you are already there :-)

Or are you looking for software to support the communication between teammembers in such a way that they really feel to be a part of a team? Then I would look for software that is already integrated with the way of working of your team members (msn, skype, email, subversion) etc

Think about timezones (1)

MWelchUK (585458) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815492)

If the members of your team are globally distributed, I'd drop conference calls for many decision-making meetings. Whilst you may have staff that are happy to partake in a conference call at 7pm local time, they will get frustrated with not being as fresh as others where the meeting is being held at 10am their time. For those that are tired, having already worked a full working day, it will prove very difficult for them to efficiently express their side of an argument. Look at how the open source community solve this - discussions are carried out over a number of days via email, with plenty of time available for each contributor to reply and formulate their answers.

Re:Think about timezones (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815542)

Ahhhh, never ending email threads where things don't get solved quickly, especially if priorities aren't clear. It doesn't beat live communications, especially if you want to get your job done.

Re:Think about timezones (1)

tf23 (27474) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816276)

Ahhhh, never ending meetings where things don't get solved quickly, especially if priorities aren't clear.

If priorities aren't clear, the manner of communications is going to be inefficient regardless.

Personally, I'll take a well drafted email over any live-person-multiple-people meeting any day. The emails in my experience tend to be well laid out and detailed. Meetings, people show up unprepared and empty-handed. Then don't take well enough notes. Then are preoccupied with other things going on (for that day) and ... you get an hour or two wasted with people unable to discuss IT department topics that are technically inclined but there is no technical information on the table.

Atleast with an email I can run through it over and over and let my brain digest it, and then come back and reply with complete thoughts to it. I have the ability to pull up relevant documentation, facts, prior projects, prior issue-tracker-issues, etc. I find in meetings, having the time to digest new information, just dropped on you there, with others expecting an answer _there_.... that's not fun.

It could also very well be that meetings such as the ones I'm thinking about were not run well by management, pre-prep wasn't enforced and no guideance for the meeting, nor future meetings, was provided.

I'm not saying all meetings are bad, but from my experience, most are.

Re:Think about timezones (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816700)

In my experience, long emails don't cut it either. It seems that some people don't read or comprehend beyond four lines, and this seems to be especially bad amongst Americans. I don't know if it's cultural, an attention span issue, or trying to work via a mobile phone whilst doing something else.

I can find out in a few minutes of conversation (even faster than via IM) whether and what somebody understands or not, which is way faster than writing a detailed email that might be superfluous or not cover the areas the other person(s) requires. This holds true even with my Chinese colleagues and all of the cultural and language barriers that we have. I always follow-up a phone conversation with meeting notes, just to be sure. Ultimately you need a balance of both, and quite often, ineffective meetings can be avoided with proper preparation and an advance agenda.

As the other responder has suggested, time zones can kill a schedule when you're only relying on email. If there's a problem or more information required, you lose a day instantly. It doesn't matter how well your emails are written.

Re:Think about timezones (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816306)

Agreed. I'd rather have someone's tired presence on a conference call where a decision can quickly be made than a multi-day email thread where things tend to go round and round due to a lack of immediate interactivity that forces feedback into the discussion.

Especially when your working hours are skewed, it can be excruciating waiting until the next day to inch the conversation forward, only to have the other person completely miss the point of an instruction and waste his entire day working in the wrong direction.

Vague question (1)

greg1104 (461138) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815508)

Many of the software/practices/etc. for a team are very different depending on what they're doing, and there's no sense of that in the question. For teams of spread out developers working together, you need strong version control and issue tracking software. Teams doing support will need ways to collaborate on a shared knowledgebase. The right software is very dependent on the job.

The only general thing all projects like this need is good communications software. You're going to want simple text chat sometimes, shared multi-party voice calls others, and small video conferences others. Skype is the only thing I've found that does a reasonable job on all of these things at once. I now have calls linking people in 7 countries with chat and/or audio. You can do better for each specific requirement with other software though.

Also, you really need to get as many team members as possible together at least once a year. You can blow through all sorts of unproductive things people have been hung up in a single good dinner with your co-workers.

Crack Jokes. Play Multiplayer Games. Send cake. (1)

Qubit (100461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815512)

Okay, so my methods might sounds a little unorthodox, but the key point is that your team will be working together day in and day out on projects, and if they're geographically spread out they will not have the same in-office experiences that they would if everyone was 1 cubicle away.

Getting everyone together around a speakerphone for a conference call isn't a bad place to start, but if all you do around it is talk shop (and I mean just talk shop, no distractions allowed, etc...), I worry about the cohesiveness of your team.

Getting everyone to log in to a multiplayer game and shoot each other (or some cooperative thing, if you like) might seem like a waste of time to your boss, but even an hour or two a month could really engender greater feelings of community. Or have a birthday party and send a small version of the cake along to the people overseas so that they can join in with everyone else. Having a bit of a repor with other members of the team can really draw you together and make you more willing to help each other out so that the overall project will succeed.

And besides, who doesn't want to shoot their coworkers, from time to time?

first, ask yourself one question: (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815514)

Why are my new team members so far apart?

Maybe you're putting a bandaid over a symptom, rather than solving the problem.

You need to go to them, too (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815518)

A team is all about trust. Each member trusts the other members to do what they say they will, in order to meet their shared targets. (If your team members only have individual targets, that's not a team: it's merely a group of individuals who report to the same person. However, that's what most people mean by a team - do you?)

Now, trust comes in many forms but the most important one requires that you actually know the people involved. Contrary to popular websites marketing, you never really know someone until you've spent time in their presence and you can't do that via email, "friending" them or even across a video connection. You actually, really, do have to be in the same room as them: see how they talk naturally, know their interests, strengths, weaknesses, dislikes, aspirations and find some common ground.

So, bringing them to your country gets a little bit of the way. But you really need to get people out to them - so they're the home team, too. If your people aren't willing to do this, then they don't really have much in the way of commitment to a global team - they're probably either doing it simply to have a "follow the sun" support operation, or so they can pay the foreigners paltry rates. A truly global team is not a cost-saving measure or something to be done on the cheap. It requires money, time and effort to make it work. You do all have passports, don't you?

Communicate. And not just about work! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815522)

I am in the UK, and work with a team in Finland, India, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania and Sweden... I work with no-one else in the UK. Communicating regularly and often around work topics is a given, both in group meetings and just by following up with IM or a quick call. I make the assumption that you have an appropriate toolkit, such as Office Communicator / Lync, and LiveMeeting or whatever you prefer, but you need something to chat, speak, video call and conference with.

The real challenge is really getting to know someone virtually: by that I mean not just what they do, and what their work strengths and weaknesses are, but also what they enjoy away from work and what their personal situation is. This is the sort of stuff that gets discussed at lunch, making a drink, or whatever, that simply doesn't often get considered when working virtually.

It's difficult because you can't force it, but on the other hand it does pay dividends as you actually do end up building a real camaraderie. I end up just chatting on IM with colleagues to see if they had an interesting weekend, and take it from there.

I also like to be reminded of where the team is, and in what timezone, and what they look like: I have a world map printed on my wall with photos of the team pinned to it. (Well, a powerpoint slide printed!). It helps cement someone in your mind, I find.

One thing that helped put the icing on the cake is a one-off, physical meeting. Yes, this is expensive, and yet it takes a week out of everyone's schedule practically, but the value in building relationships with colleagues and making friends of colleagues really cannot be over-stated.

Another potential communication issue worth considering is that native English speakers tend to speak fast, and use odd colloquialisms from time to time. Recognise this, slow down, and explain colloquialisms: you'll find non-native English speaking colleagues greatly appreciate this, and will often start a chat to question word use, constructions, sayings, colloquialisms or whatever which is a great way to build a better relationship, too. It's also fascinating to find the literal translations in many languages as the expression for 'you're pulling my leg' in Russian translates to English as literally 'you are hanging noodles off my ears'.

Most of all, have fun, and built a relationship of trust.

Re:Communicate. And not just about work! (1)

PeterKraus (1244558) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815816)

As a Slovak, working in a chemical company in Scotland, with my boss from Isle of Man, for a project for folks from Midlands - I can say colloquialisms can sometimes throw a spanner in the works for me! Especially when I'm used to Scottish accents and someone starts his Geordie. Over the phone.

Re:Communicate. And not just about work! (1)

MickLinux (579158) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816194)

Kalbies-tu Lietuviskai? As gyvanau Lietuve, 3 m. (nuo 2000 iki 2003), bet as iskeliau a JAV (USA) ir gyvaneu Amerikoje dabar.

Fights to the death! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815524)

All of the above regarding regular communication... ...plus a private Quake 2 server for periodic tournys.

Just make sure the server is hosted in each office each time for lag balancing purposes.

Collab Tools Suck. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815536)

All collab tools suck, they are either too monolithic and inflexible or they are feature anaemic and lack integration options. Just ensure you have a good document revision system (and workflow and revision processes are followed) and you should be able to slog it through using the variety of woeful collab tools available like the rest of us.

everybody's wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815546)

screen + irssi + ip phones + fogbugz / (redmine if you want to be free) + git.. solved.

Being from South Africa... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815556)

... I can tell you that our upload speeds generally suck. So - you can get data onto your workstation fairly quickly (ADSL is between 4 and 10 mbps, depending if your' on the exchange and with the faster 3G packages you can get close to 20 mbps) but uploading data rarely goes over 512 kbps. Also the cost of data is still fairly high, especially 3G.

So - think about this when you are continuously syncing data up and down stream :-).

Treems - tiny groups, highly linked, with extras (2)

Peter (Professor) Fo (956906) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815564)

I have researched this. The answer is at http://vulpeculox.net/treems [vulpeculox.net]
  • Limited bandwidth makes it better to get to know a few people really well
  • Management oversight is more difficult so build mini-team responsibility and development and ownership of objectives
  • Make sure people are in the part of the organisation that suits them (see link above).
  • Provide separate communication protocols for gripes and discussions as opposed to getting the job done. (You need a 'grumblee' to be a lightning conductor for things that might get worked out in physical corridors.)

When you're remote everyone needs to feel valuable, cared for by the organisation and spared annoyances.

Sharepoint? (1)

hinesbrad (1923872) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815568)

Let the flames be thrown at me for this one: I actually like Sharepoint to keep on the same page as a team. ~

Re:Sharepoint? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815940)

Confluence by Atlassian. Cheap and easy to use. Fosters collaboration (it's an Enterprise Wiki that has been extended with many 3rd party plugins).

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IRC (1)

lexcyber (133454) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815574)

IRC ftw. - Fast, textbased, privte chat when needed, multiple chatchannels for different groups.

And you don't have graphical smilies or video, so no one will fall for the temptation of laggy video conferencing.

Patience, language, and other tips (5, Insightful)

zevans (101778) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815604)

1. UK ENGLISH IS NOT INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH. AMERICAN ENGLISH IS NOT INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH.

Avoid slang and colloquialisms if anyone new is in the conversation. Think HARD about what might be slang or idiom. Be particularly careful to avoid phrases where the meaning is the opposite of the individual words.

Learn what "mistakes" are common in speakers from particular countries and learn how to go around them. Often non-native speakers will use academically correct English which sounds imperative and aggressive to idiomatic speakers. e.g. "I'll have John look at that" is perfectly natural American English but sounds imperialist even to English English speakers. I've noticed Indian staff often do the opposite and what should be "you must, otherwise this project is doomed" becomes "if you don't mind when you can get around to it if it's not too much trouble."

2. Remember cultural references are not universal, despite Coca-Cola Co's best efforts. Watch out for this when drawing analogies, especially with TV shows, social situations, and personal money.

3. Be patient. It's not anyone's fault that you were born 9000 miles apart. If a communication doesn't make sense or seems offensive on first sight, check.

4. Quick phone meeting every day is essential. Try and find a slot that isn't the end of day for anyone (can be tough to do that depending what timezones are involved.) And I do mean quick - 15 mins - and have a tight agenda e.g. "UK hotspot/news, India hotspot news, Singapore hotspot/news." Be careful about what "today" and "tomorrow" means in practice. "End of tomorrow" is probably "first thing the day after tomorrow" for someone on the call.

5. Unified Comms is great if used properly, but do remember it's not face to face conversation and works on different assumptions. Instant messaging is particularly dangerous because written English and spoken English do not operate on the same set of assumptions; but in IM it's tempting to mix it up. I ran two similar projects in a bank two years apart; the second time, we had Office Communicator and it made the whole thing a HELL of a lot easier. I was astounded by how useful it was.

6. In a virtual team, it's very likely that not everyone in the team will be in the team full-time. Be aware of that and don't assume that "four hours work" means that it will be done the same afternoon. Ask.

7. Notice how far down this list technology is...

Re:Patience, language, and other tips (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816634)

Great advice.

My German colleague just said the word "prepone" to me, in reference to a meeting. Opposite of postpone? That's what I guessed. It's not a word I've read, heard or spoken in the last 40 years. I had to look it up.

It turns out that the Indians invented it and it is the opposite of postpone. There is not an English word opposite to postpone, so they made one up. Fair enough.

I do use slang in front of my German colleagues; normally after they've broken out the German, which they know I'm limited in. I have a bubble; it puts a smile on my boat. Know what I mean, me old China?

That one's easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815608)

Two words: Google Wave.

HAHAHA..

Just kidding. All you need is irc. And maybe a task tracking program.

Glad I could help.

What worked for us (1)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815654)

This is of course, assuming you're trying to solve the problem of not being able to get everyone into the same room. Also things differ quite a bit based on what type of work your team does. Since you're asking slashdot, I'm assuming your team is technical like ours. Here's what worked:

  1. Meet using www.teamviewer.com (or something similar) -- Participants would all join and the conductor(s) would use a drawing canvas while discussing ideas (we had a pen device -- I suggest you get one too).
  2. Screen capture your sessions if members in different zones can't make it (we use CamStudio)
  3. Try to avoid email in the decision making process -- it soon degenerates into a mass of replies nobody can track. Setup a in internal web forum with search capability.
  4. Avoid word documents -- they degenerate into a mess of different versions on peoples computers. Consider a wiki (DokuWiki or MediaWiki)
  5. Always have a detailed plan (of what is to happen when and who is responsible) at least a few weeks into the future and publish it to all members (preferably on a Wiki page). You can try MS project, but it was a nightmare for us.
  6. If your organization allows it, use Google Apps for business -- it will help you with both of the above problems
  7. Chat - Get an internal IM system up and running for quick communication between members (or use a sufficiently secure public service, if allowed)

Re:What worked for us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815942)

Excellent ideas. We followed a similar path, but found mediawiki entry was too difficult for the non-technical people to use - more likely they simply didn't care to learn it. We had 2 project managers who couldn't understand that # and * could be used for item lists. Don't get me started about trying to prevent extremely generic article names polluting the top-level namespace. Many people don't think in an organized way.

The wiki is only used by the computer people.

The project managers always wanted to use MS-Word and MS-project. There were hundreds of different versions of project files even though we had a DMS setup. Because it didn't look like a shared network drive, it was too difficult for everyone to use - except me.

So the main things that I've learned are:
- Setup a VPN that doesn't get in the way, but works.
- Setup a DMS that looks like a shared network drive. Anything more complex won't be used.
- Set email quotas to be tiny, or you'll end up with email becoming a defacto "system of record"
- None of the web-based project management tools really work. The data entry on all of them for tasks and actions suck. We're still looking after 3 years and trying 5 different tools.

Still, our team is mostly virtual. We are in the same metro area, but everyone lives about 45 minutes away from a central place, so we can meet as necessary. I can't imagine how we'd deal with the money if at least 2 people weren't in the same local area. We've had to sit in the same bank branch a few times to transfer responsibilities after one guy needed to leave the company and take a real job for mid-6 figures. Most of us make low-6 figures working for the company.

Handling Wildly Disparate Timezones (1)

Dean Edmonds (189342) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815678)

I'm working with a small team with members in three different timezones, up to 8 hours apart. That makes any of the immediate-mode forms of communication, like Skype and IRC, difficult as it always requires someone to make themselves available outside of normal working hours.

What we've been doing is using a team blog in which each team member writes a brief summary of what they did each day, raises flags on potential issues, etc. Email is used for more extensive temporal discussions.

We're running on two-week agile cycles, so once every two weeks we have a half-hour teleconference in real-time, which helps to keep people from drifting too far apart.

We use Code Collaborator for code reviews. It's got a couple of minor annoyances but on the whole is working pretty nicely for us.

Re:Handling Wildly Disparate Timezones (1)

osgeek (239988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816416)

Your comment is the first one I've read that mentioned a code review tool.

That's a great idea to have in the mix of other communications tools. Being able to distribute your code review both geographically and temporally is very important.

Anyone have any other recommended code review applications that they'd recommend?

Offer them all stock options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815692)

Oops, nasty 90s flashback.

Get the right people, have the right tools, meet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815702)

I have been working with such setup since 2006, being myself the only team member in the country. There are 3 key aspects to consider very carefully.
- Some people just don't have the discipline. All team members must be predictable in terms of when they work, how to get in touch them, if/what/when they will deliver. It is a lot harder to track what remote team members are doing, and it gets really painful after a short time.
- Have the right tools. You must be able to talk, chat, share screen, have voice conference, ... . Cisco showed me something called virtual presence. It is like a window to the coffee corner of an other office. Looks like a toy, but really helps to see you are not alone, and not so far from one another.
- You must meet once, and build a relationship. You must meet in case there is a problem. Some policies enforce regular meetings. It's good if you have the budget, because it allows people to organize in advance and look forward to when they will resolve such or such issue.

http://connectnow.acrobat.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815738)

http://connectnow.acrobat.com

Podio.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815768)

It's like facebook - but for business.

Collaborative Virtual Environments (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815776)

...such as the "basic" Skype (or with a Group Video subscription, gives you a little facetime, or to give a bit more of an immersive feel, SecondLife has a good few island plots (such as Bluepill) that demonstrate the value of CVEs.

manufacturer of medical-x-ray machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815784)

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Taskwise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815802)

I use Taskwise to manage my team, simple and easy www.taskwise.com - free web based app with a desktop client for the power users.

VibeOnPrem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815836)

http://www.novell.com/products/vibe-cloud/ this post looks like spam, but give it a try!

All you need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815842)

Google Apps + Skype

Couple of suggestions (1)

pamri (251945) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815952)

A couple of suggestions from someone who has done that over 5 years.
* Do *have* a mailing list. Nothing beats it reach.
* Have a good ticketing system. We used to let people who are online to pick up tickets from any geo and work on it unless it is something that requires hands on , in which case, we used to pass it on to the local contact.
* Use a good text based chatting solution. Video / audio solutions are good, but text is better for a lot of things, like small talk , sharing links or a way to avoid misunderstanding or misinterpretation that could happen in speaking. I generally prefer IRC for group chat. Setup a proxy server for IRC like https://code.google.com/p/dircproxy/ [google.com] or have some form of logging and you could let users catch up with whatever happened on the channel while they are away.
* Arrange their timings, such that atleast one person from each geo will have atleast a hours overlap with a person from the geo closest to him. EG:
* Have video meetings r meetings over the phone atleast once a week.
* Get them to put their pictures, phone nos., and responsibilities on a intranet / address book.
* Have weekly meetings in any medium and if you can't have everyone to have their say, let one person from each geo each week talk about any issues they have or something good they did that week.
* Other collaborative software that is good to have : wiki , version control, Calendar (egroupware / google / exchange) , pastebin (share code / error snippets).

Get this book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35815966)

I'm currently reading a book about that topic, and although it is mainly focused on software development (while mine is system and network administration), you learn a lot about building distributed teams - even if you do not plan to go all agile. Highly recommended reading for your problem.

Jutta Eckstein (2010): Agile Software Development with Distributed Teams, Dorset House (New York), ISBN: 978-0-932633-71-2
http://www.jeckstein.com/distributed-teams/

Here's what I use (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815980)

And I've been to several remote teams

- Have email and preferably shared calendar. Google Apps can do that for you
- Task management. ScrumDo has positively surprised me
- Wiki: Redmine instead of Trac

Code-wise, if you need for programmers, IMHO nothing beats git-svn.
SVN: easy to setup server, centralized, plenty of tools, etc
Git is killer for the client though. Other 'less wise' clients can use tortoise svn

Virtual teams are hard but rewarding (2)

zgrossbart (535154) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815984)

I've worked in a virtual team for over 10 years and the short answer is that making it work takes work. Most engineers are solitary and it takes a lot of communication to keep a virtual team together. I wrote a book about it. The One Minute Commute [zackgrossbart.com] . It is available free.

10 suggestions: For what it's worth (5, Insightful)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35815988)

1. Blog your progress. Whatever you did today, blog it. Let people know what you did that worked, or what was faster (Nginx vs. Apache), or what wasn't (ColdFusion?). Don't reinvent the wheel, use WordPress [wordpress.org] , regardless of whether you like PHP/MySQL or not.

2. Use a subscription/payment management company. You're just a small group of nerds, not accounts receivable clerks. Fastspring [fastspring.com] , Plimus [plimus.com] are free; Chargify [chargify.com] , Subsify [subsify.com] , Cheddar Getter [cheddargetter.com] , BrainTree [braintreep...utions.com] , Spreedly [spreedly.com] charge; and Zuora [zuora.com] is expensive.

3. Use Google Docs [google.com] and Slideshare [slideshare.net] to share documents.

4. Chat. Don't just rely on email. Emails can often read like "this way or the highway". Be collaborative. You can often accomplish more with 15-30min collaboratively as opposed to composing and responding to long emails. Skype [skype.com] , Jabber [jabber.org] , SIP [wikipedia.org]

5. Take notes on what you did. Made a server configuration or a setting change in your CMS, your compiler, or whatever? Copy and paste from xterm so you don't have to guess about those commandline switches next time. Take screenshots and make them available to others. Zim [zim-wiki.org] , Projly [projly.com] , DokuWiki [dokuwiki.org] .

6. Have a phone numbers. If not bog-standard landline phones, take advantage of Google Voice [google.com] and SkypeOut and SkypeIn (people can call your Skype line on a normal phone number). I realize Google Voice might not be available in South Africa yet.

7. Someone mentioned version control. Use git [git-scm.com] if you're a cool kid. Or svn [tigris.org] if you're old and busted. Read the RedBean book [red-bean.com] . I've had success in having non-tech colleagues using graphical clients like TortoiseSVN [tigris.org] (integrates into Windows Explorer).

8. Write tests. Any member of your team, sitting anyplace, should be able to push a button and run all your tests. Tests document how you're supposed to use a given method, class, etc., especially valuable when you're so far flung. Use JUnit [junit.org] , PHPUnit [github.com] , FooUnit for your language. Write the tests before you develop, and you're doing Test Driven Development [c2.com] .

9. If you're writing tests, that implies loose coupling [thesoftwar...tional.com] , which might require dependency injection [potencier.org] . Can be difficult to climb that mountain, but it's worth it when you can just run a test and be sure your project works.

10. Development processes: Scrum [wikipedia.org] , Extreme Programming [extremeprogramming.org] . UML [uml.org] lets you communicate graphically about objects.

Re:10 suggestions: For what it's worth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816240)

rosetta stone online [rosetta-stone-online.net]

Be ready for a disappointment (1)

mseeger (40923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816016)

Honestly, the chance of a virtual team becoming a real team is much lower than for a team at a single site. No matter the technology, the chances are stacked against you. In my observation a lot of virtual teams have to improve to reach a dysfunctional level.

Less than 1/3 of the virtual teams i know have reached any status resembling a real team (e.g. partitioning the work, fail-over in case of illness/vacation, successful handovers inside the team, cooperation, load sharing). If you take social aspects into consideration, the rate is even lower.

From the technical side, the best effect has been a permanent open chat with all present team members and an internal Wiki. In all cases, this has improved the situation.

CU, Martin

I actually work at a virtual company (1)

insane_coder (1027926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816068)

I personally work at a virtual company, and aside from a neighbor which also works there, I have rarely met my coworkers in person. We use WebEx [webex.com] in order to have online meetings, and work on things together. We use Groopex Integrated Conferencing [groopex.com] to integrate WebEx with our corporate site to easily schedule meetings and launch them. We use Google Apps [google.com] to share various office documents around. We use MediaWiki [mediawiki.org] to keep track of current projects, todo lists, documentation, and other important information. Lastly, for source code, we use various version control system with nice web frontends so the managers can see that we actually work on things.

For quick conversation with coworkers, we have an IRC server, and if we really need someone else urgently, we just pick up this archaic technology known as the "telephone".

Producing Open Source Software (book) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35816120)

Producing Open Source Software (http://producingoss.com/) has some good descriptions of tools and practices used by open source projects. It's a bit of cultural anthropology: a lot of the ideas are obvious if you've been doing the open-source thing for awhile, but you may not have thought about how to express them. The Art of Community (http://www.artofcommunityonline.org/) covers some of the same ground.

why not a virtual office (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816300)

I don't know of any products that would do this but some one should make it. If you build an office in a computer game but integrate web cams or xbox kinects so you got real time real life images of your workmates, then display it on a projector or an extra screen. This way you get all the advantages of working in an office team, while being able to relax on a boat next to a Caribbean island (which has good wifi). Also depending on your business a great way for clients or contractors from any where in the world to communicate with the whole team. Given 5 years and light weight good res video glasses, (or eventually holograms and hacking of the optic nerve) this will be even more feasible.

Distributed teams can be successful (1)

hrvatska (790627) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816564)

I'm a developer and I've been working remotely from other people for the last 12 years. Nowadays, I rarely work on a project that has co-located people. We may occasionally meet each other in person, if we happen to be onsite at a client's location, but we never have physical team meetings just to meet. I haven't physically met any of my managers in ten years. What I've noticed about successful remote teams is that they adhere to a process, they have good project managers, and they've got kick ass coders who know how to keep to a schedule and know how to produce effective written communication. We tend to arrange work to take advantage of differences in time zones, so that one person or team can pick up where another left off. The project I'm on now has coders in the US, in four time zones, and the test team is in China. The testers test while the coders sleep. This sometimes isn't possible, and late evening or early morning meetings are sometimes necessary, but this is the exception, not the rule. The company I work for is a Lotus shop as far as online group collaboration tools go. We use Lotus Notes (please, no rants, it's not perfect but it works), Lotus SameTime (instant messaging), Lotus Live (desktop sharing). Lotus Connections (wikis and sharing documents), and IRC. Quite a few of my co-workers have toll free conference numbers that we use for group meetings.

In 1999, when I first started working from home it was difficult. Most of the people worked together at the same physical location and the way that they approached working on a team reflected this. For instance, it used to be that when everyone was co-located, and only one or two of the team members were remote, a lot of information was not communicated to the remote people in an effective and timely manner. I've found that good communication skills are more important on distributed teams. As time has gone on, and more and more of the company works remotely from one another, it has become much easier to work in distributed teams.

I've come to prefer working on distributed teams. On longer projects I make it a point of getting to know my team members as more than just resources. This means that meetings are not always all business. Sometimes we discuss the weather, each other's home life, and other non-work related items. When people know more about each other and spend time casually chatting they tend to back each other up more. We cover for each other on vacation and emergency situations. Working from home leaves me a lot of flexibility in my schedule. No one cares if I take an hour for lunch and go for a bike ride. Mid afternoon naps in the recliner are great. What's important to the company is that my work is delivered on schedule and that it works as promised.

Distributed teams can and do work very well.

Yammer (1)

tulimulta (769091) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816660)

Try to adopt Yammer or some other micro-blogging platform, and encourage people write often, preferably once a day what they are up to. For techier types, IRC works better, of course.

Start right (1)

Xenious (24845) | more than 3 years ago | (#35816718)

Unless your team members are going to be shifting a lot then have a good kickoff with everyone in one place. Yes it may be expensive but it builds that initial bond so when everyone returns to their respective countries they have an established familiarity with the rest of the team.

Don't be afraid to change the makeup. If someone isn't working out (and you can) remove or replace them. Not everyone gels with everyone. Conversely just because people don't like each other doesn't mean they won't be good team members.

Encourage casual communications, IM, etc. Don't push meaningless formal meetings.

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