Some documentation about how we try to run an async team (e.g. a remote team in different places).
Most of this is inspired by how we run the dat project, as well as lots of lessons learned from years of open source development. Currently the dat project has multiple paid contributors (team members) who work on dat related projects a lot, and many open source contributors who make smaller contributions infrequently.
If you 'Watch' a repository on GitHub you will get notified when someone comments on a commit, issue or pull request. The default notification is to get an e-mail, but you can turn this off. You also get notifications when someone
@-mentions you in a comment. This makes GitHub issues a pretty good replacement for a traditional mailing list.
Individual projects get their own repositories, preferably created and owned by the team member who is the BDFL on the project. For example if we wanted to make a new project to e.g. demonstrate how to run Dat in Docker, and the point-person on the project is going to be
@mafintosh, then he should create a repo at
https://github.com/mafintosh/dat-docker-example, rather than
It can cause delays to have to ask permission first to do something, especially when the person you are asking persmission of is asleep in a different time zone. The combination of BDFL owned personal repositories and splitting projects up into small modules allows us to minimize the amount of synchronization overhead.
We use the
datproject organization to house repositories that don't make as much sense to have individual ownership.
Using GitHub issues effectively on a remote team takes some work. One skill you learn from doing tech support and/or participating on open source is how to write up a reproducible test case. You want to make sure that when the person you are asking a question of wakes up in 4 hours, and you have gone to bed, that your question has all of the information needed for them to give you a good answer.
Another advantage of many small repositories is that opening issues on a repository will only notify those who are watching it. By contrast, if you have one huge repository that everyone commits to, opening issues will notify everyone watching it, which is likely the entire team.
Cons of IRC: Most IRC clients are notoriously hard to use for beginners. IRC runs on a port that is blocked on some WiFi. You can run your own IRC 'bouncer' but that requires sysadmin skills. Terminal IRC clients also require CLI skills to use and don't work on smartphones. Registering a nickname requires knowledge of custom IRC commands.
Pros of IRC: Most open source projects have chat on freenode. Chat is public and often logs are kept and logs are searchable/indexed by Google.
To solve the usability issues of IRC we all use IRCCloud, I pay the $5/month fee to have IRCCloud keep me logged in all of the time. The persistent idling combined with the excellent iOS/Android IRCCloud apps mean that we can ping each other in the
#dat channel on by PM and know the person we are pinging will get a push notification (if they want to). Honestly, without IRCCloud, we would probably not use IRC as much.
The reasoning is that Gitter provides a free, persistent (you can get notifications when you don't have the app open) desktop and mobile chat client. Some people prefer to use Gitter due to it's lower barrier to entry over IRC. Both IRC and Gitter are by default public (as opposed to Slack) which is more aligned with our mission as an open source project.
Slack is great if you need your conversations to be private, but since our project is a grant funded open source project, the only thing we really use Slack for are private team-only matters to discuss like e.g. paychecks. We try to encourage conversation in the public IRC channel. The few things that Slack does better than IRCCloud/Gitter don't outweigh the benefits of being in the public for us.
Slack also has a really great IRC bridge (
https://yourteamname.slack.com/account/gateways), making it possible to use it seamlessly from within IRCCloud. This is the feature that makes Slack worth it for me for private chat, as I don't have to actually log into the Slack app to chat or get notified when I get mentioned, I can just use IRCCloud for IRC, Slack and Gitter simultaneously. But individuals can choose their own combination.
We like Screenhero because it does one thing well. It lets you invite someone to view your desktop, have their own mouse + keyboard on your desktop, and also does voice chat, but no video (which is good because you honestly don't need video for remote pairing). The two main developers on our team have the $10/month upgraded Screenhero accounts, which lets them invite other members of the team (who all have free accounts) to have Screenhero sessions. We look forward to the future version of Screenhero that has multi-user team-wide screen sharing, at which point we will likely upgrade to their Team plan.
I have a folder on Google Drive called
DatTeam that I shared with all members of the team. Anyone can save/view any Googley things into there using either drive.google.com or docs.google.com, making it easier to share with the whole team at once as opposed to having to enter in everyone email addresses every time you want to share a specific doc. Since we aren't using Google Apps this is the best option for us that I've found.
The downside is that the folder is managed by me, so if I leave the project someone else will have to set up a folder and move the drive contents into it, I don't believe Google provides a way to have multiple owners/administrators of a folder.
When we have to do group video chat we choose Hangouts. It works on smartphones and generally works pretty well (including screen sharing!). We don't do a lot of these, as any time you have meetings with more than 2 or 3 people it tends to waste a lot of time.
Hangouts On Air
Every month or so we try to do a big technical discussion call. Recently we started doing them in the open and inviting the public to participate. We create an issue about a week before the call on our discussions repo (example here: https://github.com/datproject/discussions/issues/19) and we use that to set the agenda and get questions from people, as well as share basic information like how to connect and listen to the call.
We use Hangouts On Air, which is nearly the same as Hangouts except it lets you live-broadcast to YouTube. Only Dat team members and others on the agenda will be invited to join the Hangout so they can broadcast voice and video. Hangouts only supports about 10 people max, but the youtube stream can support an unlimited amount of viewers.
Hangouts On Air automatically archives our call on youtube (up to 6 hours long). Here's an example of a recent call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J9CSoQ-4-0
It's really nice to be able to link to specific parts of the discussion, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J9CSoQ-4-0&t=30m20s
We don't issue team e-mail accounts so that we don't rely on 1-on-1 e-mail for getting things done. We think it's much better to use GitHub issues, that way anyone on the team or the wider open source community can help answer.
Note that there are a lot of people who write about remote working on the internet, and this does not claim to be authoritative on the subject, I am just sharing what works for us.
Everyone on our team lives in a different city, and we are in many different time zones. Choosing when and where we work is great for a while, but it's also nice to balance that out with intense periods of face-time. We try to meet up 6 times a year for between 2 and 4 weeks at a time and hack in-person. These trips are not mandatory, and there are no quotas, but we like to encourage these 'hacker visitations' as much as possible.
We generally rent a whole apartment on AirBNB and house 1-2 out of towners there, and pick a location where one of the other team members lives so they can be the local guide. I'm actually currently writing this from a pancake restauraunt in Taipei, which is an excellent city for remote working due to it's low cost and large number of cafes. Nobody from our team lives here, but two of us who normally live in different cities are currently visiting and working together here.