Working with a Dispersed Team – Part 6 of 7

How to Communicate/Collaborate with Your Dispersed Team 

It can be hard to get messages across a global team and even harder to collaborate on a project with a teammate who is several time zones away.

Sean Huck experiences this unavoidable industry challenge with his dispersed team of technical writers, “We’re seeing tighter integration in our products, and so the crossover is happening more, especially in microservices. It’s touching on JBOSS, OpenShift, OpenStack, docker, containers, and everything’s coming together. We don’t have one team that does all that. They’re having to collaborate and partner up to do a peer review, get an SME, and ensure that what they wrote makes sense. Collaboration is essential.”

I interviewed a dozen dispersed Red Hatters and emailed with at least as many additional remotees. A number of trends surfaced.

Collaboration Toolbox

This is a generic list of tools to get you thinking in this space. It is intentionally not an endorsement of products.

  • Chat client – IRC is the most popular.
  • Video collaboration tool – Ensure screen sharing is an option.
  • Etherpad – Can be helpful for retrospectives.
  • Real-time Collaboration tools – Collaborative, synchronous document editing is a must.
  • Virtual Whiteboarding tool – There’s not a perfect option today, but I suspect it’s just around the corner.
  • Project Management tool – Gamedoora lends well to manage the project and increase associate interaction through gaming. The site has a helpful blog post about these advantages.

Meeting Cadences

Communication in the office requires – you guessed it – meetings. Consider these trends to keep your team informed and conversation open.

  • Team meetings – weekly or every other week.
  • 1:1 meetings between manager and associate – biweekly via video conference tool.
  • Scrum meetings – every two weeks.
  • Supplement with email as necessary.

The following lists are best practices for keeping open communication and collaboration in dispersed teams.

Meeting Best Practices

  • “Localize meetings to the time most convenient for everyone. We try to be hyper aware of time for everyone.” Ben Miller
  • “Document meeting agendas so people walk away knowing what you talked about and can reference information discussed later. This can minimize repeated questions.” Deborah Curtis
  • “We do a weekly jungle drum – anything on anyone’s mind can go out there about business or office functionality. They can even ping a manager a thought if they’re not comfortable sharing it in the group.” Anika Blacksmith
  • “We try to avoid meetings where one person is outside of the conference room and everyone else is there. The people in the room forget about the person outside of the room and tend to just talk to each other. There’s also the issue of lag, which makes it hard for the remote person to inject before someone in the room gets their first. Try to avoid a hybrid. Either everyone is remote or everyone is together.” Paul Robinson

My other posts on this topic cover:

For a framework for building enterprise Java microservices visit WildFly Swarm.


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