Tools for a Distributed Software Agency – 2022

Silverpine has been a remote-first company since we started work over a decade ago. Our tools are critical to us performing at a high level, so we are constantly evaluating which ones we use. The last couple years I’ve posted about the stack we use and this is our updated list for 2022. Previous years’ versions of this post are here (2021) and here (2020).

The following list represents the software that powers our business. (I have intentionally omitted some of the lower level development tools like Xcode and Android Studio.)

The list is broken into three primary classifications: “Communication“, “Development and Design,” and “Operations and Finance.”


The heart of our business is Slack. I’m not sure how you could do remote work as a team without a tool like Slack. It’s easily the most important tool we use, and we use it constantly. Recently, some of our clients and peers have moved to Microsoft Teams, but for us, Slack just works so much better and is less clunky and onerous than Teams.

When the pandemic started, Zoom catapulted to the forefront of video conference calling because it was so simple and easy to use. Like many other companies, we made the switch and since then, it’s been a pretty solid workhorse for us. Just like Slack, however, some of our clients have moved to Teams for teleconferencing, so we definitely use it on a regular basis. However, Zoom continues to be easier to use and it has a better integration with Google Workspace which is also important to us. That being said, I can envision a future where we move to Google Meet because of cost and integration considerations, but for the foreseeable future, Zoom is our tool of choice for meetings.

As I just alluded to, Google Workspace is another critical piece of our infrastructure. It’s what we use for email, calendar/scheduling, document creation and (as of 2022,) file storage. We have been using Google for email since we started and over time, they have improved their offering and earned more of our business. Most recently, we ditched Dropbox for shared file storage and moved everything to Google Drive. I still feel that Dropbox is slightly easier to use than Google Drive, but the integration and cost advantages of Google Drive give it the clear edge.

Development & Design

This year we (like many other agencies) consolidated many of our design tools into Figma. In past years, our design stack was Sketch + InVision + Zeplin, however this year that has all collapsed into Figma. This has made us more efficient, and from a cost and licensing perspective, we’re actually saving money. Now that Adobe has acquired it, we sincerely hope they don’t ruin what an amazing product Figma is, but we’ll keep a close eye on it.

If you asked me to name another cloud based source control platform, I’m not sure I could. Github has a monopoly in this space, but fortunately, they seem committed to continually improving and expanding the feature set. As an example, because of changes and additions to Github’s “Actions” tools, we have fully moved our CI (continuous integration) processes to Github. If you are still using another platform for CI, I strongly recommend you take a look at what Github is doing here.

There are plenty of Git UI tools, but after using Tower for the past six years, we feel like it’s the best option for agencies like Silverpine. It is available on both Windows and Mac, and the Tower team is constantly rolling out new versions and features that add real quality of life improvements. Additionally, their licensing scheme is very cost effective and works well for our model.

This year marked a change for us for our choice of defect tracking software. After resisting Jira for many years, we finally took the plunge and it turns out that Jira is….ok? It definitely still has warts and isn’t perfect but Atlassian has made enough changes over time to make Jira a palatable choice. I still feel like there is a big opportunity for someone to shake up the world of defect tracking but for now, Jira is what we’re using.To me, using Jira feels like the old saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

We started using Miro a little bit in 2021 to do shared planning and strategy design, but really got into the groove with it this year. It’s a very easy to use shared whiteboard app and falls into that category of “it just works.” Every time I use it, I always think that I should use it more. I’m a very visual thinker, and with remote teams, Miro really helps me communicate what my words often can’t. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend checking it out.

Operations & Finance

We use Quickbooks for our finances. It’s what our bookkeeper and our CPA want us to use. It’s fine.

I know that many people use Harvest for time tracking, but we actually use it for sending and tracking invoices to our clients. Harvest has a pretty robust set of invoice functionality that I think gets overlooked because of their focus on time tracking. This is another tool that just works the way you expect it to, and we don’t have to think about it.

When we first started using Gusto, I couldn’t say enough nice things about the platform, and all things considered, it’s still a quality payroll system. They are quick to integrate state and local tax changes and using them to pay contractors is incredibly simple. I do worry that they’ve grown to a size that their customer service has suffered a bit, but hopefully they can iron out the kinks as they continue to grow.

We use Squarespace to host our company website. If you need to get a decent website built quickly, it’s not a bad route to go, but given that we build websites for other people, I don’t love this. I expect this next year, Squarespace will be dropping off this list.

Zoom Insecurity

I recently wrote a roundup on the current state of video conferencing software and one of my comments about Zoom was that it has a history of abusing privacy and not taking security seriously. It looks like my concerns were well founded this week.

  1. According to The Washington Post, your Zoom videos are visible by anyone on the Internet
  2. Security expert Bruce Schneier explains how Zoom not only captures and stores personal data about you, it “secretly displayed data from people’s LinkedIn profiles, which allowed some meeting participants to snoop on each other“. He also explains how Zoom’s encryption is paper thin which becomes even more important because of the next item
  3. Researchers at the University of Toronto documented how Zoom calls often get routed through servers in China.

Every single one of these items is cause for concern on its own, but taken together should really give pause to anyone using Zoom, especially when there are so many other good choices out there.


The Silverpine 2020 Bracket Challenge

The NCAA basketball tournaments (men’s and women’s) are something that I look forward to every year, and we always have a Silverpine bracket competition which is a lot of fun. Obviously, those didn’t happen this year which was very disappointing, but understandable given the situation.

Not to be deterred though, we went ahead and held our own competition this year during our weekly video call with the whole company! The way it worked was that I would say two items over the call and then everyone would write their pick on a piece of paper and hold it up to the camera. For example, I would call out “elephant and giraffe” and everyone would have to write down either elephant or giraffe. The pick with the most votes would move on to the next round until we were able to crown a 2020 champion.

The first round competitors were largely paired together like “Cake vs Pie.” However once we proceeded to the second round, people had to choose from several non-sequitur items like “Seattle vs Taylor Swift.” Some of the pairings had clear winners while others were decided by a single vote, and it was a nail biter down to the end. The Final Four consisted of Dog, Blue, Pie and the ultimate Cinderella pick – Aquarium. In the championship, though, Dog easily coasted past Pie for the win and became the Silverpine 2020 Bracket Champion.

The whole “competition” was a lot of fun and a nice little stress relief, but it also was a great way for the team to get to know each other better. (We found out that one of our employees is a huge pie fan, and that another prefers C++ over dogs!) I actually think we might make this an annual event as the feedback on it has been overwhelmingly positive. Below is the completed bracket. No comments on my terrible handwriting!



Video Conferencing Platforms

How many calls have you been on where the video glitches or freezes? Have you ever seen an attendee list that shows the same attendee multiple times? How many calls have you been on where people are “dropped” halfway through the meeting? How many meetings have you been a part of where at least one person spends the first 5 minutes asking “Can you hear me?” It seems like anyone who has used video conferencing has at least one horror story to share.

I’ve been working remotely for 10+ years and I’ve used more conference calling applications than I can count. After a decade of doing this, I would have thought that many of these problems would have been solved, but the sad truth is that there is still no perfect solution.

Over the past few years, three platforms have emerged as the primary platforms for video conference calls: Zoom, WebEx and Google Hangouts. Each platform has its own set of pros and cons, so it’s important to understand what each of them brings to the table. If none of these work for you, I’ve also included a list of alternatives to consider.

Caveat: One of my biggest complaints about all video conferencing software is that it is inconsistent from user to user. My analysis of these tools is based on numerous calls and years working with disparate groups of people across various geographies, but even with all of that, your experiences may differ from mine.


Pros: Zoom is currently enjoying a bit of front-runner status in the video conferencing wars. While Zoom does require you to install software on your computer/device, the installation is fairly painless, and it’s simple to get up and running. The experience also seems to be consistently solid across Macs, PCs, iOS and Android devices. I’ve never had any issues moving between platforms on Zoom. When larger groups are trying to connect, it is rare to have stutters and freezes and this is what really makes it shine in terms of a video conferencing product.

Cons: One of the biggest downsides to Zoom is their history of abusing customer privacy and security: example 1, example 2, example 3. While the company does seem to respond to each of these in pro-active, responsible ways, it does make you wonder why it keeps happening. Zoom also requires you to install software on your computer or device, so that is one thing to keep in mind.

Pricing: The free tier for Zoom is fairly standard as you can host an unlimited number of meetings with up to 100 people. The biggest limitation is that calls are limited to 40 minutes. If you need more than that, Zoom is actually the most expensive option with their Pro plan starting at $14.99/user/month.

Google Hangouts

Pros: Google Hangouts is the video conferencing portion of Google’s G Suite product line. (Technically, the name is Google Hangouts Meet but that’s a terrible name.)  In terms of ease of use, Hangouts can’t be beat: if you use Chrome as your browser, there’s literally nothing to install. Essentially, anyone with a Gmail account and an open browser can start a conference call which makes this incredibly accessible. It’s largely because of this lack of barrier that it has become so popular.

Cons: One major downside of Hangouts is that it often gets confused if you have more than one G-Mail/G Suite account. Many times I will try to launch a call that my work email address was invited to only to be told I can’t access the call because it decided to use my personal account. This can be incredibly infuriating because it usually requires logging out of all your Google accounts before it will work.

Hangouts technically works on browsers other than Chrome, but most people (including me) report having significant technical issues trying to use it with Safari. If I have a Hangouts call, I will copy the call URL and paste it into Chrome where it works flawlessly.

Finally, the biggest downside of Hangouts is that it does not seem very performant with larger groups. The video will frequently glitch and freeze if there are more than 3 attendees. Of all the platforms I have used in the past few years, Hangouts is definitely the worst performing when it comes to actual streaming.

Pricing: Google Hangouts is hands down the cheapest option. As mentioned previously, anyone with a Gmail account can use their free plan, and the paid plans start at just $6/user/month.


Pros: For many years, WebEx was the gold standard of conference calling and it made deep inroads into corporate America. Today, WebEx is approved by IT infrastructures everywhere which means it can generally be used regardless of network firewall rules. It also means that corporate customers often have the software pre-installed and configured by their IT administrators. If you need to have conference calls with corporate entities, WebEx will definitely be a familiar entity.

In general, WebEx performance is solid. It requires installation of a native application so its streaming quality is generally on par with Zoom’s quality and I’ve never had issues connecting large groups.

Cons: My biggest complaint about WebEx is that it frequently loses audio connections for wireless computer headsets. While this isn’t the end of the world, it seems like such an obvious, fixable problem that I can’t believe WebEx continues to let it be an issue. I don’t ever seem to have these issues with any of the other platforms so I don’t understand why WebEx can’t address it.

The other complaint I have about WebEx isn’t necessarily with the WebEx platform itself, but with how certain corporate IT groups have configured their installations. For example, we have one particular client that is a large Fortune 50 company and every single time I have a WebEx call using their account, I have to reinstall the software on my Mac. WebEx is the software that we use at Silverpine, and we never have any of these issues, so I know this is somehow related to their installation.

Pricing: In the past, WebEx was the most expensive of all the platforms which would have put it into the “cons” category, however competition from Zoom and others have forced WebEx to introduce better priced, low-end plans. They recently updated their Free tier to include up to 100 participants with no time restriction, and their Starter Plan is a fairly modest $13.50/user/month.


If Zoom, Hangouts or WebEx just don’t work for you, there are quite a few alternatives, and a few of them are even familiar names (Skype, GoToMeeting and FaceTime.) Definitely give them a try, but as mentioned earlier, each of them is going to come with its own set of pros and cons.


Given the state of video conferencing software, I am unfortunately unable to make a single recommendation. Hopefully, as more people start working remotely the increased competition will force video conferencing companies to continue to improve their platforms and someday I have just a single recommendation. That being said, of the 3 most popular platforms, I would recommend Google Hangouts based on price, I would recommend Zoom based on streaming quality, and I would recommend WebEx if you need to connect with larger corporate entities.



Remote Work Preparation

A friend of mine was talking with me earlier this week about his struggles and frustrations now that he is suddenly (and unexpectedly) in a remote work situation. He isn’t sure what tools to use. He isn’t sure how to structure his time. He isn’t sure how and when to communicate with his co-workers, and he has found that his home-office isn’t set up in a way that’s conducive to the kinds of work he needs to do. In short, he is unprepared for remote work.

I’ve been working remotely for over 10 years now and I often forget some of my own struggles with it. There have definitely been lessons learned along the way, and the one thing that I know for certain is that working remotely requires preparation. I think that some people think that you can just plop down at your kitchen table and declare yourself an expert at working from home, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the transition from a traditional office setting to a home office can be tricky.

Prepare Your Work Area

It might seem obvious that one of the major contributors to your success at working from home is having a good place to work, but it’s amazing how often people neglect setting up a proper work area. Not only should you create a dedicated space that is your “work zone” but you should make sure that it is conducive and constructive to you staying there for periods of time. For example, do you have ample supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, stickies, etc close at hand? Do you have a comfortable chair? If you like listening to music while you work, do you have good headphones? Is the temperature set to a level that won’t put you to sleep but won’t freeze you out? Do you have proper equipment for video chats or conference calls?  In short, is your work area prepared for the kind of work that you do?

The Wirecutter has a great list of products that they have compiled for creating a full time space to work at home. I agree with most of their suggestions, and I highly recommend making sure that a nice, comfortable chair and/or standing desk are at the top of your list. (If you’re wanting a second opinion, Business Insider also has a reasonable list).

Prepare Your Tools

Similar to preparing your work area, it’s also important to make sure you have the right tools to work remotely. I’ve written in detail about what tools we use elsewhere, but there are some fundamental things that everyone needs like video conferencing and chat applications. However, once you’ve settled on your tools, particularly your teleconferencing tool, I cannot stress enough how important it is to do dry runs with them before using them in real meetings. Make sure that your audio and your video are set up properly. Do a test meeting with a co-worker or friend. You definitely don’t want to be the person who makes the group wait for 10 minutes while you try to get your connection working.

Prepare Your Routine

One of the major challenges of working from home is that when you work from home, you’re always at work. As anyone who has worked from home knows, it’s far too easy to let your working hours drift into your non-working hours. It’s incredibly tempting to let yourself take one more peek at your email or work on one last task for your project.

To prevent your work life taking over your home life, it’s helpful to develop a routine for yourself. This isn’t to say that your routine needs to be rigid because one of the most amazing aspects of remote work is the flexibility it provides. However, it is very important to establish a general flow and process to your day. This will help you set limits for how long you work during the day, and it can encourage you to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Having a routine can help ensure you’re getting exercise and that you’re taking breaks and that you’re making sure to eat lunch. (Skipping lunch is actually a common problem when working from home!) All of these things will make you more productive, but without a routine, it can be very easy to neglect them.

Preparation and Kaizen

Finally, my biggest piece of advice for working remotely is that even when you think you are prepared, you should always be on the lookout for how you can improve. In an office setting, there are many people from HR managers to facilities managers to direct line managers who observe employees and try to come up with ways that they can be more efficient. When you work remotely, none of these people will be around to offer suggestions to you. No one will tell you that your keyboard is too close to your monitor. No one will tell you that a nice plant next to your monitor will improve your mood. No one will tell you that you should take a break for lunch. It’s up to you to identify areas for improvement and to become more efficient. The Japanese term “kaizen” refers to continuous improvement, and it is a concept that remote workers really should embrace in relation to their work environment. As a remote worker you should always be looking for ways you can improve, whether it be in your schedule or in your tools or even something as simple as the kind of chair you are using.

If you are one of the many people who suddenly find themselves facing the prospect of working from home, please understand that while this offers many amazing advantages, it is absolutely not as simple as it sounds. To get the most out of the opportunity, make sure to take some time to think about your workplace, your tools, and your time.

10 Great Resources For Remote Work

I’ve been keeping a small list of resources for people that are trying to work remotely even if just temporarily during this current pandemic. Below are a few links to things that are potentially helpful even if you’ve been working remotely for a while:

  1. Treehouse has made their tutorial “How To Work Remotely” free for everyone.
  2. If your office and desk are less than inspiring, Dwell has a beautiful set of 25 home office designs that are fun to peruse.
  3. LinkedIn has a great set of online courses for learning to work remotely. Their “Executive Presence” video is particularly good advice for anyone when preparing for conference calls.
  4. Remote: Office Not Required is a great, short read by the creators of Basecamp. It provides some good backstory and explanations about the values of remote work.
  5. Atlassian, one of the largest and most famous 100% remote companies,  has a great introduction to remote work.
  6. Greg Storey at InVision has an amazing curated list of remote work articles and resources. He is constantly updating the list so make sure to check back frequently.
  7. The authors of Thinking Remote have an email series that you can sign up for. It’s a fairly thought-provoking series and is limited in length so you won’t get tired of it.
  8. They also have a great podcast series titled 21st Century Work Life and leading remote teamsI’ve only recently started listening to this, but I really enjoy it.
  9. Collaboration Superpowers has a fantastic newsletter about working and managing remotely. (Also, don’t miss their really great guide for meeting facilitation!)
  10. Inc. has compiled a list of companies that are making their remote work tools free temporarily. If you’ve been curious about some of the paid teleconferencing tools, now is a great time to try them out without any cost.



Slack Tricks for Novices

The past few weeks have been insane with Corona Virus/Covid-19 outbreaks causing havoc around the world. In particular, there has been a sharp uptick in companies asking their employees to work from home (WFH) even though the practice is new or untested for many of them. With so many companies suddenly thrust into this new WFH reality, I have to imagine that there’s also been a huge jump in Slack users. As I’ve previously mentioned, Slack has been one of our core tools at Silverpine for quite a while and as such, we’ve become fairly adept at using it.

For anyone that is new to Slack and wants to jump start their productivity with it, here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve used to help me be more productive and have a little fun while at it:

1. Quickly give someone kudos or feedback by adding a reaction to their message which adds a little emoji under their message.

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 4.01.47 PM.png

If someone has already added an emoji and you like the emoji they used, click on it and the count of that emoji will increment similar to “likes” on Facebook.

2. Quickly reply to a message with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ shrug by replying with /shrug

3. When you need to focus on something, go into Do Not Disturb mode by clicking on the bell icon and disabling notifications for the amount of time you specify

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 9.52.14 AM.png

4. If you’re part of a channel that you can’t leave but is just too chatty, you can mute it. You will still be able to see activity, but you won’t receive notifications and you won’t see the little dot indicating new messages. (I’m a member of quite a few Slack groups and those dots drive my OCD crazy!)

5. To add some spice, try adding a few custom emoji. For example, the Silverpine Slack will insert :blazers: whenever someone types :blazers: into a reply.

6. Don’t be afraid to leave channels that aren’t helpful to you. I promise, they’ll get by without you.

7. Star (aka favorite) both people and channels that are important to you so they appear at the top of your list.

8. Pin items that are important or might be important so you can easily find them. (Pinned items remain on the free plans even if they are too far back in the history to show up in a search!)

9. Try using /giphy in a reply if you want to find a fun/snarky response to someone. Don’t overdo it though or your admin will likely disable it.

10. Use /collapse in a channel to hide the annoying GIFs that your teammates post.

11. Add @here anywhere in your message to notify everyone whose status is Online and is a member of the channel. This won’t send notifications to offline users or anyone that has set their status to Do Not Disturb.

12. Add @channel anywhere in your message to notify everyone who is a member of the channel. This will send notifications to the members that aren’t online as well. Try hard not to overuse this and consider using @here instead.

13. If you are in a channel with many people, consider taking a topic out of the channel and into a direct channel with the person you want to chat with.

14. Take a trip over to the Slack App directory and see if there are any third party integrations that could help or would be fun. In particular, make sure to check out the bots directory. I’m particularly fond of the survey app integrations like SurveyMonkey.

Slack is full of all kinds of tricks and tools to help people communicate better. If you have a tip or trick that I didn’t include, definitely drop a note in the comments and I’ll publish an updated list.

Building Community with Slack

Whenever I talk to people about being a remote company, they will often ask how we replicate the “water cooler conversations” that happen organically in a standard office setting. (Sidenote: I’ve only ever worked at one company that had an actual water cooler.) The conversations they are referring to are the ones where employees talk about their families and their hobbies and many of their non-work interests. They also might talk about things that are happening both inside the company and outside the company that are tangentially related to their jobs. Sprinkled into those conversations are often times some of the “outside the box” brainstorming and problem solving that usually aren’t factored explicitly into employees’ schedules.

I believe that when people ask about replicating “water cooler conversations”, what they are really asking about is how to build a sense of community and trust among employees who are rarely in the same physical location. How do they create an environment where people feel like they know each other well enough to share a crazy, hair-brained idea? How do they trust each other well enough to talk about a potential pitfall that nobody else has noticed yet?

I don’t purport to have all the answers, but I can tell you that at Silverpine, we lean heavily on Slack to help build trust and community on a day-to-day basis. If you don’t know what Slack is, it is a software communication tool that feels a little like group instant messaging, but has a few differences that increase its utility immensely for people and groups who aren’t co-located. (I’ve also listed out a number of our regular tools that we use for remote work here.)

To help build a sense of community, there are a few specific approaches that we employ in our Slack instance:

  1. Create channels that serve an explicit, well communicated purpose
  2. Have a well defined strategy for populating channels
  3. Archive unused, unneeded channels to limit confusion
  4. Model the behavior you want to see

Because we are a technology company with heavy dose of design, some of the ways that we utilize Slack won’t be applicable to everyone, but I believe that in general, these 4 strategies can be applied to any organization that uses Slack.

So how exactly do we use these strategies?

Create Channels With Purpose

Our strategy for Slack channels is heavily influenced by our staffing model. We employ a decent number of sub-contractors in addition to our employees so we have a few categories of different channels.

General Purpose Channels

We have two general purpose channels that are work related: “#general” and “#internal”. In the #general channel (which is a default Slack channel that every user gets added to), content that is posted is generally restricted to work-related things that apply to everyone whether they are an employee, a contractor, an engineer a designer or whatever role they might have. An example of that might be an announcement about a project launch that both employees and contractors worked on. The second general purpose channel is our “internal” channel which is only for employees. This is sort of the inner circle where we talk about things like health insurance policy changes or company strategy. If you want to know more, you’ll have to apply and join us!

Project Specific Channels

This is a very common strategy and somewhat obvious, but for every project that is active within our company, there is a corresponding Slack channel populated with all the relevant project members. This ensures that the majority of the conversations about a particular project can all be found in one place. It also makes it clear where someone needs to go if they need to talk about their work. Again, this is a common strategy, but it’s definitely a good one.

Topic Specific Work Channels

We also create channels created for conversations about tangential related work topics, but that aren’t necessarily for a specific project. For example, since we build iOS and Android apps, we have a channel dedicated to iOS development and a channel dedicated to Android development. What is discussed in these channels isn’t specific to any particular Silverpine effort, but it’s a place where we can cross-pollinate ideas and have conversations about some of the building-blocks of our business. It’s very common for our developers to both ask for suggestions on solving a problem but also to post interesting solutions to things they have learned.

Non Sequitur Channels

Finally, we have a few channels for topics that aren’t related to projects and aren’t really related to work at all that I refer to as “non sequitur” channels. For example, we have the default #random channel, but we also have a #basketball channel where a few of us who enjoy the sports-balls discuss matters of the day. I am part of other Slack communities that have a number of non-work channels, like #photography and # travel. My only caution when making hobby and non-work channels is that it’s very easy to overdo it and end up with a list so large that it paralyzes would-be communicators. It should always be clear what channel someone should use if they feel like talking and having too many channels can erode that feeling of comfort.

Archive Unused Channels

Some administrators treat Slack as immutable and that channels, once created, should exist indefinitely. I strongly disagree with that for the same reasons why I feel it’s important to have a limited number non-work channels.

When a project wraps up, we keep the project Slack channel around for a couple months and then archive it. We will generally send a last message to the @channel to make sure everyone is ok with archiving it, but usually, if nobody has posted for a few months, it’s a good indicator that it’s time to wrap it up. (If you have a paid plan, you can always unarchive it if needed, but in practice, I’ve never had to do this.)

Second, if you have created non-work channels that aren’t being used, that’s ok! Just admit that people might not care about whatever the topic of that channel is, and archive it. As I mentioned before, having too many choices can lead to paralysis and erode the very trust you’re trying to build.

Be Smart Populating Channels

In Slack, there are a number of ways that people can become a member of a channel. But the most important time to think about adding people to a new channel is at the time of creation. When you invite someone to a channel when it is first created you are communicating to them that you feel their voice is valuable, that they belong. If you wait for people go search the channel list and join on their own, not only do they miss out on some of the earlier conversations, but they can sometimes feel like they are outsiders trying to break into a clique.

Also make sure to take a few extra seconds when you are creating the channel to decide if the channel should be public or private. This can make a big difference in terms of both information overload (if users have too many channels available to them to join) as well as that sense of belonging. If you stumble on a channel that you weren’t explicitly invited to, it’s hard to not feel somewhat left out.

Model Behavior

Finally, perhaps the most critical element in building community via Slack is to model the behavior you want to see. If you want people to engage and communicate regularly, show them how you do that. If you want people to talk 1:1 as well as in group channels, make sure you’re talking to your team in the direct channels.

Also, be smart about using channel @mentions. Don’t be afraid to use @here and @channel mentions, but be aware of the dangers of overuse. They are powerful in that they notify large groups of people with a few keystrokes, but if you used too often, it can lead to people ignoring channel notifications altogether.

Similarly, try to get in a habit of using someone’s @handle rather than just their name to make sure they know they are being talked about. For example, don’t type

“I’m not sure about that, but we should probably ask Jon what he thinks”

but instead write

“I’m not sure about that, but we should probably ask @jon what he thinks.” 

And whatever you do, don’t underestimate how much other people on your team look at how you are using Slack, yourself. If you are frequently joking, you will find that much of your channel content will be filled with joking. If you frequently write simple, terse comments, the rest of your team will consciously or unconsciously mimic your behavior. And most importantly of all, if you don’t communicate often, your team will reciprocate.




Seven Secret Benefits of Remote Work Revealed!

Companies that embrace remote teams can reap numerous benefits: employee engagement drastically improves, employee retention increases, and the available talent pool grows immensely when not tied to a single geographical location.

There are many benefits to remote employees as well. Some are obvious, but some are not so obvious. Below are seven benefits to remote employees that you may not know!

  1. Your compost and garbage bins will be emptier. When your home refrigerator is your work refrigerator, leftovers don’t spoil nearly as often which means less going into your waste bins.
  2. Streaming movies will load more quickly and stutter less. The high-speed Internet you need for your video conferencing just so happens to also help your Netflix streaming in the evenings.
  3. You will help fight piracy. There is a special place in hell for porch pirates (people that steal holiday gifts from people’s doorsteps.) During the holidays you will feel so much better knowing that you will definitely be home when UPS knocks on the door to deliver packages.
  4. You will be prepared when fashion styles from the previous decade come back in vogue. Because you don’t have to keep re-investing in clothing for meetings or to impress co-workers, your wardrobe will last quite a bit longer. Eventually, that neon shirt that you wear on days when you don’t have a video conference call will suddenly be chic.
  5. You will save immense amounts of money on personal hygiene products. Getting low on razors? You can push that stubble a little longer. Running out of foundation? No video calls today so no problem. Did you forget to get deodorant the last time you were at the store? Nobody can smell you on a conference call!
  6. If you have children, their grades will go up. Because you are consistently available to chaperone events at school, you will develop a rapport with your children’s teachers which will inevitably lead to more lenient grading and better engagement at school
  7. You will improve national security. If you don’t have a commute, you’re not burning fossil fuels trying to get to work which means your country will be less reliant on foreign oil reserves.


Time, Relativity and Distributed Companies

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
-Albert Einstein

One of the most difficult parts of communication within a fully distributed company is dealing with timezones. I can’t count the number of times that someone has emailed me asking “Can we have a meeting at 10 a.m.?” The obvious question here is which 10 a.m. are you asking about? Are you asking about your 10 a.m. or my 10 a.m.?  Unfortunately, it feels pedantic to ask the person to clarify what they mean, but it matters if you want everyone to show up at the same moment in time!

As I’ve mentioned before, we use Slack in place of meetings for a lot of internal communication, but we do still need to jump on phone calls from time to time. One of the skills that I’ve had to learn when trying to setup meetings is to be very explicit about the time that you mean. Think it’s easy? Try this quick little quiz. Figure out what time it is right now in the following U.S. cities, without using a map:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Nashville
  3. New Orleans
  4. Phoenix
  5. Detroit
  6. Cleveland
  7. Louisville
  8. Pittsburgh
  9. Milwaukee
  10. Boise

I’m betting that while you might have fairly reasonable guesses, you’re not 100% positive on all of them. A few of them (like Phoenix) are particularly tricky! My recommendation is that when working with people in different timezones, it’s best if you declare the time and timezone not only for yourself but for the person you’re trying to invite. For example, let’s say that you are located in Austin, Texas and I am located in Portland, Oregon, and I want us to have a meeting at 11 in the morning. (Portland is in the Pacific Time Zone and Austin is in the Central Time Zone). I would probably ask you something like this:

     “Are you available for a call at 11:00 a.m. Pacific (1:00 p.m. Central)?”

By communicating it this way, I’m communicating to you that:

  1. We are not both in the same timezone
  2. I would like to talk to you at 1:00 in the afternoon
  3. It will still be 11:00 in the morning for me

This might seem like an obvious thing, but by being explicit, it helps remove any ambiguity and improves the overall quality of the communication. It also removes any assumption that the person you’re communicating with understands what timezones different cities are located in. The most important skill that you can develop in a distributed organization is your ability to communicate, and one of the easiest ways to improve is to become better at communicating time and timezones when talking to people.