My 3 Favorite Tools (Right Now) for Working With My Geographically-Distributed Team

I recently started a new job where I am working from home with a team spread across Europe and the US. Some of the team is working from home because they always do, others are working from home due to the pandemic, but yet others are actually working as per normal from our company’s headquarters.

With a team spread across so many geos as well as work configurations, I prefer the term geographically-distributed to remote, since that better describes what we are. And while we definitely use the typical collaboration tools (e.g. Slack, Zoom) to connect us, there are a few others I also really like when working this way.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse is a great project management tool in the sweet spot between Jira and Trello. (Full disclosure: I used to work at Clubhouse and am still a shareholder. But, seriously, if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t mention it. ) When my company was mostly just team members colocated at the HQ, they would track their tasks on a physical whiteboard. In fact when I started here a few weeks ago, I remember someone in the office taking a picture of the board and dropping it into a Slack channel so those working from home could see it. However, with all this uncertainty and people working in and out of offices, that simply can’t do anymore.

So several teams have been using GitHub Issues, while my team and several others have started using Clubhouse. I have introduced Clubhouse at every startup I’ve worked at since I left Clubhouse and it has been a hit with the teams. We can communicate in the comments and threads, create filtered views for specific teams or efforts, and the ability to have cross-team views and higher levels of abstraction beyond tasks is such a win.

My favorite thing, however, is the daily summary notification email.

The Clubhouse Daily Summary (beautifully redacted by me)

At a glance, I can see everything that got touched, created, completed. It is nice to wake up every morning and get a full situation report. The more people in the company are using it, the clearer that image becomes. It is a great time saver.

Clubhouse also has a handy app and a great Slack integration.

Geekbot

With a team this spread out, a lot of important things can happen long before some teammates even wake up. In order to keep people on the same page since we aren’t all in the same timezone, we use this handy Slack app.

With two simple questions (that the Geekbot is programmed to ask at the *end* of the person’s workday), we can share a lot of details and easily pass the baton” from east to west without having to do a boring daily standup either late or night or before we’ve gotten out of our jammies!

Loom

Long before the pandemic, I shared my hesitation about working from home (click to read if you missed that one). One of the things I most miss about working together with people in a colocated office (aside from free lunches, coffees, and team singalongs LOL) is being able to just look over someone’s shoulder at their screen as they explained something to you.

In order to approximate this, I’ve been using Loom a lot. It is an easy way to show someone something without being in the same place or having to set up a Zoom call. Because we all surely have extreme Zoom fatigue. When you wanna try and avoid a Zoom, try a Loom!

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Black Women’s Defense League in Dallas, Texas

Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police

Because reform won’t happen.

By Mariame Kaba (reprinted without permission from the NYT)

Ms. Kaba is an organizer against criminalization.
June 12, 2020

Congressional Democrats want to make it easier to identify and prosecute police misconduct; Joe Biden wants to give police departments $300 million. But efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.

Enough. We can’t reform the police. The only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police.

There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.

So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.

Now two weeks of nationwide protests have led some to call for defunding the police, while others argue that doing so would make us less safe.

The first thing to point out is that police officers don’t do what you think they do. They spend most of their time responding to noise complaints, issuing parking and traffic citations, and dealing with other noncriminal issues. We’ve been taught to think they “catch the bad guys; they chase the bank robbers; they find the serial killers,” said Alex Vitale, the coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, in an interview with Jacobin. But this is “a big myth,” he said. “The vast majority of police officers make one felony arrest a year. If they make two, they’re cop of the month.”

We can’t simply change their job descriptions to focus on the worst of the worst criminals. That’s not what they are set up to do.

Second, a “safe” world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death.

I’ve been advocating the abolition of the police for years. Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid of the police or simply to make them less violent — here’s an immediate demand we can all make: Cut the number of police in half and cut their budget in half. Fewer police officers equals fewer opportunities for them to brutalize and kill people. The idea is gaining traction in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and other cities.

History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.

The Lexow Committee undertook the first major investigation into police misconduct in New York City in 1894. At the time, the most common complaint against the police was about “clubbing” — “the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks,” as the historian Marilynn Johnson has written.

The Wickersham Commission, convened to study the criminal justice system and examine the problem of Prohibition enforcement, offered a scathing indictment in 1931, including evidence of brutal interrogation strategies. It put the blame on a lack of professionalism among the police.

After the 1967 urban uprisings, the Kerner Commission found that “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.” Its report listed a now-familiar set of recommendations, like working to build “community support for law enforcement” and reviewing police operations “in the ghetto, to ensure proper conduct by police officers.”

These commissions didn’t stop the violence; they just served as a kind of counterinsurgent function each time police violence led to protests. Calls for similar reforms were trotted out in response to the brutal police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the rebellion that followed, and again after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The final report of the Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing resulted in procedural tweaks like implicit-bias training, police-community listening sessions, slight alterations of use-of-force policies and systems to identify potentially problematic officers early on.

But even a member of the task force, Tracey Meares, noted in 2017, “policing as we know it must be abolished before it can be transformed.”

The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence. But police officers break rules all the time. Look what has happened over the past few weeks — police officers slashing tiresshoving old men on camera, and arresting and injuring journalists and protesters. These officers are not worried about repercussions any more than Daniel Pantaleo, the former New York City police officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death; he waved to a camera filming the incident. He knew that the police union would back him up and he was right. He stayed on the job for five more years.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.

What about rape? The current approach hasn’t ended it. In fact most rapists never see the inside of a courtroom. Two-thirds of people who experience sexual violence never report it to anyone. Those who file police reports are often dissatisfied with the response. Additionally, police officers themselves commit sexual assault alarmingly often. A study in 2010 found that sexual misconduct was the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct. In 2015, The Buffalo News found that an officer was caught for sexual misconduct every five days.

When people, especially white people, consider a world without the police, they envision a society as violent as our current one, merely without law enforcement — and they shudder. As a society, we have been so indoctrinated with the idea that we solve problems by policing and caging people that many cannot imagine anything other than prisons and the police as solutions to violence and harm.

People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.

When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.

Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture) is the director of Project NIA, a grass-roots group that works to end youth incarceration, and an anti-criminalization organizer.

May 2020 Lead Dev AMA

AMA_Camille

In case you missed it, here is everything I said in my Lead Dev AMA the other day

Kollaps und Mutualism

1906-san-francisco-earthquake-blend-shawn-clover-2
“1906 + 2010: The Earthquake Blend”
Website: shawnclover.com | via Laughing Squid

Since the lockdown/”PAUSE” order was issued here in so-called New York nearly a month ago, a group of friends and I have come together to discuss the current collapse/failure of the state and what we radicals might make in and of it. For our first session, we discussed technologist Vinay Gupta‘s concept of resilience maps (video below) and were lucky enough to be joined in discussion by Vinay Gupta himself. In one of the many fortuitious moments that have been sparked by the global pandemic, my friend tweeted at him and he just happened to be awake, quarantined at his home across the pond, and happy to walk us through the finer points of his SCIM threat modelling framework.

I quickly noted that this model could likely be spiffed up and fashioned as a response to (or furthering of — to be less of a shadethrower here) the current mostly-grassroots and largely apolitical disaster charity efforts that have been posing as “mutual aid”. By creating groups of actual mutuals and doing regular wellness checkins, maybe we could identify gaps and quickly help each other address them. Rather than wasting tons of food when what people might actually need is medicine or masks or bandages, maybe we could take the time to talk through needs and identify if there even were any for that particular day.

statefailuremap

The basic ideas that I have boiled it down to are twofold.

  1.  A daily checkin with 6 discreet questions:
    – Is anyone in your home too cold?
    – Is anyone in your home too hot?
    – Is anyone in your home hungry?
    – Is anyone in your home thirsty/needing water?
    – Is anyone in your home injured?
    – Is anyone in your home ill?
  2. A regular cadence to do more extensive mapping and addressing of threats beyond the domestic sphere (infrastructure challenges, transportation and logistics, security)

SCIM-1
The infrastructure map

We discussed this all for several weeks, and came up with many questions and few answers to how or if we wanted to proceed. So I figured a logical next step would be just to “open source” the thinking via this blog and see whether it would gain any traction. I will also share a few more resources unearthed during our brainstorming.

Questions 

  1. Are these the right questions?
  2. Is computerized technology an appropriate way to address this?
  3. Should this be an app or an SMS bot or something else?
  4. Where should the data live?
  5. How should the data be shared? (For my part, I liked the idea of anonymized time series data)
  6. Who should be able to join?
  7. Should it be a community of folks that know each other or just a geofenced open community?
  8. What about privacy?
  9. If privacy was coupled with anonymity, how do we meet needs? A centralized drop off point? A dating app-like mutual reveal and chat?
  10. Are frameworks developed for state purposes appropriate for autonomous mutual aid?

Resources

I’d love to continue this conversation with you either in the comments or via email. Drop me a line!

Gratitude – December 2019

I can’t believe the year is almost over. What a whirlwind it has been! Before it come to a close, here is some stuff that has given me life in the last month or so….

Interview on Pleasure Activism with adrienne maree and autumn brown

I don’t even know where to start. adrienne maree brown is just a badass bruja, and this interview (conducted by her sister Autumn) had me alternately laughing and thinking deeply and tearing up and punching my fist in the air. Our struggle for liberation isn’t just about stopping injustice and pain, it is about making/taking more spaces for true pleasure.

art by Ashley Lukashevsky

Succession on HBO

The people on this show are so cringey and oh so petty but I cannot get enough. Also, Shiv’s wardrobe this season was inspirational.

Jerry Colonna and angel kyodo wiliams on On Being

Queerness gave me the language for everything I know about liberation and freedom.” –  angel kyodo williams on On Being

it’s an epidemic challenge in our society that we reward, collectively, we reward with approbation, with money, with fame, with success — behaviors that can be so destructive; destructive to the individual, destructive to our communities, destructive to our planet. ” – Jerry Colonna on On Being (https://onbeing.org/programs/jerry-colonna-can-you-really-bring-your-whole-self-to-work/)

I am a sucker for this radio show. Nearly every episode give me lots to think about. williams is an inspirational queer Buddhist leader whose work I’ve been aware of for a while, but this interview was enlightening and inspiring. I’ve been constantly spinning the episode with Colonna. He is a coach to many Silicon Valley leaders, but also actually seems to be a spiritual person with a conscious. A lot of what he brings up is stuff that I’ve long ruminated on.

Pan-African Social Ecology – Modibo Kadalie

While my allegiance to social ecology holds strong, I’ve continued to struggle with its lack of intersection with struggles for and scholarship on black liberation.  So it was with great enthusiasm that I celebrated the release of this fantastic book — a collection of speeches and interviews with Pan-Africanist and social ecologist activist Modibo Kadalie, a movement elder that I was not familiar with until a friend reviewed the book for(the also fantastic!) ROAR magazine. The book is full of gems like:

“It’s important to understand that we are all, each of us, scientists and the task of science should be to integrate technology into society in such a way that it provides for an ecologically sound world…”

and also

“…the civil rights and Black Power movements were based upon the inaccurate premise that we were struggling to force America to live up to the true meaning of its creed. America has always lived up to the true meaning of it creed. Its creed is genocide and slavery…no freedom loving person wanted to be a part of the creation of America. They were quite literally resisting or running away from America.”

I am so inspired!

Rewrite The Docs at ATO 2019

solidarityforever

If you’re here because you saw my talk at All Things Open 2019, thank you!! If you are here just because, thank you too! 🙂 The original blogpost that my talk was based on is here and below are links to some of the organizations I mentioned. The ones that accept donations are indicated with a $ sign:

Solidarity!

Gratitude: August 2019

Before the month is out, I just want to share a few things that gave me life as of late.

The Last Black Man In San Francisco

This movie was stunningly beautiful. When I saw the trailer I thought it was going to be sort of the same thing as Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy but it was more like Atlanta if Atlanta was replaced by San Francisco. It was eerie but exciting to see streets I walk so very often these days through the eyes of “natives”. Spoiler alert: It’s not just about San Francisco 😉

Tiny Desk Concerts: Lizzo and Jeremy Dutcher

Two of my faves recently had TDCs. So queer, so visually engaging, such music to my ears. What is it about that damn tiny desk that conjurs such sweet magic?

Me! on No Manifestos Podcast

Audio-Technica-AT2020-USB-Podcasting-Mic.jpg

I had a really fantastic conversation with my old coworker Stuart Sierra about tech and activism and other things for his new podcast No Manifestos. I am super pleased with how it turned out! Please do listen.

A Few Things to Consider Before Becoming A Remote-Friendly Company

A few years ago when I was at Clubhouse I blogged about our process of becoming a geographically distributed team. In that case, the first stumblings towards global domination were not made to acquire talent but rather in an attempt to retain talent vital to our team (talent = people we really loved working with and didn’t wanna lose!). In that article, I outlined some of the ways we tried to bridge the gap and some of the things that were still just tough.

I’ve also written about some of the reservations I have about working from home, especially as it pertains to underrepresented people in the workplace.

Since moving to Nylas and serving on the top-notch leadership team here, I’ve been even more privy to some of the business-side challenges of having a team where people are working from all over the place. SO I thought I’d pull together a quick blogpost of my learnings.

Things to Consider Before Opening Up Satellite Offices or Having Remote Teammates

People In Other Places Are Often In Other Timezones Too

I know it sounds obvious, but it needs to be stated. If you employ someone somewhere else, their day may overlap with yours a lot, a little, or not at all. You need to think about how that’s going to affect everyone’s ability to get things done. If your SF-based team is making most of your decisions synchronously in meetings or Slack, how will that affect your support folks in Berlin, your UX designer in Medellin, or your developer in New Zealand? Will they have to work odd hours just to keep up with HQ or can you start relying more on async tools?

When working across large distances across the globe, it is important to establish a baseline in every area for when they should be online and working and when they should stop and go live their lives. While you might sometimes need a teammate to work before or after their formal working hours, it is useful to know, clearly define in the calendar, and respect those agreed-upon working hours.

If you’re going to be working across significant time differences, I recommend trying to move meetings to times that work better for people and leaning more heavily on tools like Clubhouse and email that allow people to communicate on a more humane timeline.

Flights and Hotels Are Expensive

Cohesion across teams does require some amount of time spent together in fleshspace. Getting people together often means flights, hotels, and expensed meals. Just make sure you have the money for this — and that you earmark it especially for those purposes.

A/V Is An Investment…Good A/V Even More So

I am of the opinion that videochat software is painfully immature and being relied on too heavily for important communication. I use videochat every single working day and it is very much in the “can you hear me now?” phase. This is unfortunate because around the world in so many contexts people rely on it to make crucial decisions (read how Skype Trial has tragically become the norm for US immigration court).

Despite videoconferencing’s weakness as a replacement for “the real thing”, it is what we got. So doubling down to make it work is important. Headphones, good mics, fast wifi, and good webcams can cut down the distance between co-workers and enable you to have vital conversations with less muffle, crackle, and static.

When these all fail you — as they inevitably will — try to keep your teammate’s phone number nearby and just call them on the phone. I’ve had so many hours wasted fighting with videochat. Don’t let that be you and your team.

Employing People In Other States and Countries Can Be Costly and Time-Consuming

Different states and countries have different employment regimes. If you intend to employ people there, you will need to be in compliance with those requirements. HR companies like Gusto can likely help you with red tape, but it will still require some time and money to make sure you are following the rules of (and engaging the insurance market of!) the state or country where your fantastic new potential teammate lives.

Benefits Can Be Lopsided

If your company offers special perks to people in the office, you’ll need to carefully consider which of those you can/want to extend to people working from home or a satellite office. Things like free lunches and free office massages or whatever are often there to entice people to come in to the office and stay there. They tend not to be as feasible to make available to people who are working from home.

It is important to think about offering a benefits regime that doesn’t cause lopsidedness or ill-will when your HQ folks and your remote folks compare their cards.

None of this is intended to discourage you from doing what you need to do to attract and retain great people for your company. The last 10 years of my career have been spent working in organizations and teams that span state and national borders, and I’ve rarely had to rule someone out because of their location.

Remote workers do work; geographically-distributed teams can and do work—even on a small scale. They just work best when you go in with your eyes open to the challenges.