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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 tires, shoving 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.
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.
In case you missed it, here is everything I said in my Lead Dev AMA the other day
I had a few questions that would be great to get your thoughts on. You mentioned that ‘Some hands support’ can work well at big and small organisations. Are there any specific use cases where you’ve seen it work particularly well?
Well a lot has changed since I gave that talk and I now work in a much more sophisticated support organization. When I was at Clubhouse, the support staff were decidedly less technical (I hate the term “nontechnical”) and we were fairly reliant on engineering for doing deep investigation into issues and pushing fixes.
“Some hands” then meant being particular about which engineers we pulled into customer issues. We wanted to make sure we were bringing the right engineers who had enough familiarity with the components and code base to diagnose and (hopefully) resolve the issue. Cycling through the entire engineering team might have just caused more trouble than it solved.
Here at Nylas, everyone on our support team is a support engineer. They all need to have some ability to read and write code and work with the same APIs and SDKs that our customer use every day. With that strong foundation, we’ve worked with our engineering team to institute an escalations process which ensures that we are only passing a small percentage of issues to Eng and that ALL the communication with customers goes through the support team.
Could you share a little more about how you get buy-in from engineering team members for a support rotation?
Nylas had cycled through a few rounds of “firefighter” Eng teams by the time I got here (the last incarnation was called “Hot Shots”) and it was clear to everyone that it simply was not working for us. Engineers did not like spending all day fixing other engineers’ bugs and they often ended up getting pulled off bug fixing to do feature work. So when I proposed that we do away with the Hot Shots team, I think there was a collective sigh of relief.
Instituting escalations required three (fairly) major efforts:
Getting all our bugs into one place rather than scattered between Trello, Phab, Jira, and Slack (we chose Clubhouse, natch!)
Devising a priority system and prioritizing our bugs
Setting up a regular cadence to meet about status
In your experience, what does Day 1 look like for an engineer on support?
At both Clubhouse and Nylas, the initial touchpoint is ALWAYS with the support person. Support should own the conversation from start to finish. When we bring an engineer in to the conversation, we should always be standing by to make sure the discussion stays on target to resolving the customer’s problem.
Right now at Nylas, most urgent escalations go to the Eng on-call so that person is already at the ready to be interrupted. Otherwise, assignments happen round robin at a weekly meeting so people know they are responsible for a particular scope of work and all the information about who in support to reach out to with questions is on the Clubhouse Story. When in doubt, people ping Alexis our AMAZING Escalations Lead.
Oh yeah, that is another thing. You need someone to coordinate!
Our Escalations Lead is responsible for tactical comms between Product, Engineering, and CS. I own strategic comms (as a member of the leadership team). I am also, of course, an escalation point and can flag up something as ON FIRE when Eng (occasionally) pushes back.
Managing Escalations is a tough job, so you should definitely get someone really sharp and persistent to handle it. Oftentimes, she has to roll her sleeves and pair with the engineer to move the issue forward since she is frequently more knowledgeable about how the system works (or errr should work )
Thanks so much, Camille. It’s really interesting to hear about the different support approaches between Clubhouse and Nylas. Are there any core learnings from the approach at Nylas that you’d recommend for organisations that might not have support engineers?
Well a few things:
Let the customers team own the customer conversation all the way through even if an engineer is stepping in to help out. The Eng team may know the code but the customer support person knows the comms. Let them do what they are good at!
Keep educating your support team. One reason I hate the term “nontechnical” is that once devs brand people as such they oftentimes start dumbing things down in their communication with the people they’ve branded as such.
If you hire support people with high aptitude and keep educating them, you may be amazed at what they are capable of. You don’t need a CS degree to parse or write code. There are tons of great online resources and people can learn a LOT on the job if you are empowered.
CRUCIAL POINT 2a. Make sure your support team is enabled on every feature and product that they are expected to support.
Give them time with and access to the builders so they can continue to understand how the pieces fit together so they can provide better/faster service to the customers and continuous feedback to Product and Eng during development.
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.
The basic ideas that I have boiled it down to are twofold.
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?
A regular cadence to do more extensive mapping and addressing of threats beyond the domestic sphere (infrastructure challenges, transportation and logistics, security)
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.
Are these the right questions?
Is computerized technology an appropriate way to address this?
Should this be an app or an SMS bot or something else?
Where should the data live?
How should the data be shared? (For my part, I liked the idea of anonymized time series data)
Who should be able to join?
Should it be a community of folks that know each other or just a geofenced open community?
What about privacy?
If privacy was coupled with anonymity, how do we meet needs? A centralized drop off point? A dating app-like mutual reveal and chat?
Are frameworks developed for state purposes appropriate for autonomous mutual aid?
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.
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…”
“…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.”
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:
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
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 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.
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.