We dived into the world of remote working last January, when Julio joined our team. Last week we met him in the flesh for the first time.

Hiring remote workers

Quite a few people, especially people who are not in the web industry, were surprised to hear that we had hired a new developer without ever meeting him in person. For us, remote wasn’t an obstacle, it was an opportunity, even though we thought long and hard about the effect it would have on the team dynamics.

We were looking for a talented Ruby on Rails with already some experience, and believe me, these aren’t easy to find in Bristol. So we had to broaden our horizons and we’re glad we did. You have so many tools available these days to facilitate online communication, that remote is not an issue.

Adapting your communication and working processes

The past 3 months have been very interesting for everyone. We explored the world of remote pairing, got used to having a teammate out in Spain who never ceases to remind us how crap the weather is here in the UK, and took advantage of working remotely a lot more ourselves.

Every morning we do our standup on Google Hangout, talk about the tasks for the day, and clear any questions on the upcoming cards and features.
During the day, we are all always connected to HipChat, where we use different rooms: one for each project we are working on, and one for the company chit-chat. Private one-to-one conversations are pretty useful too.
We are also making better use of Basecamp. As project manager, I post project updates and meeting minutes more regularly. Being able to hide messages from the client is useful as well. The objective is to make sure that Julio doesn’t miss any important information that might be discussed in the office.

The biggest challenge though was to create a personal relationship with someone who is 1,500 miles away. You can chat online as much as you want, it is still not the same as having the person in the office. So we flew Julio over to Bristol for a week.

Planning the visit

Obviously, you can’t just stop working for your clients for a whole week. So we tried to find the right balance between carrying on with our projects and finding the time to bond as a team.

For Julio’s first full day in the office, Nic planned a ‘technical team building’ session. With approval from the clients, our 3 devs took a day off to geek and learn new skills all together.

The rest of the week was pretty much dedicated to client work (they pay the bills after all!). But we still took time for proper lunch breaks, a casual beer (or two) after work and a night out in Bristol all together.

Last, but certainly not least, we sat down and reviewed our process and what could be improved to make sure that Julio didn’t feel left out or didn’t miss any important information discussed in the office. It turns out that we are pretty much on the right track and apparently not doing such a bad job at managing a semi-remote team.

Was it beneficial?

Yes. Definitely. There’s nothing like meeting people in person to build stronger relationships. We will aim at bringing the whole team together at least a couple of times a year. And the next developer to join the team will probably be remote too.

I hope Julio found it beneficial too and enjoyed his time in Bristol.