Flexible working is becoming the new norm. But in many cases, working with people in different geographical locations is easier said than done.
Time zones, technology, Wi-Fi access, communication barriers and cultural differences are just some of the challenges that businesses with a flexible working strategy must face.
Our curiosity got the better of us, so we asked one of the world-leaders in digital collaboration to lay their flexible working secrets bare.
Digital collaboration culture
GitHub is a code collaboration platform with more than 10 million users contributing to over 26 million projects. Headquartered in San Francisco with a core team of 335 people working across the globe, this innovative organization is leading the field of open-source software development and bringing open-source methods to businesses everywhere.
Alliance is one of them. We use GitHub’s source control management product to enable our software development team to work virtually around the clock in various corners of the world, without overwriting each other’s code.
GitHub is a prime example of an organization managing a remote team as part of a successful flexible working strategy. But none of that would be possible without a close-knit team of people working towards a common objective.
So how do GitHub team-members stay in close contact while thousands of miles apart?
“GitHub, like many companies today, has employees spread out all around the world,” says GitHub’s VP Strategy, Brian Doll.
“Some of us work regularly in our headquarters in San Francisco or in one of our satellite offices in Tokyo, Amsterdam, or Boulder. However, we all work together, every day, on the Internet.”
Given the collaborative nature of GitHub’s services and the team’s technical abilities, staying in touch via digital channels comes naturally.
“It is no surprise that every team at GitHub works together on GitHub.com. With GitHub, we build products, discuss issues, plan ahead, and work together. I can’t imagine how we could run GitHub the company without GitHub the product.”
Non-mobile technology “won’t last”
For more synchronous conversations, Doll explained that the team use chat tools, including video. Yet for communication to work seamlessly, they rely on a specific set of technologies. One of these is mobile, which Doll describes as “critical for success”.
“We all need to get our work done, and today that may mean a desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or increasingly, several of those devices over the course of the workweek.
“Products that don’t work on mobile devices will not last.”
Similarly critical, specifically for GitHub, are devices with an API (Application Programming Interface).
“Computers actually make up a huge percentage of the user base of any successful technology product,” he said. “Whether we’re talking about the Internet of Things, system interoperability, or just augmenting data, APIs make products adaptable.
“We all use several products to get our daily work done, and APIs enable these products to work together.”
Meeting in person “incredibly important”
So if technology is the enabler, what is the glue that holds it all together?
Perhaps surprisingly for a company that thrives on digital collaboration, it’s the opportunity to bond face-to-face that Doll considers one of their most important team-building rituals.
“Teams work best when they have good relationships with one another,” he said. “Meeting up in person is incredibly important to build those relationships, and to help the team work well together at high velocity.”
He explained that once a year, GitHub holds a Summit where the entire company gets together.
“We talk about our vision, we discuss our strategy, we plan major pieces of work. But we also use that time to get to know one another and have fun together.
“Additionally, teams host their own mini-summits about once a quarter. They are similarly organized, with a focus evenly split on strategy, planning, and social activities.
“This isn’t incompatible with primarily remote or asynchronous work, but it is something that needs to be well planned for,” he added.
While working shoulder to shoulder is being phased out by many organizations in favor of more flexible and dispersed working strategies, that doesn’t mean traditional working practices should be abandoned altogether. For instance, GitHub maintains regular face-to-face contact between employees, and finds it an invaluable (and irreplaceable) part of their team dynamics.
This social bond is the glue that holds a team together, even when employees are thousands of miles apart. Factor in efficient mobile technologies and shared instant communication methods, and you’ve got a well-oiled process that contributes to a productive team and a successful company.
It works for GitHub. The software giant is now the world’s largest host of source code and has just been valued at $2billion. Not bad for a company that started on a bootstrap in 2008.
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