Our Bangalore based team at Levitum works from home 3 days of the week. It’s awesome since we save nearly two hours of daily commute time, which gives us more time with our families and to do all the fun things we enjoy (and avoid the horrendous Bangalore traffic). On the other hand, it meant developing a collaborative team culture and using tools that would facilitate working from home effectively. While this may sound trivial, third world problems of power outages and broadband connectivity issues make things hard at times. We also have one colleague working from Chennai and another from Hyderabad. Over time, we’ve been using a number of cloud based tools & services that have helped us collaborate effectively and have loads of fun along the way while we’ve grown Levitum. Here’s a quick list!
Since our team works from home 3 days a week, it helps to get on video often through the day. It makes conversations much more personal & fun. We tried Skype video, Google+ Hangouts, Assembla video chat and Tokbox. Hangouts was the most fun by far, and Skype was the most convenient. While Cisco’s GoToMeeting looks and feels like an enterprise app, the audio and video quality is simply outstanding.
At $25/month, it’s freed us from the choppy audio or video that plagues some other solutions while still not making every meeting feel like a dull conference bridge conversation. And on most mornings during our daily standups, its simply been awesome fun. (PAID)
One of the challenges we had was finding a solution that provided just the right mix of agile software development tools, source control repositories, and project management tools.
Ultimately Assembla won out with a more superior feature set combined with a lovely interface that scales up well for power users as well. What we love the most:
- Card wall which incorporates most of the features of Trello & lends itself to a Kanban workflow.
- Git repositories with a simple code review workflow.
- Powerful ticketing system which enables us to both manage our project backlog as well as support tickets.
- Social activity streams, convenient @ mentions & notifications.
- Reasonable pricing model ($50/month gives us accounts for 40 people & unlimited repos) (FREEMIUM)
3. Google Apps
You’d think every tech startup out there would be on Google Apps & leveraging the power of Google’s Mail, Calendar, Drive & other collaboration tools. Amazingly enough, I’ve encountered a few who aren’t (sigh). And no, their reasons had nothing to do with concerns around Google or cloud security (dont ask). So, here’s a gratuitous mention that’s stating the obvious. (FREEMIUM)
When I tell people we use IRC for company group chats, some of them wonder if we’re still stuck in the late 90s. But after having meddled with Skype, Jabber, GTalk & Campfire, plain old IRC won out. The technology that worked great in the days of the dial up era and noisy modems continues to be the simplest way to get folks onto a chatroom from anywhere and everywhere. We’ve got IRC notifications wired in with our CI servers & a bunch of IRC bot addons that help us with everything from quick google searches to checking on project status. For our developers deeply engaged with the open source community, IRC is a portal into a world itself. (FREE)
There’s always times when it’s a bit of effort to get people onto a GoToMeeting bridge. It doesnt help that Cisco seems to push a large update to every now and then that requires a 5 minute interrupt just before a 10 minute conversation. For all those times, Join.me saves the day with a near instant setup & screen share with basic audio conversations thrown in. For everthing else, there’s still GTM. (FREE)
While most of our code is on Assembla hosted git repos, there’s enough said about GitHub. Assembla lags behind GitHub in the power developer tools for reviewing and collaborating on source code. That said, GitHub’s issue tracker provides limited abilities to manage a large team effectively - areas where Assembla wins out. (FREEMIUM)
While Google Docs is decent for collaboration, we missed the fluid realtime capabilities of Google Wave. It helped that some folks set up Etherpad up and opened it out so companies could set up a subdomain and work on editing documents real time. Titanpad has been awesome, and we probably dont use it nearly as much as we should. It’s got an awesome versioning system that also lets you playback edits - check it out! It’d be helpful if it had a Markdown editor/viewer baked in, though. Now, that’s an idea. (FREE)
Basecamp provided a simple and elegant mix of to-do lists, write boards, milestone views & integrated well with their other solutions like Campfire. However, the to-do lists get unwieldy quickly and dont roll up well into larger milestones. We use Basecamp on a limited set of consulting services projects. (PAID)
We also use GDrive and Dropbox, and this one’s really my personal bias. I like the Box.net iPad app more than the others & like the deeper permissions and sharing controls. We’ve been watching OwnCloud closely and may make the switch someday. (FREE)
Much as we loved Assembla’s card wall, it’s sometimes been much quicker to quickly get on Trello and toss a bunch of cards on a board. It’s been our little whiteboard to draw up a WBS, or just stack up a bunch of ideas, vote on them and move them between buckets before actually sticking them into Assembla. (FREE)
Got suggestions that you’d like to add to this list? Give me a shout - we’d love to give them a spin.