The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Remote Tools

Jane Belenkaya Aug 28 Article
Marvin the Paranoid Android by Kevin J. Davies

In every geeky company, there is a reasonable amount of people who read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” For those of you who didn’t — the main character — Arthur Dent — while traveling the galaxy, learns that the Earth was actually a giant supercomputer created by another super-computer, Deep Thought. Deep Thought had been built by its creators to give the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” If you remember, all the calculations led to a simple answer: “42.”

That’s roughly the number of tools and applications Airpush uses in its everyday remote life. I’m not going to list all of them, will just try to map the logic behind the choices of tools we used when switching from offices to remote, and why.

Wait, but when people work from a physical office, they use the same virtual tools, so what’s the difference? Why do tools for remote work require more careful consideration, lots of calibrating, documenting, and strategy? Our answer is as obvious as 42 — because of …communication. Similar to Marvin The Paranoid Android, remote workers (apart from being bored and depressed sometimes) need to be tasked, managed, and inspired to occupy their intellect without seeing them face to face.

How did our own Marvin organize the tools library?

When we acquired several new teams and switched to remote ourselves, we faced a long list of tools and applications, often with similar functions, registered for various accounts, cards, emails, people who didn’t work for us anymore, etc. The first thing that helped us get them all going was tool mapping.

We divided the tools into a few different categories:

  • Communications
  • HR
  • Reporting and Salesforce
  • Finance and Legal
  • Infrastructure and DevOps

Communications

We started with communications, and as we keep saying in all our posts, that’s the key to running a successful remote company. You can’t just set up Slack, add your logo and think you’ve got it covered. Unclear communication paths, abandoned channels, use of private messengers instead of open common channels — and here you are — unable to track what’s going on, gathering incomplete pieces of information, encouraging hectic communications. What’s the way out of this maze?

  • Slack is basically our office. Similar to a real office, keep it clean, well maintained and zoned properly. We have channels for everything: daily standups, reporting and alerts, team comms, cooler talks, girls-only, you name it. One of the main criteria we use when choosing tools in other categories — whether they have integration/plugin with Slack or not
  • We totally dropped using email for any internal communications except for formal announcements (even these are first published in a corresponding Slack channel). When we run a long-term project with an external partner, we use shared channels in Slack. Of course, we use G-Suite and Google sign-in is the entry point for all our tools and documents
  • When we say that every call is a video call — we mean it. From our own experience of using Zoom with video always on, not only it helps the interaction itself but makes all calls more productive — people tend to solve things better and quicker when they see each other, even though a lens.

HR

Don’t think that if small, one doesn’t need an automated HR tool. One morning you can wake up to a task of acquiring a team of 100 — adding them to payroll, performance reviews, contract renewal, reporting, employees maps, you name it — so you’d better be prepared.

  • As we are growing with the speed of a rocket, we organized our people operations processes around one tool, that offers all of the above plus lots of plugins for other popular tools. For us, it is BambooHR. For what they can’t do — recruiting — we use SmartRecruiters
  • We have our own Wiki (a tool called Notion) for all poliсies, teams and tech documents and other useful info. Onboarding Training Materials, that our new team members fulfil vai Bamboo are stored there too
  • Don’t forget to praise and thank your teams — Bonusly is super popular with us. We even broadcast it as a feed into Slack, so people can join and add to the bonuses someone else gave.

Task Manager and Salesforce

  • Visualize your data on dashboards (we use LookerRedashVisible)
  • Use cloud-based services (for our sales, AM’s and support — Pipedrive, and Intercom) that have a bigger number of plugins and integrations with other most popular tools — like our task manager Asana and Slack
  • Make sure you have triggers and alerts in place in case of weird fluctuations in metrics and behaviour (again Redash by Github)
  • Track your KPIs (we track bigger goals and performance in BambooHR)
  • Implement SLAs for support and sales (Zendesk is great for that)

Finance and Legal

Being a global company adds extra weight to your daily processes. Dealing with counteragents in various countries with totally different contractual and other regulations means you have to be prepared.

  • Got a huge paperwork heritage? Invest in scanning and digitizing. As soon as locating a document you need takes you more than a minute, it is time to use Document Management Solutions
  • Being Global used to imply a lot of expenses for sending all sorts of documents via expending forwarding companies. In 2019 there is a DocuSign for that. We have this feature in our HR tool too
  • Secure, protect, backup — in today’s vulnerable digital world this mantra should be repeated on a daily basis.

Infrastructure and DevOps

Could Marvin have guessed back in 1981 that Slack Bots would run the world? At least they do in ours.

  • Quoting our CTO: “For devops, we use a standard “Gentlemen’s Set”: Ansible, Docker, k8s, Prometheus, Grafana, PagerDuty ”
  • For all the rest — there are bots that bring all sorts of data into Slack: financial reporting, approvals, integrations with Intercom, Asana, Github, Runscope, Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery flows

The last, but not the least: if the end of the Earth comes, don’t forget about a backup of everything you do, preferably in several imprints. And don’t forget to have lunch at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe!

. . .

This article was inspired by Douglas Adams’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and dedicated to all its fans across the Universe.

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