Direct from the Dev. Team: Must-Have Communication Tools for Remote Workers

March 26th, 2014

by Shawn Deprey, Server Architect & Software Engineer

We here at KITE are a small, dispersed team. Our development team, in particular, is a world-wide outfit with members stretching from Seattle to the Ukraine. Across the timezones, there’s always someone awake, working on product (a godsend during product sprints).

Developing remotely is tough, requiring independent-minded developers who can work quickly with little oversight, lend support, and easily communicate their needs. We’re a tight-knit, group of creative and responsible problem solvers that doesn’t leave a lot of room for micromanagers.

The  glue that holds us together, whether we’re in San Francisco, Colorado, Tuscany or Madrid, is communication. We’ve set up a strong system of communication, utilizing email, VoIP and cloud collaboration technologies to keep everyone on the same page. Take a look at some of our favorite technologies we use to stay connected.

Developer Communications: Campfire

One of our core communication tools is Campfire. We think of Campfire as our virtual office, a place to “clock in”, if you will, and keep each other company, fielding questions and discussions on an ad hoc basis. It’s a web-based chat room provided by 37 Signals that logs an unlimited chat history and provides useful features like file sharing and “room locking”, which allows us to share passwords securely.

Project Tracking: Trello, Pivotal Tracker & Basecamp

We haven’t yet found the magic bullet of project management tools that addresses our every development need, but we’re pretty happy with the three we use currently to create our product roadmap and prioritize development tasks.  

For over-arching, product-level prioritization, we use Trello, a cloud collaboration tool that’s great for larger-scale projects with several moving parts. When we want to translate these larger product goals listed in Trello into specific development tasks, we turn to Pivotal Tracker, a development-specific tracking tool with cool documentation and chat functions that allow for easy, real-time collaboration during those rare moments when we’re all awake.

Finally, there’s Basecamp, which offers a lot of finely-tuned daily calendaring features. We use Basecamp to help manage product proposals and specifications. Together, Trello, Pivotal Tracker and Basecamp give us the tools we need to manage, prioritize and track everything from small, day-to-day fixes to large, year-long development projects.

Team Communication: Google Hangouts

Most of our team meetings, whether they be the KITE all-hands meeting or short check-in calls, are conducted using Google Hangouts. Hangouts’ invitations can be attached directly to calendared events, which make them ideal for setting up meetings on the fly. Also, its group video chat is free, giving the service a leg-up over competitors like Skype or Citrix for lean startups like ourselves.

These tools keep us in tip-top shape as we evolve our product and grow our offerings. If you’re interested in more product-side recommendations, stay tuned for another dispatch from the development team. In our next post, we’ll feature the developer tools that help us define and measure product success and push updates quickly.