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Shishir's Guide to Distributed Teams
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1. Virtual Space


Principle: An inviting, always-connected virtual space

Companies often spend an enormous amount of energy, money, and time on their physical spaces. But for distributed teams, this needs to be complimented with commensurate effort on the "virtual spaces".

Here's my playbook.


Step 1: Pick your virtual space provider

The most important choice is to pick a video conferencing vendor. After trying a number of alternatives, we settled on
, though you could certainly pick other providers.

Here are a few key things I would look for:
Video and audio quality:
If this doesn't work, nothing else matters
Flexible audio options:
While video quality is important, great audio quality is essential. Zoom gives a one click option to have the meeting "dial your phone" so you can use your mobile network for audio, while maintaining your video connection over IP.
Easy to reserve and schedule meetings from your other tools:
The ability to "quickly jump on a video chat" is really important to maintain a feeling of connection. For us, one click scheduling from slack and calendar have been key.
Meeting recordings:
This seemed like a nice-to-have feature early-on but has become critical for us. We tend to record all our team meetings, and post out the recording link afterwards. Especially if your team crosses time zones (more on this in
), you'll need to accommodate asynchronous attendance. Also, this allows less essential participants to rewatch meetings on their own time (and at 2x speed!).
Opportunity for self-expression:
Physical space is fun, shouldn't your virtual space be fun too? Our team has gotten very into virtual backgrounds in Zoom. Read more about how
does it, and take a look through the
gallery.


Step 2: Blend your physical space with your virtual space

What about connecting your physical spaces with your virtual spaces? Here's what NOT to do: create a small set of "executive" rooms with high end video conferencing gear, and leave all the rest unconnected. A few principles:
Every single conference room has a video conferencing setup:
This was a big lesson from Google's setup, and deep contrast from other teams I've seen. Once every room has a "VC unit", you no longer have to decide in advance if a meeting will have remote participants ー "if Sue can't join in person, no big deal, just VC in!"
High quality cameras that support zoom:
The cost of cameras has come down a lot. I've found it critical to pick cameras that can "zoom" in and out. It can make a meeting much more personal (as opposed to a far away shot of a single person sitting at the far end of a conference table). And if the room is setup right, it can also be used for the whiteboard. Which brings me to the next point...
When possible, set up the room such that the camera points directly at a whiteboard as well:
I'm a big fan of digital whiteboarding tools (I love Miro, more about that in a separate post), but I've found that the instinct to jump to a whiteboard is hard to resist. If the camera naturally points at a whiteboard, this becomes trivially easy.


Step 3: Give employees the tools and training to operate your setup

I'm sure everyone has been in a meeting where someone says "wait, how do I share my screen here?" Not only is it embarrassing for the presenter, it is disruptive to the natural flow of a meeting and can bolster the belief that "distributed meetings just aren't as good". At Coda, luckily one of our employees, Maria Marquis, has volunteered to be the all-star trainer for the team. We have her teach every single new employee how to use our setup, and turn them into pros. She's written a great
, that I highly recommend!



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