As a fully remote company, improving our cooperative workflow has been a priority from day one. We are particularly proud of the streamlined collaborative process we’ve developed — yet one of its essential elements is that we are always thinking about how we can optimize it even more. Always.

Everything about how we work is ingrained in our principles, which we were inspired to memorialize by Ray Dalio’s  Principles. These 11 fundamental truths guide our workflow and are an essential part of our successful collaboration. In fact, Principle 6 states that Gradient leaders “collaborate and communicate extremely well.”

Alongside our principles, we live and breathe scrum. Jeff Sutherland implies it let’s us do twice the work in half the time, but we think he’s being modest.

So we thought we’d give you a peek under the hood to see how Gradient works together across four different countries (BTW Kyle moved to Paris…that’s another post).  

Workflow

On the  first Monday of the month we have a video conference and debate which epics we want to tackle that month.   Epics are major goals that are unrelated to running client projects. Initially, we only had weekly planning sessions, which worked to plot immediate-term tasks, but they were often devoid of a getting us to a larger goal, like implementing a new methodology or securing new clients. Our monthly planning session can take up to two hours, but keeps us focused on the bigger picture.

Everyday, we have a quick video conference at 9:30 am EST. We call this our stand-up — which is where we discuss all the issues that require collaboration. Be it a problem solving task or a review issue, we keep each other up-to-date. We don’t cover every task, just those that require some degree of cross-team collaboration.

Now, since we work all over the place and Marcin often shows up in rather unusual places with his phone-camera in hand, we decided to hold a monthly contest. At the Staggering Stand-up, we try to one-up each other on the oddest / funniest / most awesome stand-up spot. The winner gets a fantastic white elephant gift from all the participants!

Kaizen (改善)

Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement, which is completely ingrained in our work culture. Every Friday, we fill in a form and highlight what went well, and the things that did not go well. This is then automatically converted into an issue on our scrum board. During our epic planning sessions we select Kaizen issues to diagnose the source of the problem and propose solutions so the same issue doesn’t happen again.

Tools

At the core of our workflow lie the tools we use. Sophisticated software development products that integrate with other collaborative platforms are now commonplace. Every tool that we choose to use must work seamlessly with all the other tools to maximize productivity.

After trying and evaluating a bunch of different software applications we settled on the following combo.

The Atlassian Suite provides amazing tools to collaborate on projects (Jira / Trello) as well as code (Bitbucket). Initially, we used Trello, Confluence and Github as our main sources of collaboration. However, having everything intertwined within the Atlassian suite, made our development process even smoother.

We use the Google Suite to create our deliverables and communicate with our clients. This is where we develop project outlines, create decks and again, everything integrates seamlessly with Atlassian so we can attach documents to Jira issues or spreadsheets to Bitbucket code.

Our main communication tool. We currently have over ~40 different channels, each with its own topic. Most channels are project related, and of course, we have a #hedgehog channel to get updates on how Marcin’s pet hedgehog is doing. Slack also plays extremely well with all our other software. For example, whenever something happens to a Jira issue, it automatically shows up in the slack #channel that we have assigned to it.

We live and breathe R, and there is no better Integrated Development Environment (IDE) than RStudio. We host our apps on ShinyApps, use RStudio Server for development on remote machines (see Amazon AWS below) and the regulaR client on our personal computers.

Even though our personal computers are powerful — we are often in need of virtual machines with a lot more computational power. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a very clean solution with a wide range of machines that we can fire up whenever we need to create sophisticated models.

As a growing business, keeping track of who we contact and, even more important, who we should be contacting, is key to keeping afloat. Salesforce, which works extremely well with Cirrus Insight, gives us all the information that we need.

We mostly use Cirrus Insight to keep track of our client communication efforts. Who do we talk to? How often do we talk to them? And when should we reach out again?

Being able to see and talk to each other like everyone is in the same room is absolutely essential to any company, which is why we have tried numerous conferencing applications like Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack and more. However, after trying Zoom, we never wanted anything else. It works much smoother, has remote control for sharing, annotation and great integrations with calendars as well as Slack.

Sometimes, we just want to communicate with each other without it being business-related. WhatsApp is the perfect solution!

Advantages

When I tell people that I work remotely, I often get the same reaction: “Oh… I couldn’t do that, you must be bored all the time”. But honestly, I think it is one of the most relaxing and freeing experiences I’ve ever had as an employee. Being able to choose where and when I work — with the work you are doing as a priority — is a dream come true.

We are unrestricted. Not a single day is the same and not a single moment you are at a place where you don’t want to be at that very moment. Need some heads down time? Work in your home office. Are your home office walls closing in on you? Head to a coworking spot in town and get acquainted with freelancers and remote workers alike. Don’t feel like bringing food? Head to a nice local coffee shop and enjoy the company!

But best of all...No commutes. Commuting sucks. We all know it, and plenty of research proves that longer commute times  negatively influence job and life satisfaction.

Drawbacks

Slack solves a lot of communication issues that often arise when we are not in the same room together. However, the lack of actually being together just can’t be replaced. In fact, the first time that all four of us will be together is at our inaugural (re)union in NYC early October. Getting to meet each other in person will be a blast and we are very much looking forward to it!

Sometimes though, the cultural differences that a global team brings along can be challenging, but that is half the fun! For example, it’s become quite clear that the Americans really are loud, whereas the Europeans tend to be a little more forthright and calm.

Conclusion

We work differently. That is a fact. A full remote operating global company with different time zones and different cultures sounds like it shouldn’t work. But in reality, it does. It works really well (granted, we’ve invested heavily in the process), and we are extremely proud of it!

Would you like to know more about how we work, or what we can do for your business? Don’t hesitate to contact us at hello@gradientmetrics.com.