Hanging out of the office

After a few days of feeling under the weather I decided that a day in my home office was probably in order. With back-to-back meetings scheduled and that awful feeling looming of having to move them all to another even more packed day, I decided that I’d keep my appointments but do so virtually.

For several weeks now a couple of the project team have been working most days from home and attending daily stand-up using Google+ Hangout. It’s been a bit of an experiment for the project: one which has proved both useful and successful.

Hangout enables video-conferencing without having to be on the KAREN network and have a registered SCOPIA host or having to upgrade to a premium Skype account. Essentially, the host of the Hangout opens up a session and other people can join and leave at will. However, enough with the mechanics as that’s not what this write-up is about.

We’d managed to hold a completely virtual stand-up a couple of weeks ago when snow in Christchurch meant that the office was closed. Five of us managed to get on and have a reasonable online session so I knew that connectivity from home was pretty good.

When I called into the office on Skype to ask for the Hangout to be hosted at their end my Skype told me there was insufficient bandwidth (I was connected on the wireless) and muted my video. Annoying. However there were no such issues with the Hangout. Audio was clear throughout the three or so hours I spent online with the team.  Video, whilst occasionally stilted and blurred, was of a generally reasonable standard, even when two others joined the Hangout for the afternoon stand-up meeting.

I actually found that my afternoon of meetings/workshops to be very productive and had no problems leading the stand-up even though I wasn’t there. With a view of the meeting area I was able to see who was present and any gestures or activities happening at the other end.

I’m happy that this is a viable way to work, particularly as travel between locations can be a bit of a bind sometimes and there are some productivity gains to be had working with fewer interruptions, distractions and with better equipment in my  own space.

Some key points however, if you’re going to remote in as I did:
  • Have documents circulated in advance of any meetings or workshops: that way you have them already on-screen or printed and aren’t having discussions about whether you have copies of things they have on the table.
  • Multiple computing devices helps: during the meeting you’ll basically dedicate one computer to the Hangout so it’s helpful if you have another device on which to read documents and look things up. I had two laptops on the go in an effort to be more ‘digital paper’ than printing out all the documents.
  • Have a referencing schema during discussion: name documents distinctly, have page numbers, versions and dates.  A lot of time can be wasted with “can you look at the first document I sent through… it’s about page 4… I think…” The other parties should also be aware that when they’re pointing to things they can see on the table, you can’t!
There’s a few setup things that make this easier at the other end of the video (desktop microphones, camera angles, etc.., etc…) but that’s for another day.
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