Our Toolbox for Collaborating at a Social Distance
What our work looks like when the rhythms change
We’re a small team, and we really value our in-person work culture. Being able to work in the same space and communicate face-to-face keeps the creativity flowing and helps projects unfold seamlessly—from concept to content, from structural design to visual design—with fewer hiccups and more aplomb.
But like many of you, Dirigible went fully remote in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We’re proud to say we’re approaching close to a year of work from home in the time of social distancing—and whew! It definitely takes some adjustment. But Dirigible is up for the challenge, and we’re fortunate in the sense that we’ve had a head start. Our team is split between Madison and Appleton, so there’s always a degree of remote communication and collaboration in what we do. And we’re a web design and development company—the nature of our work keeps us online constantly.
With that in mind we wanted to give you a little peek into our box of tools for working remotely and how we use them. Google Drive, Notion, Slack—these are tools we’ve already been working with for some time, but now they’re doing double-duty, and they’ve helped us make the transition to working from home as seamless as possible.
Our WFH MVPs
- Notion for project management.
- Zoom for meetings.
- Slack for communication.
- Google Drive for organization.
Notion for Project Management
Notion is our workplace architecture—it structures so much of our workflow, we could basically call it our “office.” Notion helps us track the status of various projects status and move them smoothly from start to finish; it clarifies task ownership and makes it easy to collaborate on projects with teammates and see who’s looked at what. It makes it easy to create databases of anything we need; it’s also been an indispensable tool for our documentation process and keeping track of best practices.
“Notion is probably one of the most flexible pieces of software I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible. You can do everything from public documentation to productivity tasks. Also, the way that it’s built is really modular which means that you can put pieces together to build what you want, and I think sandbox-style software like that is kind of special.”Jake Casey, Web Developer
What our dev team loves about Notion
- It has a ‘building blocks’ feel, which is part of what makes a lot of really good software, in my opinion.
- I like the unlimited file uploads a lot—I use it to back up entire sites and offload it from my hard drive.
- I’m a sucker for Notion’s dark mode option.
- The whole templating/sharing system is great. If you see a workflow or a setup that someone else has, you can just copy it to your workspace and go. Or you can create a playground for your users, and they can develop what to do with it on their own. It showcases that with Notion, you can do some pretty amazing stuff.
“While face-to-face communication is best, our team is still able to easily coordinate who’s working on what at any given time.”Nathan Piontek, Project Manager
What the rest of our team loves about Notion:
Our creative team loves how easy it is to collaborate on the design, copywriting, and dissemination aspects of a project. We’ve created workflow templates that have allowed us to automate aspects of the task that don’t require creativity—so we can reserve our creative juices for the things that count.
Our project management team loves the comprehensive work visualization that Notion offers—being able to get all tasks that need to be done into a manageable space and all in one space goes a long way for saving time and avoiding unnecessary tasks. From a working from home angle, Notion offers easy task ownership and status progress.
And our entire team loves how flexible and comprehensive Notion is. It provides an overhead view of all our tasks that helps us plan our work schedules—both individually and as a group—and see where we’re needed most at any given moment.
Our favorite tips and tricks for optimizing work-from-home with Notion:
Play around with different views and functions, but keep the workflow streamlined. Here at Dirigible, we get a lot of mileage out of using different views for different needs. Kanban is great to track workflow and current projects for individual team members. Table view is great for our master list of tasks, because it makes it easier to sort tasks in different ways—by client, due date, priority level, task type, etc. And calendar view is great planning out future social media posts or weekly enewsletters! Adding screenshots, or embedding boards from workflow tools like Miro or Avatar, can also go a long way in providing context for your coworkers from afar!
Experiment with the ways Notion can replace the feel of your physical office space. Using the right features in Notion, it can start to feel like you’re actually sharing space with your coworkers, and that can help work against the sense of distance and isolation that remote working often generates. So play around with the tools. Track page updates to see the progression of a project from afar—click updates at the top right of a page for a historical log of every change that’s been. @Mention teammates to get their attention. Follow along where your coworker is in a page by paying attention to their avatar.
Check out Notion’s Remote work wiki for timely tips, tools, and good Twitter threads. From COVID-specific health resources and company policies, to detailed work-from-home guides written by companies like GitLab, Zapier, and Figma, this wiki is brimming with ideas and community to help make remote working more inspiring. Want Notion-specific tips for getting started? There’s a page for that too.
Google Drive for File Sharing
No surprises here—we certainly aren’t the first or the last team to use Google Drive for file sharing. We like Google Drive for its robust search functionality, for how clean and easy it is to and for ease of editing and collaborating on documents. We also love how easy it is to share individual files with clients and get their line-by-line feedback with the comments function.
Zoom for Meetings
When you need your online meetings to work for everyone, regardless of operating system, device, or location, Zoom is definitely the most user-friendly solution.
Slack for Communication
Ah, Slack. The day-to-day culture of our company basically lives in its channels, threads, and DMs. Here are some of the many reasons that using Slack makes our lives better throughout the workday.
Slack is great for our devs team.
For software engineering teams, using Slack results in 5% more output overall, 27% less time needed to test and iterate, 21% less time needed to identify and resolve engineering-related bugs and issues, and—stepping back to a really impactful data point—a whopping 23% faster time to market. What accounts for the better outputs for Slack teams? For one thing, Slack’s channel-based messaging really works elegantly with the kind of iterative, collaborative, and sharable workflows that characterize a lot of our web development. Plus, Slack’s got that integration layer that makes it oh-so-easy to integrate other applications like GitHub directly into our Slack messaging, so we don’t waste time switching between apps in the middle of important conversations.
Slack is better for workflow than email.
Slack stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”—or as Malika Rajvanshy, a senior engineer at Slack puts it, “Slack is a living documentation hub, and everything is searchable.” That saves time when you’re trying to get an answer to a specific question, and you know it’s been talked about before.
That means Slack cuts waaaaay down on email and is more efficient, on a couple of fronts. First, it’s harder to return to the information or attachments you need in email, because threads are broken up into separate emails, requiring you to go back and sift through them one by one to find that one specific tidbit you need. In Slack, all those tidbits are logged on one continuous thread, and are so cleanly and straightforwardly searchable—so finding that conversation doesn’t feel like sifting through a stack of old files or looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Second, Slack really saves a lot of time compared to emails when you need that quick question answered. No one loves the feeling sending off a message in hopes of getting a quick five second reply back—only to imagine that message getting buried under higher priority emails in your recipient’s inbox. With its real-time messaging, Slack really cuts down on those annoying—and ultimately unnecessary—email delays.
Plus, the channels feature helps ensure that only the people who need the information see the message—we’re not combing through tons of information all the time trying to figure out what’s for us.
Slack helps us keep connected.
When you’re logging on for day #248 of working-from-home, it’s hard to overstate the comfort you feel in seeing that little green dot by your coworker’s handle—the little pop of color that tells you they’re online. Slack gives us a feeling of shared space, the sense that we’re going through the same workday, even if we’re on opposite sides of the state. It gives us a way to say hey throughout the day, send that perfect gif, keep things light. We have our signature react-emojis and team-wide riffs. Almost every Friday, someone predictably drops our favorite meme in the #random channel:
Slack manages to hit on that sweet spot, of great design and functionality. And that means, as a tool or a piece of software, Slack sort of fades into the background—and that’s a good thing. You kind of forget that you’re using it, the way you forget the walls that surround your in-person office. I mean, walls are absolutely essential to your work environment functioning—but how many minutes a day do you spend thinking about them? Slack is like that.