Distributed Work Rules

About ten years ago it was called computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) but today I would just call it getting things done using the Web. Most of my work is at a distance and I’ve been using Web collaboration tools since they became available. The Web has been around for the past 15 years or so, which means that for anyone under 35, it’s been part of the surround for most of their working lives.

I’ve been working as part of a distributed team that is composed mostly of people over 40 and as a result have accumulated several hundred e-mails on one project alone. I usually get maybe a dozen e-mail per day, but this month has required some serious triage of a hundred at a time. I guess this is how “normal” people work every day. Perhaps the next time I join a distributed team, I’ll ask everyone to accept certain ground rules. If not, I may decide not to play.

  1. Documents that are edited by more than one person must be created, edited and commented upon on a wiki or other collaborative web document such as Google Docs, Central Desktop, etc. (This graphic explains it quite well)
  2. The group must select a text chat method for small details that need to be discussed (Skype, MSM, Google Chat, etc). [Dozens of threads using “Reply All” saying things like, “well done” are a waste of the team’s time]
  3. Document formatting should only be considered/discussed once the content has been agreed upon, and then only one person/agency is responsible.
  4. E-mail should only be used for official correspondence that requires a date/time stamp for archival reasons. Contracts, acceptance of deliverables and official feedback would be examples.

Any other suggestions? Perhaps we need a Distributed Work Manifesto.

7 Responses to “Distributed Work Rules”

  1. Marsh Gardiner

    I would add that standards must guide authorship (i.e. architecting the content and presentation layers). If everyone understood the differences between the two, and how good hierarchical structure maximizing reuse of styles can streamline workflow , then the world would be a much happier/saner place.

  2. Jacques

    Staff meetings using a synchronous communication platform (many out there, including Open Source. Ex. Yakkle!, Adobe Connect, Elluminate, Marratech…). Just as good (and often better) than costly f2f gatherings.

  3. Jacques

    Soooo many web2.0ish apps to do a number of different chores. Need to find a date to meet? Doodle it! (www.doodle.ch)

  4. Kristina Schneider

    Our business runs in Virtual Office mode, so we do work in a distributed fashion, and have been doing so for 7 years. Some of our lessons learned are:

    Intranet – Our Intranet has forums for info sharing: We put up interesting things we find on the Web, whether directly related to our departments or in the off-topic lounge (jokes) in the forums. We also use it to post announcements as well as document policies, procedures and pertinent links.

    Online project management tools – We use an open source web based project management software (dotproject) to book meetings, manage work, etc. When I assign a task to programmers, I add the instructions for the task in the application and attach files there. The system just sends them a notification. There is a forum there for each project so that they can share info & tips. When I want to see the status of a project, I just look!

    Online CRM tools – We use an OpenSource application – Sugar to manage business development. When my bosses want to know where I am with an opportunity, they just look!

    LIke Jacques mentionned, we use synchronous communication for meetings. We actually don’t really use a chat application – we find it can be distracting actually. but that is us.

    What we’ve learned is to use a few tools, but use them right and to keep it really, really simple.

    Oh yeah, and we use the phone too 😉

  5. tia

    Hi Harold,

    Thanks for mentioning Central Desktop in your blog!
    Allow me to quickly introduce myself. My name’s Tia and I am the Community Manager @ Central Desktop. I thought you may want to know that CD is now on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

    …check us out when you have a moment…

    Also, if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to email me.





  6. Harold Jarche

    Hey Tia, do you think you could have stuck in any more links? Pointing us to something is OK, but take it easy on the links next time or your comment may be mistaken for spam.


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