Gather Is My New Favorite Way to Collaborate

A 2D world with spatially aware video conferencing

Adam Prescott

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My virtual desk, complete with Lego bonsai tree. Screenshot by author

I’ve been a fully remote worker for about 8 years now. Right from the get-go, the most challenging parts of this setup have been staying connected and working transparently. Back then, our primary tools for communication were IMs and calls via Skype for Business.

The biggest problem with Skype for Business is that all communications are direct and private. I’ve always felt that one of my strengths has been my breadth of knowledge and ability to help the team by providing context when necessary. When all discussions are happening privately in the confines of a Skype call, though, there is no opportunity to “overhear” conversations and contribute proactively.

In addition to that, I’m also somewhat of an introvert. It’s hard for me to open an IM conversation just to say, “Hey! How are you?” And so, I wouldn’t. I’d only reach out to people when I had a business need.

Slack made a big difference. It allowed me generically say, “Good morning,” and I could see the general conversations happening with the team, work-related and not. It did a lot for my relationships with co-workers. It also allowed us to communicate openly and transparently, which keeps everyone on the same page about projects and helps spread knowledge.

It’s been a great way for us to collaborate and socialize asynchronously, but we’ve found that it’s not as effective for the tasks du jour as good old-fashioned voice communication. So, our next evolution was to adopt a “virtual office” in Microsoft Teams. This was just a permanent call that team members could hop into and out of throughout the day. It also provided us with a persistent chat that was narrowly focused on what was happening in our specific team interactions.

That’s about where we’re at today. I’d say the main challenge with our virtual office is call fatigue. Folks get tired of being on a call all day. The result is that they don’t want to join, and if enough people stop joining, the whole setup loses its value. Presence on the call is somewhat binary, too — you’re either on the call and available, or you’re not.

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