Today I want to talk about the tools we use in our day-to-day operations. It took us a while to settle on this set. We use these because they make our lives easier and enable Sponge Hammer to be a remote work based company.
One side effect of the way we adapt to change is the ability to swap any of these with something else. When it comes to optimising our workflow we are quick to act.
This post is part of our series about remote work. In these, we talk about how telecommuting affects productivity, the challenges of working from home, and our company’s culture.
Slack is a chat application. I would say this is the primary communications tool we use within Sponge Hammer. When you sign up, you create a workspace to which you can invite users. It is possible to create channels for focussed discussions, have threads for any message, and have 1 to 1 or ad-hoc group chats. Using it eliminated company email.
We tend to invite our partners into specific channels so we can keep direct contact with them. Although they are usually single-channel guests, they can initiate conversations with anyone.
Another great feature it offers is the ability to integrate various services with it. It allows for receiving notifications of notable events in other apps or kicking off certain operations without leaving Slack at all.
Alternatives we tried were Google Hangouts, Skype, and Hipchat.
Zoom is a video calling platform and, in our opinion, one of the simplest to use. Starting a call creates a virtual room where others can join in. As our operation spans four countries and roughly 13 locations, we needed a platform where we could all be in a call if need be. Zoom turned out to be up for the job.
It also comes with desktop and mobile apps so you can attend meetings on the go. We had people joining in from car parks, coffee shops, the beach in Mallorca, the Brighton Pier, or even from the top of a mountain.
They offer a free version that allows that imposes a time restriction on group calls but allows having 1 to 1 sessions of any length.
Alternatives we tried Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack calls.
GSuite is the business-oriented version of Google’s Gmail. It is a subscription service, so you pay a monthly fee for each user account. In return, you get Gmail, Drive, calendar, docs, sheets, slides, and all the other tools that come with the free Gmail account. So, why pay for it if you can get all of it for free?
It includes an admin dashboard which allows defining user accounts, password policies, control over devices, and web apps accessing company information.
The most important feature for us is the @company email. You can map the email service in your DNS registry entry to Gsuite. So if you send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see it via the Gmail interface.
Bitbucket is a hosted git subscription service provided by Atlassian. We needed to share source code, and git was the obvious choice at the beginning. We needed an easy to use service and ended up with Bitbucket. And We picked the first one we tried.
At this point, we are somewhat locked in with some of the integrations we have set up. We use the pipelines feature quite a bit for automating our code checks, package creation, and deployments.
There’s a free and paid offering. Using the paid version allows for setting up Git LFS, access restrictions for projects and branches, rules around verifying pull requests. Subscribing to a higher tier will come with enforced 2FA, preventing pull request merging when checks report failures and singing in with a provider of your choice.
Unfortunately, the web interface could do with a few improvements. We had assumed because it an Atlassian product usability would be excellent. In reality, reviewing large pull requests is challenging, and the UI gets in the way on mobile devices. We hope improvements will be arriving soon.
Alternatives we tried GitLab, GitHub.
Confluence is another Atlassian subscription service we use. It allows adding documents to a tree structure. The reason we ended up using it is because we felt finding content on Google Drive was challenging. Confluence, on the other hand, does a great job offering new or relevant content for you to see. It also allows for multiple people to edit a single page, which is relatively new. Also, anyone can add comments to selected sections or the whole document.
So we keep our project documentation, internal training materials, and game design docs there.
Trello is a tool for tracking projects by creating and moving cards around. It looks a lot like an interactive scrum board.
The idea behind a board like that is the following. Each card represents some work that needs doing. The cards then are placed on the board. During regular reviews, they move to different positions, columns depending on the state of the piece of work they represent. The columns can be labelled, for example, as “To Do”, “In Progress”, or “Done”.
Trello, the electronic version of such a board, offers a lot more. For example, you can attach images and have conversations on cards. You can integrate the boards with external apps. One useful integration we found is the ability to map a ticket to a bitbucket change or pull request.
Depending on the work we do, we may have shared boards with our partners, which helps to make sure we are on the same page about progress.
Alternatives we tried were Jira, Favro.
If you have any comments, ideas or personal experiences, feel free to share with us. We are curious to hear new ideas, solutions, and perspectives regarding the above. Don’t forget to follow us on our social media!
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