What we needed
In our team, casual communication goes on in project-related or thematic chats. And online meeting happens occasionally. Online meetings help to minimize misunderstanding and also get new teammates onboard. Chats are lighter than email, let ask quick questions and make data snippets transmission. We use chats both within the office and with partners. Both for chats and video we have particular demands.
We prefer to separate working chats from personal. And we found privacy, encryption and integration with other software extremly valuable. As for the video, it should be easy to use, with no account and provide screen sharing.
What we picked, and why
For both chats and online meetings, we use
It wins on 3 important demands. It’s an open-source tool, which means anyone could develop it, build needed integration of fix bugs. It makes Riot more agile.
Riot is a Matrix client. Matrix is an open standard, meaning that we have freely published the details for how to communicate interoperable using the Matrix set of HTTP APIs.
Matrix is also open source, meaning that it released the source code of the reference servers, clients and services to the public domain under the Apache Licence v2.
Riot exchanging data and messages with other platforms (bridges). The process is pretty much the same as when we write an email from @gmail.com to @hotmail.com. That allows you, for exaple, to connect Slack channels to Riot for a smoth transition.
Riot also uses integrations (widgets) as third parties plugins. The most relevant is Jitsi, a tool for video chats. Widgets can be opened as a window within Riot (both desktop and browser apps) or as separate browser windows. For Jitsi this option is preferable as it allows screen sharing and full-screen views.
Jitsi (For using it, this link is even nicer: to the popular Zoom due to some privacy and security concerns.
Not encrypted though.
Video and Audio Conferencing, Screen Sharing: Jitsi
More about Zoom privacy and security history How we use it
We have several types of meeting that are parts of our office culture:
Weekly kick-on meeting (always video conference). Update on the project status and personal tasks
Weekly kick-off meeting (chat or video conference). Update on the office development
Weekly workshops on instruments and workflow. Knowledge transfer about how we work
Project teams workshops. To coordinate, to strategize, brainstorm and align deadlines
Informal weekend chats. To bond, socialize and share random fan stories.
Since we communicate actively, we could admit, online communication might be even more overwhelming. However, there are some basic principles to held a productive online meeting:
Prepare a structure (agenda)/ choose moderator
Mute while not speaking and pass a word to each other
Announce short resume at the end/ transform it into tasks (we put them into
Asana). What we don’t like
New users onborarding is not straightforward as new users have tofirst create a new account before to being invited to a workspace. Additionally usernames must be formatted with a long and uncomfortable string of characters
Riot provides end-to-end encrypted conversations and the the process to validate verified other users in your workspace is tedious.
We experienced some issues with repeatable disconnections of the
Riot server. It is possible to migrate to another trusted server but it is not intuitive. What we’re also looking at
Previously we used
Slack, however we didn’t like the limited functionalities of the free plan. Most of all it keeps a record of the last 10k messages only. Fore more information see this useful and clear comparison.
Since we experienced some issues with Riot repeatable disconnections, we are also looking at
mattermost and rocket chat as alternatives.
Discord, MS teams, skype, whatsapp, Apple messages as unreasonable ones (various reasons for each search/flexibility/privacy/phone only/apple only)
Skype is a complete tool, however as it is part of Microsoft we preferred to look for more open source solutions.
Similarly we discarded
WhatsApp which, additionally, does not offer important functionalities like screen sharing.
MS Teams offers a wide range of capabilities but only to licensed users. Guest users cannot take advantage of basic functionalities like uploading images and their data is under the control of the licensed members. It currently does not offer end-to-end encryption, and is hence inherently insecure. The current client can not handle multiple accounts with different organisations.
Apple messages/Facetime was not a viable option for us as it is restricted to Mac users only.
6. Getting the Basics Right
Office Standards: Calendar, Contacts, E-mail, Web
What we needed
As every office we need to organize routine:
shared calendar and shared contacts
email addresses per colleague and per project
on all devices
an office landline that can be called and call everywhere
What we picked, and why
Apple’s iCloud Calendar and Contacts app and sync service. The calendar is synced on the office Apple iCloud account and accessible via the iCal and Contacts desktop and mobile apps or through a web browser (for Windows users).
Uberspace as a hoster, very friendly model, support, servers in Germany.
Sipgate as the super flexible alternative to tradition telcos.
the Mac Mail app is our solution for emails. It is built in, complete and intuitive. Mozilla Thunderbird is our Windows best choice..
Office Standards: calendar and contacts
Office Standards: Email, Web
Office Standards: VoIP, Telephone How we use it
Everyone in the team can access, view and edit the calendar as well as the other
iCloud features (Contacts, keynote presentations, etc.). This workflow is based on transparency and trust more than the tools themselves: Everyone in the organization has access to the office iCloud account, there is no sensitive information to hide in the calendar or the contact list, and by acknowledging everyone on the way the system works, the risk of mistakes is reduced to the minimum.
Workflow is based on transparency and trust more than the tools themselves.
office calendar is the shared calendar for the TSPA team. We also make use of the invite feature for coordinating with counterparts. The calendar includes different sections: personal work calendars for each team member, events, travels, and projects. This structure lets us all see each other daily occupation and stay updated. It’s also easy to switch on and off unrelated sections.
Our mail system is based on personal and project email addresses on all computers. The project-related email address is used for all project related matters, for in- and outgoing mails. The personal email address for intra-office matters, or matters which do not clearly relate to any project, or during an acquisition phase when there is no project address yet.
The project email address has many advantages — everyone involved can see all email communication, eliminating the need for cc’ing and forwarding. Sent emails are all in one place. The project leader bears responsibility that emails are answered.
We use the mail apps as task management tools: inbox mails are not reviewed yet or still to be answered/handled. All the others are deleted or archived (if they will still be relevant to look at them in the future but the conversation is over) after being answered.
What we don’t like
Uberspace is a relatively small provider with relatively small storage capacity. Unfortunately there is no chance to scale up our storage plan once we will hit the limit.
Most of the
iCloud tools are available for Mac users causing problems for Windows users with limited to no access to internet. What we’re also looking at
We like our friendly and local host but its capacity is not scalable and we might look into international hosts with large databases to ensure a potential storage increase.
This is the fourth publication of the series “From work desks to work platforms” in which we share the strategies and tools that have helped us doing remote-work even before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Follow us for the last publications that we will post next!