[:en]Work platforms: Open source remote communication and basic office organisation strategies[:]


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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. Here we present two out of nine tools,Remote communication and basic office arrangement.

5. Keeping the Communication Going

Video and Audio Conferencing, Screen Sharing, Chat and direct Exchange: Riot & Jitsi


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 Riot.

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.

We prefer Jitsi (For using it, this link is even nicer: to the popular Zoom due to some privacy and security concerns.

Not encrypted though.

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

We use 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..

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