The Tool We Built To Help Us Work Remotely

We create software. Naturally, when a smattering of creative technical minds jiggle together, creativity is bound to spill over into custom tools that help us work. In this article we'll introduce you to one such tool we have built to smooth some of the edges you may see in remote work. Meet Fizz.

We're a remote first company -- our team works from anywhere in the world at any time of the day. The "benefits" of this lifestyle can seem clear: the freedom to create your own schedule, free yourself from a commute and work from wherever you can create your best material. If you have children, remote work can be a tremendous relief.

The negative aspects are less well-documented. The uninitiated who have not engaged in a remote workforce may find the honeymoon ending not long after they jump in. Talking to many people both within Compose and in other teams, here are some common things that can drain the life-force from your group:

Isolation

Sometimes you might not have a reason to leave your habitat at home. Suddenly it is Wednesday, you've ordered pizza twice, and you haven't changed your clothes all week or seen the sun yet. Your cat stopped coming to visit you and buries her face when you walk by.

You'll need to find healthy patterns to build your routine around. Go for walks, hit the gym, go out on the town. Try to wake up at the same time every day, work in coffee shops, eat proper meals, make plans with friends when possible -- all of these things can help.

Over-working

You may often feel you need to always be working and fully available. We all have Slack; people will message you any time. You don't need to respond in 11 seconds to do a great job. In exchange for your availability and flexibility, we should all understand that sometimes that means you can take large chunks of uninterrupted and guilt-free personal time. In many organizations, this is not the case.

It takes a committed group effort to avoid "hero" pressure. You don't need to test your will and crush excessive hours - it may feel like it's greater effort but the net result on your team is toxic. We want to see you do your best. More importantly, we'd love to see you work happily and lead a healthy and joyful life. You need to trust in the abilities of your team as a single, unstoppable and cohesive unit that carries more might than any individual.

Disgruntlement

Different roles have different indicators of success and performance. For example, an engineer can wind up in a rabbit hole where 8 hours of unseen brilliance can result in 5 characters worth of output. Support Engineers are constantly battling a seldom-ending queue... inbox 0 moments are blissful, but rare. You might be producing magic day in and day out. Slowly, the lack of recognition might grate on you. If you're modest and understated, you might feel like more out-spoken people wind up getting all the accolades. It can feel unfair.

Spiraling

Communication between people in normal reality is more than just text. Body language and inflection are crucial components of our in-person interactions. In the world of remote communication, you're almost exclusively verbal. Gone are non-verbal social cues. In their place, you may find that your brain tries to connect dots that aren't there. Video chats help but they aren't for everyone and can be time-consuming.

Beware technical neuroses. The downward spiral of morale may look something like this: "Hey, they took 14 minutes longer to reply"... "My pull request is terrible, I knew it" ... "I must have made a mistake"..."I messed up my formatting again, didn't I?"..."Wow I'm bad at this. Am I even a programmer? I knew I should have been a Park Ranger".

The technical love to solve problems. Here's what we did to help solve some of these common issues.

Fizz

Meet Fizz, our internal tool designed to illuminate the dark corners that can appear when you are stuck in the clouds with your head down in your work.

Slack has quickly turned itself into an indispensable tool for internal communication. Within its smooth, colourful, GIF-filled confines it can seem a powerful ally. On the other hand, if you're struggling with remote work, you might see it as a persistent deliverer of stress and technical debt. Fizz, our homegrown tool, integrates directly within Slack as a daily vehicle to praise others, commit to milestones, share your contributions and visually see who you're interacting with and how often you're interacting.

From within Slack you can complete two actions with different modifiers. Here are some examples:

Kurt Fizz

and...

Kyle Fizz

Typing /fizz did something awesome in #support with @someone! will report to the world what you have spent your day doing. If you include a hashtag, it'll put your post in the appropriate channel. In the first example by Kurt, it would post in #general and #hiring. Including Jerome lets everyone know who he was working with and what they were working on. If you're not involved in the hiring of Application Developers, you know what those two are up to - you also know that some potential hiring candidates have been cooking up some great things.

Milestones

If you include a carrot, like ^7 as seen from Kyle in the second example, it counts as a contribution to a milestone. Each contribution to a milestone is recorded as a small part of a greater whole. Anyone can decide when to create a milestone. Think something needs to be done and that people would want to rally around a cause? Create a milestone and recruit. Individuals can only be part of one milestone at a time. Usually, they should be something that can be accomplished in 2-4 weeks by a few committed members. Completing a milestone is one of many praise-worthy feats...

Praise

Appropriately, a fantastic facet of Fizz is the 'Praise' system:

Jerome Praise

Entering /praise @someone did something awesome! will shower public praise upon them. A joyful email then arrives in their inbox... ahh, recognition. Within the Fizz app itself, here is what you would see:

Jerome Praise

Others can comment or 'like' your update or praise. The trophy to the right indicates their moment of triumph. It is simple to update and give praise. For a small investment of individual time, it creates a unique, fun and ubiquitous benefit.

Enhance!

It should come as no surprise that a group of people within a database company would have fun playing with their data. With all this record keeping, it felt appropriate to present this data in interesting ways. Below, we will show you some snippets from the Fizz application.

Hashtag Grid

You can see which hashtags have had some recent popularity and who contributed to them...

Contributions

... check out the daily concentration of updates...

Communication Grid

... Or marvel at the brain-like communication web. Each line indicates a relationship with a different team-mate or entity. Particularly strong lines indicate more focused and individual relations; a wide array of thin connections denotes more general interaction. You would expect to see certain internal teams form stronger connections than others. Individually, you can broaden your range by committing to diverse milestones, working towards updates that relate to several hashtags, and recognizing the accomplishments of people in different roles.

Fizz-y

Fizz keeps everything and everyone out in the open. By focusing on smaller, daily contributions towards milestones we help battle the disgruntlement, negative-spiraling and over-work that can become toxic under-currents in many remote organizations. We work in positivity through the appreciation and praise of team mates and the intrinsic reward of contributing daily to the creation of a beautiful piece of software that our users love; Fizz keeps us woven together.

Brandon

... Just don't forget about it for too long or it will shame you in public.