“Distributed Teams as a Competitive Advantage” in Sydney!

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On Thursday, 10jan2019, I’ll be leading a presentation and Q+A about distributed teams at Fishburners / SydneyStartupHub in Sydney, Australia. Doors open at 6pm, with formal event starting at 6.30pm and ending ~8.30pm. Click here to reserve your spot. (All proceeds from tickets go to charity.)

“Distributed Teams” in the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia

This presentation will build on a focus of my “Distributed Teams” book – the competitive advantages and wider economic impact of this trend to distributed teams (or “remote work” or “virtual teams” or…). Over the last ~20 years, we’ve moved from jokes about “working at home in bunny slippers” to viewing distributed teams as a competitive advantage. How did this happen? What are the cold, hard, business advantages to this trend that can help you and your organisation be more competitive and more successful? How can this trend help your organisation hire better, hire faster and improve retention? Can your organisation save money while also addressing important social, diversity, urban planning and environmental issues? How can your team or organisation work well together even when physically apart? Can you have a meaningful, well-paid career without a daily commute to a physical office?

This is usually a very interactive topic, so we’ve scheduled extra time for Q+A discussions as well as some time for networking before/after.

It is also worth noting that this will be the first presentation of 2019 in the large, newly renovated, event space at Fishburners, in SydneyStartupHub. I heard a lot about this venue earlier this year while working in Singularity University with Molly Pyle and Brian Lim, so when I arrived on holidays in Sydney and Melbourne, I had to check it out for myself.

Yes, SydneyStartupHub is a co-working space. But its like none I’ve ever seen before. This one location has ~183,000 sqft / 17,000sqm of office space across 11 floors. There’s a fantastic 110 seat theatre. There’s a large public speaking event space that can hold a few hundred people. Serious professional-grade kitchens, coffee machines and social spaces. Rock-solid internet connection. Many many many meeting rooms. Phone-booths for video-calls. Glass-walled offices and open-plan co-working desks arranged for different size startups. After a while, I just stopped counting. All renovated and stylish – yet mixed with the carefully preserved original heritage details. If you’ve never visited, you need to see it yourself to grasp the scale and great attention to detail throughout. Its mind-boggling! Oh, and the location in downtown Sydney means that it is easy to get to/from here on many different forms of public transport.

If you are now (or will be) part of a distributed team, please stop by – I hope this event will help your organization be more effective and I’d love to hear what did/didnt work for you. If you’ve never seen Fishburners or SydneyStartupHub, please use this event as an excuse to stop by and check it out. It is short notice, but I hope you can make it. 

(Note: This would not have happened without a lot of help from: Molly Pyle, Brian Lim, Fishburners, JobsForNSW, Margaret Petty @ UTS, Pandora Shelley, Georgia Marshall and Justin O’Hare. Thank you all for making this happen.)

The “Distributed Teams” book – created by a distributed team!

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Here’s a little trivia about the book “Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart“. This book *about* distributed teams was created *by* a distributed team.

Catherine, Linda and I live in three different states (California, New York and Utah), in three different timezones and never once met in person during the creation of this book. Instead, we “walked the talk” – following the practices from the book while writing the book.

We held video calls instead of audio-only conference calls. We used pre-agreed Single Source of Truth to track each person’s work as well as the state of the overall project. We had crisply organized communications. Depending on the phase of the project, sometimes we co-worked on multi-hour video calls multiple days in a row and sometimes we didn’t talk all week. But we always knew the latest status of what the others were working on. These, and many other tactics, came from the “How” section of the book and were essential for helping this team work well together while physically apart.

I note for the record: Catherine and I had never worked together before. Linda and I had worked together once before, years ago, on a completely unrelated project. This team went from “forming” to “performing” (bypassing the “storming” part!) while never once meeting in person. It was a great team to be a part of and one of the highlights of the whole book writing process. We’ll be working together again, I know it!

John.

“Distributed Teams” interview on InfoQ.com

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Long time readers of InfoQ.com know they cover many different aspects of working in software development: the tools, the technologies, workplace cultural aspects, conferences and yes even books.

All to say, I should not have been too surprised when Ben Linders asked to interview me about my new “Distributed Teams” book. Ben has written several posts about different aspects of distributed teams and remote work over the years, so I was delighted to do this.

We covered lots of details from the book, as well as wider impact of this changing mindset in society. This was a very detailed, thought-provoking, interview and I enjoyed working with Ben on this. The article is now live here on InfoQ.com, so pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and have a read. Hopefully you’ll like it – and if you *do* like it, please share/tweet about it.

Thank you, Ben, for making this happen.

(oh, and of course, Ben and I did the interview about distributed teams as a distributed team with ~9 hour timezone difference between us!)

“Distributed Teams” now available!

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Very late Wednesday night (technically closer to pre-dawn Thursday), I uploaded the final version of the manuscript to Amazon. Then, after I rechecked all my various todo lists one-more-time and found everything was crossed out, I quietly paused with the cursor over the “publish” button.

Took a deep breath.

And clicked “Publish”.

As of last night, you can now buy paperback and kindle versions on Amazon.com. It’s been 3 years and ~2 months since I started this book and I still find it hard to believe that I’m writing this announcement.

This book is aimed towards people working in, joining, or starting a distributed team, with easy-to-read short chapters and practical takeaways on topics like:
* Why distributed teams are good for business, diversity, employee retention, society and the environment.
* How to run efficient video calls and meetings while dealing with lots of email and group chat.
* How to handle complex interpersonal topics such as hiring, firing, one-on-ones, reviews, trust and group culture.

I’m super proud and humbled by the help from many many people who came out of their way to help me make this idea into a reality. If you find this book helpful, please tweet/blog to help spread the word!

John.

“Distributed Teams” book: Now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

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UPDATE: My book is now available on Amazon! More info here or jump straight to buy the book on Amazon by clicking on the thumbnail.

John.


Original post follows.

My book “Distributed Teams” is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Click on the thumbnail to jump straight to the pre-order page!

That was a surreal sentence to write. And daunting to re-read while looking at the remaining ToDo list.

There is a bewildering 1,001 loose details that need to get figured out before the book officially “ships”. Buying ISBN numbers. Debate hardback vs paperback vs ebook. Page margins. Font size. Font. Resolution of images in the book. Book cover design. Create Author page on Amazon. Setup copyright – globally. Decide book pricing. Decide which countries to sell the book in. Fix bugs in the artwork. I’ve been jumping from one topic to another, learning each area as I went along. In this dizzy never-ending ToDo list, “Get book listed on Amazon” was just one more ToDo item. Several attempts failed with different error messages, sending me off debugging yet another problem, until one attempt seemed to complete without any errors?!? Huh – that’s strange. Now what? How do I know if it worked? Was there a dashboard to check status? Oh, wait. Duh. I started up a new browser, went to Amazon.com and searched for “Distributed Teams”, just like a regular user. There it was. Great. That worked. Search by my name. Yep, also there, great. Search by variations of the book title, all good. And then it hit me. Wait. There it was! My book. On Amazon!

There. Is. My. Book. On. Amazon.

Pause. Deep breath. Slowly exhale.

So here we are. At a major milestone.

It feels like I’ve reached the tipping point just like in every software release – while there are always more things being noticed that need to be fixed, the new incoming ToDos with each build are less severe and people start having more discussions about “is this serious enough to hold the release”. Quietly, morale starts improving as people change from wondering “IF it will ship” to wondering “WHEN it will ship”. After all this time headsdown and focused on research, on interviews, on writing and on editing, the nature of working on the book has changed. Instead of spending all my time on the words in the book, I’ve started spending more time on the book. Excitement about finally shipping starts mixing with anxiety about whether others will like it.

Exciting stuff.

John.
ps: For those keeping count, this latest draft is now ER#24. One great friend sent me a gift to help with the book. Nothing says “Hurry up and ship your book already!” like a delivery of ~5lbs of hand roasted, very tasty coffee beans !

Laptop with Coffee

Distributed Teams – Why Now?

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Anyone who follows me here will already know I blog, speak, and mentor on the mechanics needed so humans can work well together even when they are physically apart. As I wrap up writing my book, I’ve been focusing on chapters that cover important context around distributed teams, so this post is slightly different to my usual.

Why are so many more people now talking about distributed teams? Over the last year or so, I’ve been giving a series of presentations on the business, social and environmental benefits of distributed teams. One question I hear over and over is “Why now?”. Here are the three biggest reasons I’ve seen so far:

1) Money: Software startups used to raise money for a data-center and a physical office building and staff payrolls. Only then could people start working on The Next Big Thing. Regardless of what your product will be, creating your data-center takes time to setup and has risks – a data-center that is incorrectly sized for future anticipated traffic or with operational problems could kill your company. You could also kill your company by choosing to setup a physical office in the wrong location (limiting hiring) or choosing an office that is too small (disrupting hiring until you relocated or setup a second office location) or too big (needlessly increasing your burn rate even when your cash flow is tight). Since Amazon Web Services became mainstream, it eliminated the lead time for building a data-center. You still pay money for AWS, but it instantly scales up/down as your customer demand grows/shrinks – and some clever engineering can significantly reduce your AWS bills.

Now that the cost & lead time for a data-center is off the list for most companies, the cost & lead time for a physical office is a expensive outlier that people are starting to question as they look for funding.

2) Social/Economic change: The idea of “a job for life” is no more. People expect to change jobs throughout their career. When people working at high-profile organizations like Google, Facebook, Uber, etc leave after an average of 1.2-1.8 years, that means a person entering the workforce can expect to change companies ~20 times in their ~40 year career. Moving house for your first few jobs might be fun, but after a while most people want to set down roots with a partner, buy a home, grow a community of friends, start raising a family and taking care of parents. Over time, moving becomes harder.

3) Environmental awareness: Requiring everyone to live within commute distance of an office means a lot of commuters. No surprise there. What is less obvious is the ripple effect. As more high-paid people pay more for housing to reduce their commute, it forces displacement of everyone else, so the people who are needed to make a city function are forced to live further and further away. In practical terms that means cops, medics, firefighters, teachers, artists and others all commute longer hours each way to their lower-paid jobs. The term “mega-commuter” is now used to describe anyone who commutes >2.5 hours. Each way. Each day. No wonder traffic in the San Francisco bay area has spiked up 70% since 2010, even though the population “only” increased by 10% in that same time frame. All this traffic has a measurable toll on quality of life, for sure. However, it is also explicitly worth noting that of all the CO2 emissions from the US, the 2nd largest portion of emissions (27%) is from cars, buses and other transportation. Reducing the need for people to commute is an important way for us all to reduce our carbon footprint. Put another way: instead of reducing pollution by promising to buy the latest electric car when it becomes affordable, you could instead start reducing pollution today commuting less often and start working from home. Today.

Each of these are important reasons in their own right. And that’s not even taking into account all the other good business reasons for distributed teams (hiring, retention, diversity, etc). No wonder starting fully distributed companies is becoming mainstream. Hopefully, this book will help them start with the practical mechanics needed to succeed. As more distributed companies succeed, they each help improve the narrative for others who follow.

(This is an extract from my upcoming book “Leading Distributed Teams”. For more on this, see oduinn.com/book.)

John.

“Distributed” ER#15 now available!

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I’m excited and a little stunned to say that this update includes the last incomplete chapter! I’ve now written the complete book??!?

To get a free copy of this latest version of the book, just signup on my zero-spam, low-volume mailing list here: oduinn.com/book.

This marks the start of the next phase for this book-writing project – working with editors to cleanup any typos and errors in the text, finding illustrators to replace the screenshots, and going through a long list of “remember to fix…” todo items. The three big items on the list are 1) to start blogging and outreach work to get the word out about this book. 2) update a few remaining chapters to the same consistent structure/format and 3) figure out how to generate PDF and epub versions. Yes this update is still only available in kindle/mobi format, so for now, to read this latest update on your laptop or iphone, you’ll need the Kindle app.

I’ve honestly no idea how much work or time this will take, although I am all-too-aware of the 20/80 rule about “the last 20% takes 80% of the time”. The optimist in me believes that all the great feedback I’ve received so far on all the previous updates will help. A lot. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, concerns, etc., please don’t be shy to contact me. I love the contact and feedback so far, and would like to hear what you think. I again note how great the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you has been through all this. It literally keeps me going. Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“Distributed” ER#14 now available!

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I’m excited to write that update#14 is now available – still in time for those of you looking for some quiet reading over the holidays!

This latest update includes yet another chapter – “Culture, Conflict and Trust” – one of the last two chapters that were left to write. Now, there is only one more chapter to go! I’ve also finished converting my manuscript to the new publishing format, so now all remaining weird SGML syntax errors should be fixed and all links to footnotes, links between chapters, etc, now working.

As I mentioned before, I’ve formally switched publishers and revised the release date to Jan2018. This change means that if you bought any of the previous versions of my book, you will not get automatically updated to this new update#14. To get a free copy of this latest version of the book, signup to my zero-spam, low-volume mailing list on oduinn.com/book.

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, concerns, etc., please don’t be shy to contact me. I love the contact and feedback so far, and would like to hear what you think. Meanwhile, its time for me to take a walk outside in the fresh air, brew more coffee and get back to writing!

I again note how great the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you has been through all this. It literally keeps me going. Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“Distributed” ER#13 now available!

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There’s been a lot of significant changes since my last post – in life, in work and in book – without me having any time to blog/post about them. More on all those in other posts. For now, in this post, I want to focus on just one thing.

My book.

Since my last post, I’ve quietly kept working on my book-in-progress and now have another update ready. This latest update (update#13) is exciting to me, because it includes the freshly written SingleSourceOfTruth chapter. This topic is crucial to the practical logistics for distributed teams, so it feels like a real milestone to finally include this. It is also one of the last three chapters left to write, which is encouraging. This update also includes continued restructuring of other existing chapters so they all have a consistent structure. At this point, Chapters 1-8 feel “consistent”. Oh, and of course, there’s a bunch of typo-fixes, cleanups and general refining.

Between my last post (update#8) and now (update#13), I’ve formally switched publishers and revised the release date to Jan2018. This means that if you bought any of the previous versions of my book, you will not get automatically updated to this new update#13. So, if you *did* buy an earlier version of my book, please contact me, and let me know. I’ll immediately send you a free copy of this latest update#13 and all future updates including the finished book when its done. My way of saying “thank you” for your support from the outset!

Speaking of support – when I started writing, I heard from many people that “writing a book was hard”. The exact definition of exactly *how* hard was not clear, but I’m starting to get a better grasp now. Even as I suspect there are yet more surprises lurking ahead. I say all this to show how important it has been to me to have the ongoing moral support and encouragement and excitement from each of you through all this. It literally keeps me going.

Thank you. Each and every one of you.

John.

“We are ALL Remoties” (Nov2017 edition)

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Since my last post on “remoties”, I’ve done several more presentations and workshops – but havent had a minute to blog about any of them! I’ll fix that soon. But first, some readers discovered links to previous presentations were broken (thank you for catching that!). Without further ado, here is the latest version of this presentation – including yet another major restructuring.

Without further ado – you can get the latest version of these slides, in handout PDF format, by clicking on the thumbnail image.

As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or good/bad stories about working remotely or as part of a geo-distributed teams, please let me know (either by email or in the comments below) – I’d love to hear them.

Thanks
John.

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