Running a fully remote unconference

Our 20+ people dev team is a remote friendly (single timezone) workplace with people living in different places in Sweden. We get together once a year for an unconference where you are expected to participate physically but we wanted to meet up once during the autumn as well. Having our weekly meetings fully remote already (we just sit at our desks with headsets if we’re in the office), creating a remote unconference didn’t feel like a huge step.

What is a fully remote/remote only meeting?

This is a meeting where none of the participants are sitting in together in a meeting room. A typical meeting requires booking a room for the onsite people and letting the the others join on video/audio link. Being fully remote evens out the experience for everyone. Having some people in a room always creates a “us and them” feeling if you’re not attending the meeting physically and the remote participants are often an afterthought.

So how was it?

Excellent! It gave me the same energy and inspiration boost as I get from a colocated unconference: problem solving with my colleagues, sharing ideas and finding inspiration. It ran ridiculously smoothly.

How did we do it?

We ran a very lightweight event with 5 lightning talks and 2 open space sessions.

We used a combination of Slack, Skype and Trello.

Trello was used to form the agenda the same way that you would do on a board/wall during a regular open space. Anyone could post a topic and then we organised them in Time slor 1, Time slot 2, etc…

remote_uncoference_trello

Skype for Business was the equivalent of the main room. The call was activate throughout the entire day and people could join and leave. A skype meeting call doesn’t die when the last person leaves it so it could stay active for the entire time that the meeting is booked in the calendar. It also doesn’t have a upper limit of participants (that we would hit in this context)

Slack was used for the breakout sessions. The person proposing the topic would start a call in Slack named after the topic and people joined the call they were interested in discussing. Slack has a limit of 15 people in a call.

Some tips

Do

  • Try to keep video on if possible. It gives you those extra cues to see if someone is just about to say something and makes the connection between individuals stronger.
  • Slacks 15 people limit is beneficial in this context. You’ve probably attended an open space which is too large for its own good. This gave a technical limitation. Embrace it!
  • A couple of us rounded up the day by playing a little mmorpg together to get some of that atmosphere that you could get from having beers together.
  • Remote lightning talks has the benefit of allowing you to keep a script by your side so if you’re want to ease into public speaking, it could be a great warm up step.

Don’t

  • Have the people in the office sit in a room together. Everyone needs to be at their laptop with their own headset. If your office environment is too noisy for this, encourage people to work from home that day. This evens out the playing field for the regular remoters and teaches the office teammates more about the experience of working remote.
  • Do this as your first fully remote meeting. It requires a bit of practice and getting used to, both when it comes to the technical set up and how to behave.

 

Final thoughts

I would definitely recommend this as an alternative to a co-located unconference if you have some people working remotely.This experience was further argument in my book that remote teams can be as successful as colocated teams if you’re willing to let them.

 

For more remote teams thoughts and tips: https://www.remoteonly.org/

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