Software Executive Magazine

December 2017

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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have to try to optimize for asynchronous communica- tion. It's slower, but it has to work. You will have peo- ple who are asleep or not working when you want to make decisions." Even though Balsamiq does technically have an of- fice in Italy, it is rarely used. On average, there might be only two or three employees in the office each day, but everyone is expected to use Google Hangouts for meet- ings. If the meeting has two people in the office and one remote person, everyone still uses Google Hangouts so that each person has an individual window and no one feels singled out. Some employees choose to keep Goo- gle Hangouts or Skype open, or they will partner with someone on an open channel just to be able to hear a coworker on the other end. Guilizzoni knows, "People don't care if you have an office; they care about not being left out of important conversations." Those important conversations at Bal- samiq all take place in Slack (previously in HipChat). There are Slack channels called "clubs" for things like health and improving writing skills, and these are la- beled "c_" to help keep them organized. The team chan- nels start with "t_" and include both a front of the house channel that anyone can join as well as a private chan- nel that only core team members can access. There's a reason Balsamiq pays for English classes for non-native speakers. It's because the majority of the company's remote work relies on written communication, so it's crucial for remote workers to have strong writing skills, not just verbal skills. Slack, Google Hangouts, and Zoom meetings might make effective communication tools for remote teams, but those tools can't entirely make up for lost in-person face time. That's why Balsamiq hosts an annual com- pany-wide retreat to help employees feel connected. These used to be full-blown work retreats, where the team would save its toughest challenges for those few days. Guilizzoni admits that was a mistake, and now the retreats are entirely focused on culture and team build- ing. Individual teams have also tried mini-retreats, and each employee has an annual budget for travel to visit colleagues. This travel budget varies based on location. For example, employees in Italy have a low budget used for lunches. Employees in San Francisco or Chicago have larger budgets designed to allow them to travel to see other employees based in the U.S. CREATING AN ENGAGING REMOTE CULTURE When Guilizzoni talks about creating the right culture at Balsamiq, what he's really doing is trying to recreate an in-office environment for his remote team. The in- izzoni insists Balsamiq tries to avoid using that time for regular meetings. Although it might be tempting, it's just too expensive to waste time in meetings with a dis- tributed workforce. "My goal is to reduce the purpose of this hour, but no matter how hard we try, some things are just better in a synchronous meeting," he says. Development is one of those things for Balsamiq that just works better in a shared time zone. At first it made sense to have a developer in the U.S. for coverage in case something went down. The company has tried to hire developers elsewhere, and the experiment failed twice — one developer lasted a year, and the other did not get an extension on the initial three-month trial contract. Keep in mind this is a company with historically very low turnover (employees two, three, and four are still with the company after nearly 10 years). Today, every Balsamiq developer is in the same European time zone. OPTIMIZING COMMUNICATION & FACE TIME Every software company struggles with communi- cation to some extent, a reality that is complicated with a distributed workforce. To add another wrinkle, Balsamiq is a 100 percent flat organization, so Guiliz- zoni doesn't have the luxury of relying on managers to help coordinate communication efforts across teams. He says, " When you shift from office to remote, you BALSAMIQ'S REMOTE TOOLS The tools you use to keep your remote workforce connected and engaged are no less important than your developer's tech stack or the sales enablement tools you use to grow your revenue. In addition to its homegrown project management tool, here are the tools Balsamiq can't live without: ▶ Slack ▶ Atlassian Confluence (one space is a hand- book, one space is for day-to-day work) ▶ PivotalTracker ▶ Zoom (for all-hands meetings) ▶ Google Hangouts (for individual or small group meetings) ▶ Know Your Company ▶ HelpScout ▶ DropBox 27 SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM DECEMBER 2017

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