Virtually There

Virtually There.

There's no question that one of the emerging business types is the virtual organization. Joyent is one of them. Of the twenty people that work for Joyent, only four of us regularly see each other at an office. The remainder are working around the clock around the world from Australia to Prague. It is very difficult to schedule a time for a conference call, so the question of real-time response to issues is tough. . . .

Joyent, being almost entirely virtual has been a managerial struggle for me at times. I can't just pick up the phone and talk with the head of software (who happens to be in New Zealand). It is virtually impossible to conceive of a time when we will all be in the same place (and we're only 20 people) at the same time. There's something not right about that, but I haven't been able to put my finger on it and I wonder if I should just accept the inevitable reality that some questions about the business won't be answered immediately, ever. We're like satellites circling the globe with windows-of-communication that must be packed with dense, meaningful messages without the benefit of facial or aural nuance. . . .

For the manager, the temptation is to focus on “actions” (which is impossible to do) rather than “tasks”. Coming back to Joyent, we have had to struggle with the distinction between action and task. The solution we have arrived at as a team is to boil much more of what we want to accomplish down to specific, discreet tasks. These tasks are organized into two month delivery cycles thought a dialog between product/process management and the person that is going to be responsible for delivering the specific task. Many times the dialog happens in the mind of a single person, but the whole company is aware of the delivery cycle of each person and team. We use Joyent's group calendar (part of Connector) to publish the equivalent of .plan files each week. And each team (generally) comes to Marin County, CA after every delivery cycle to just hang out, exchange ideas, and drink lots of wine.

We use a jabber chat rooms, Skype, Jajah, email, blogs, Connector notifications and RSS streams for collaboration.

The trick is to understand, over time, the intersection of these ideals (“action” and “task”) and the uniqueness of each person in the company and the teams they make. Yes, even when you bring certain types together and they are all sitting around the same group of folding tables, they;re still communicating using instant messaging. That is what is called a “sign of the times”. [Joyeur]

Leave a comment