The Tools we use – how to work harmoniously across borders

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Most of NOW’s work happens virtually, connecting digital nomads and after-work entrepreneurs from four time-zones: from Istanbul to Florianopolis and Bordeaux to Buenos Aires. This blog post gives you an insight into how we’re making that work.

A recent highlight in the NOW story has been the opening of the Brussels office. Well, it’s not how you imagine it. We haven’t actually opened an office but finally we have two NOWers in the same city – and even the same apartment. Moving to Belgium around the same time, Fenna and Guto have decided to share a place in order to create more synergies. We call it the ‘Brussels office’. Besides finding ways of being physically in the same place whenever possible, we would like to share with you what tools we use to make NOW work.

SKYPE: Let’s face it: This would be impossible without skype. Of course, we also – constantly – have meetings in which switch from one free online call provider to the next trying to improve the connection, but skype is still what we would call home. Skype’s our office and where we spend the most important NOW moments together: meetings which go beyond just the daily business but also give us an opportunity to catch up on what’s happening in each other’s lives. And that’s the challenge right there: how to include cozy coffee talks or after-work drinks when the interaction is facilitated by a screen?

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Just another NOW meeting

HOLACRACY: Ok, let’s be honest. We’re also one of these “we inspired our structure by Holacracy” kind of organizations. With a growing team of volunteers spread all over the planet, the strict structure of Holacracy would simply not work for us. But circles and self-management do work. And this structure links beautifully to how we use Slack and Trello.

SLACK: Communication was the one big challenge the NOW team faced when we started off. How do you work in a horizontal team where weekly time commitment vary between 0.25 and 40 hours? Our Facebook group and email chains had soon brought some of our team members into despair: “I have no chance to follow everything guys.”, Claire told us who had recently become a mom and who could not be online 24/7. We needed a better solution! And that’s when we found Slack. Today, our communication is structured, searchable and thanks to our free pro account even saved for future use. The best part: Our slack channels correspond with their names and topics to our circles (see HOLACRACY), so everybody can choose which channels they want to join. And for the weekends, there is always the ‘snooze’ option :).

TRELLO: After unsuccessfully trying out different takes on project management – from the lame google spreadsheet to the fancy project management tool – we soon ended up floating free. No one ever updated these lists. There’s just only so much time, right? We recently started introducing Trello for some of the NOW circles to make sure we keep ourselves accountable and on track with our project. It’s simple and visual and so far it works.

TOGGL: NOW team members recently started tracking their time using this tool. At the end of the month, we evaluate the gathered data. That sounds like control, doesn’t it? But the one person we believe should actually check the weekly toggl report is…each person for themselves. At NOW, we’ve started to discover that NOWers are part of an endangered species. A species of people who want to change the world and work hard for that to happen. Endangered they are because wanting to do it all is dangerous:

“Those of us who work in the nonprofit sector often distort our view of what “good work” means, because we think the nature of our work is about sacrifice. The fact that nonprofits are often financially strained—under constant pressure to do more with less—amplifies this feeling. As a result, we push through our to-do lists at the expense of taking care of ourselves.” (Beth Kanter & Aliza Sherman)

Toggl is part of our wellbeing policy in which each team member pledges time to the organization and we use Toggl to track how much that person actually worked. The results help us distribute work better and improve our own ability to stop and take some time for ourselves. Annina and Ömer recently talked about how this wellbeing policy came into being.

And that policy brings us to the most important point: It’s of course not the tools that make NOW work but rather the people in this team using them to pursue our vision and shared values. Not surprisingly, we have spent much more time on defining these than on choosing the tools we use.

P.S. no marketing purposes intended … but as long as these tools stay free for non-profits, we don’t mind talking about how they are helping us 😉