5 lessons from our distributed tech team’s first meetup

This post was published by the Fusion tech + product team, and not the Fusion newsroom. Don’t tell our boss.

Work these days is getting weird.

Ok, not this weird. But when 95 percent of your job is Slack, Google Hangout, and Github, traditional office culture gets disrupted. Suddenly, it really doesn’t matter where you live. Watercooler chatter gets replaced by its digital counterpart in #watercoolers across the Internet.

That’s how it is on Fusion’s distributed product + tech team. We’re located across the world: Mumbai, London, Toronto, Portland, Philadelphia, and (of course) our dual epicenters in New York and Miami.

Sure, something is lost without daily in-person interaction. But when you want to hire the best team possible, what’s gained working distributedly can outweigh the losses. To do this right requires intentionality, and we’ve been really lucky at Fusion tech to benefit from prior learnings by the Institute for Nonprofit News, Github, and Automattic.

So – we wanted to pass on the goodwill. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing our own startup lessons about running a distributed tech + product effort.

First up: Planning a team meetup. Last month we convened in Miami for a 5-day gathering, our first as a truly distributed organization. We camped out most days at Fusion headquarters in Doral, but afternoons and evenings were spent exploring Miami and hanging out at our Airbnb’s. Here are 5 things we learned planning the meetup.

1. Sweat the small stuff

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It was easy for us to justify spending hours on logistics for the meetup. Every hour we spent as a team was 1.5 days of team time. Westarted with the fundamentals — lodging, transportation, food, drink, fun. After that was taken care of, the rest was relatively easy. My not-so-novel strategy for choosing restaurants? Foursquare. Look for local favorites that friends have visited. I don’t think Foursquare has ever let me down (except when they introduced Swarm).

2. Schedule free time

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Our first few days of the meetup were very full so, by midweek, when members began sitting out from scheduled dinners and events, I knew the team was dragging. We had unintentionally over-planned instead of under-planned; it’s a tough balance in the planning stages, but on the ground it’s much easier to entertain a rested team than energize a tired one. Next time, we’ll still schedule something for each evening so there’s a group activity (can you tell I used to be a counselor?), but some of the programming will be optional.

3. Optimize for energy

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Naps and downtime are great, but food has a likely greater effect on team energy throughout the day. Make sure breakfast is available; don’t load stomachs with fat and sugar midday; be wary of late nights early in the week. Next time we’ll have more salads and better breakfasts — and hopefully just as many beers by the beach. 🍻

4. Trust in the phone

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Airbnb, Uber, Seamless, Google Maps — with these apps, we felt confident in making plans on the fly. All our reservations and addresses were stored in Google Calendar events, and we used a special #tech-meetups channel in Slack to coordinate while in transit. The combination of diligent planning and no-worries execution made the meetup feel structured but relaxed at the same time.

5. Have fun

This is really the most important advice. Our team is comprised of smart and ambitious digital media types. When we embraced the novelty of the shared meetup experience, we relaxed with each other and saw past our work personas. For instance, consider our kickoff icebreaker. We began by having each member lead the team in a stretch and then asking the group a single question (because asking questions is such a crucial role for us as product people). After everyone in the group answered, the cycle began again with a new member, a new stretch, and a new question. The end result was a team more confident in itself, with a fair bit of fun had in the process. And the escape game (see below) was also a barrel of goofs.

elementary

Like solving big problems in digital media? Check out our available positions. We’re ramping up the Fusion tech + product team in 2015.

An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to the Institute for Nonprofit News’ previous name. We sincerely regret the error.

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