Many timezones, one team – How do WE stand up?

Posted by on January 29, 2016

Following the post Many timezones, one team – how do you stand up?, we received quite a bit of feedback and interesting ideas. Thanks for that! Today, we’d like to share our experience of how we addressed this particular issue, and how it’s working for us so far. This isn’t far from some of the feedback we got.


We created a separate Slack channel to Stand Up / Down and it’s working great so far. We reduced the time spent to Stand Up while sharing more with the team and keeping track of it. It also reduced the cost of being interrupted.

The Slack Experiment

At one of our sprint retrospective meetings, we decided to discuss ways to address the downsides.
Particularly the time-consuming task for one team member, and the not equal experience among the team members.

As an experiment, we decided to create a separate Slack channel dedicated to Stand Ups and Stand Downs.

How does it work?

Well, it’s pretty easy as you can imagine:

  • At the beginning of our day, we Stand Up in the newly created Slack channel.
  • At the end of our day, we Stand Down.

It doesn’t really matter when it is. You could be stuck in a traffic jam for a while, just post whenever you are ready to post.

The room is being used exclusively for that purpose (not even the usual greetings). When we want to discuss further about something in particular, we switch to the other channels.

Stand Up

Stand Down

What does it bring us?

The big bonus is that it’s now way easier to share a link to a pull request, a Trello card, a bug report, or even a particular Slack discussion to give a few examples.

It’s also easier to notify or bring something to the attention of another team member.

Retrospective has become easier, because we can scroll through the channel history to see what was said in the past.
When one person was writing the Stand Up, they used Slack Posts, which were hard to search and collapse when they got large.


We started this experiment almost 2 months ago and it has been working great so far. We significantly reduced the time spent to Stand Up and we improved our communication within the team.

The skeptical ones are now convinced that it’s working.

What all started as an experiment for our team is being experimented successfully in some other teams.

FreeAgent’s AV Adventure Continues – 12 Months On

Posted by on January 19, 2016

It has been exactly a year since my first blog post about FreeAgent’s AV Adventure. A lot has changed since then so I’d love to bring you up to speed.
For those who haven’t read the original blog post, I’d strongly encourage you to; it outlines our business requirements and gives some background on our earlier AV experiments.

When you last saw our boardroom, it was equipped with four desktop boundary microphones, a handheld radio mic and an accompanying wireless lapel.
All of the above fed into a 12-channel mixing desk which, when correctly configured, allowed our remote staff to join boardroom meetings and listen in on wider team gatherings.

Back in September we moved into a new office, allowing us to redesign our boardroom from the ground up. This was a great opportunity to design the space with AV in mind, investing in the correct technology so that remote and office-based staff could have a seamless experience from the start.

One of our biggest advances, at least from an audio perspective, is the replacement of our desktop boundary microphones with four Polycom HDX hanging mics. These discreet little devices look like golf balls hanging from the ceiling, though each compact unit houses four highly sensitive digital microphones, arranged in a circle to give a 360° of audio pickup.

Two of our hanging mics are suspended within the boardroom, giving 8 digital mics to play with, while the remaining units hang within our dining area. The dining microphones are usually muted, only enabled during all-hands meetings when our boardroom opens and the team spills across the dining area floor.

All four of our hanging microphones daisy chain together using CAT6 network cables, leading back to a Polycom C16 controller. This clever little device takes the digital signals from the hanging microphones and converts them to analogue XLR, which can be fed into our faithful mixing desk.

The value of the C16 controller goes far beyond its ability to convert digital to analogue – it can be considered as a Sound Engineer in a box, performing all sorts of processing to the digital signals prior to output via XLR. For example, by monitoring the input volume from each individual microphone, the C16 can identify and isolate a single speaker within the room, increasing the sensitivity of the surrounding mics while simultaneously lowering the volume of microphones further afield.

Using the Polycom SoundStructure Studio software, we’ve boosted the mics orientated towards the (more distant) breakfast bar, where people often congregate and pose questions during team meets. Furthermore, we’ve logically isolated the boardroom and kitchen microphones after discovering that loud noises, such as clattering plates in the kitchen, were interfering with mic levels in the boardroom; less than ideal for lunchtime meetings.

So far we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the Audio (A) element of our AV setup, but what about the Video (V) elements, too? Our new boardroom sports 4 x wall-mounted, 1080p Logitech C920 webcams. These cameras feed back (via active USB 2 extension cable) to a Mac Mini that we affectionately refer to as “The Cameraman”. This computer runs some clever software called ManyCam which, as the name implies, allows you to take video from multiple camera inputs and to seamlessly switch between them using ManyCam’s controller interface. ManyCam allows each camera to be zoomed, artificially panned/tilted and transitioned to/from via a range of effects. Furthermore, we can overlay “lower-third” graphics to the master output, handy for introducing speakers and displaying messages to remote viewers.

Our final major investment was in an 8X8 Matrix Switch. This clever device allows us to route up to 8 different HDMI inputs to 8 different output devices, such as wall-mounted TVs and/or video projectors. By adjusting the routing on the matrix switch, we can display presentation slides on both our boardroom projector and wall-mounted television in the kitchen. During another meeting, the same screens can be used to show participants in a Skype conversation or even the displays from office visitors (who simply plug their devices into floor boxes in the boardroom).

The best feature of the Matrix Switch is that it’s constantly listening for commands on the network, allowing office staff to toggle between different routing presets using DemoPad software installed on our iPad. When a meeting has finished, anyone can safely power-down the TVs and projector by simply selecting the “All Off” preset on the DemoPad homescreen.

We’re very proud of our new boardroom and will happily bend the ear of anyone who’ll listen. Even with all of this new technology, AV is a constantly moving target and we’re still working hard to improve the quality, usability and reliability of our setup. Keep an eye out for future updates about our configuration and please do share your experiences, positive or negative, when it comes to AV hardware and software solutions.

Many timezones, one team – how do you stand up?

Posted by on January 6, 2016

We like to keep our product teams small. A mixture of designers, engineers and product people working together to add new features and make improvements to different areas of the app. To help keep each team together, we operate with a morning stand up each day, which is designed to help keep everyone up to date. I’m not going to try to sell you on stand ups – if you haven’t heard of them, or are having difficulty in finding them useful, Jason Yip’s classic paper is a great place to start. Instead, I’d like to write about operating stand ups across multiple timezones.

Be Upstanding

In the last year, my team at FreeAgent has changed to include members in the UK, France and Canada. Clearly we can’t all be at a single morning meeting, since our mornings start 6 hours apart. We kept to our morning stand up time which allowed our French colleague to take part over Skype, an hour after the start of work. This left Harry, the Torontonian, asleep and let the rest of us start our days.

At the end of the UK work day, there were still 5 hours of work for Harry to do, so when he finished his day, he effectively started standing down. He posted the things he’d done in the team chatroom, requested help with any obstacles he had encountered that day and made requests for code reviews.

Closing the loop

This was great for the rest of us, and allowed us to help Harry out during our mornings. We even started talking about his obstacles during our standup. But how was he to know? It is always important that your team feels cohesive, so I started taking notes in our stand ups, and then posting them in our shared chatroom for Harry to read.

We found two immediate benefits:

  1. easy to see what was said by whom, and it gave Harry the same experience we had from his stand down.
  2. for the note taker a much deeper engagement in the process than usual.

These came with two downsides though:

  1. One person writing them up spends a bit of their morning (15 minutes) writing up the stand up (which takes place in a room with a computer for Skype as per usual).
  2. It still isn’t an entirely equal experience.

You can combat the first downside by spreading the note taking around the team. This also means everyone gets to share in the benefit of deeper engagement.

As for the second downside? Well, we like experimenting to make our processes better, so we’re trying something else for this. Stay tuned for the next episode in a few weeks time.

Do you run remote stand ups across multiple timezones? We’d love to hear about your experiences and suggestions!