Persistent Google Hangouts for Distributed Teams

February 17, 2015 Joe Moore

(Note: this is a companion piece to Simon Holroyd’s post: Do the Google Hangout Hop)

Our teams have had success of using an iPad for remote presence help remote team members be as “present” as possible. We’ve used this setup when remote developers were joining co-located teams.

My most recent project evolved differently. Our team ended up in three locations: New York City, Louisville, and Philadelphia. Carrying around iPads was no longer the solution because, for all intents and purposes, the entire team was always remote.

Team Structure (2)

Where is Everyone?

At first, we created new Google Hangouts on an as-needed basis: a standup meeting here, a remote pairing session there. Unfortunately, these Hangouts quickly expired, and we were constantly creating new Hangouts; more accurately, we constantly forgot to create new Hangouts and we were always scrambling at the last minute. Sound familiar?

Our needs:

  • Low repeating overhead
  • A de-facto meeting place for all group meetings.
  • Low overhead remote pair programming audio/video communication (coding solved using other means).
  • Support switching remote pairing pairs quickly and easily

Our Solution: persistent, never-ending, well-named Google Hangouts for meetings and remote pair programming communication.

Perpetual, Never Ending Hangouts

Here’s the trick:

  • Create a new repeating Google Calendar Event. It doesn’t matter what time it’s at.
  • Invite all your peeps.
  • Add a Video Call (this is the Hangout)
  • If team members who are not part of your domain are having trouble with the Hangout, create the event from a personal gmail account. Unfortunate this to work better than creating the calendar event from a “work” account.

Name it, Share it

We used bit.ly give our Hangout links a memorable names. Since our remote pairing stations are named after streets in NYC, we used those names in our Hangout links, such as bit.ly/foo-east-end.

See Y’all in the Main Hangout!

Our default meeting place is a perpetual Hangout named “Main” and is appropriately bitly-linked. All standup, planning meetings, retrospectives, and any other random gathers occurred here.

Hangouts

Hop In, Hop Out

We have a team culture that encourages constant communication — there is no such thing as an interruption. If we need to talk to someone, we just jump into their Hangout. Our Product Managers and Designers hop in and out of Hangouts all the time. Sometimes to ask questions, other times just to see what’s going on and field any questions we might have.

Our PM might ask on HipChat “@joe and @meredith I need to talk to you two about Story X, which Hangout are y’all in?”; we’ll respond with “we’re in East End,” and our PM clicks appropriate bit.ly Hangout link he’s bookmarked. This is the lowest barrier to verbal and visual communication we’ve found, outside of having everybody co-located.

Bonus: Sneak Peek

Sometimes you just want to know where people are. I’d often click on a remote pairing Hangout link and see who’s there. Hangouts lists the Hangout attendees without making you join.

Downsides

Google Hangouts suck. They do. People constantly have to fiddle with their sound preferences to get Hangouts to pick the correct Mic. We deal with this overhead every day. And getting two USB headsets to work on the same machine? Don’t get me started; that’s blog post for another day. We’ve tried other solutions, such as appear.in, but we end up back on Hangouts.

About the Author

Biography

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