Conservancy's Remote Work Tools
byon March 17, 2020
Conservancy has been a 100% remote organization for over 5 years and is now a remote organization by design. We are dedicated to empowering users through software freedom and we always use free software tools to do our work wherever possible. As many folks are newly switching to remote work or collaboration as part of "social distancing," it seems like a good time to share the "free as in freedom" tools we use and tell you how they work for us.
Etherpad! It's a Conservancy member project and a handy way to write collaboratively. We use Etherpad all the time when we want to collect notes on something, write news items or blog posts (this post was written in Etherpad!) or co-author something with one of our member projects. We also use them to take notes and minutes in meetings, like our Evaluation Committee meetings and our Board meetings. We have a handy plugin enabled where you can enter your email address and be notified when other people are editing the pad, so that you can jump in when your co-authors are ready. You can use our instance or set up your own.
We all use various clients (Empathy, Pidgin, Conversations) to talk to each other on Conservancy's Jabber server during the work day, both from our desktops and phones. We use group chats to coordinate handing off work, to discuss news items or share links. It's perfect for when you need to talk individually or as a group but don't need to start a big email chain. We use email too, but for less ephemeral conversations.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you need a clear record of a task as it make its way through your organization. That's when Request Tracker (aka RT) is key. We moved a lot of our work to RT around eighteen months ago and it's been fantastic for clarity and productivity, especially when there are several different phases to a shared task.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) may be old school but it's easy to start using it because you don't need an account, and you can use web clients that don't need any setup at all. As a bonus, it's not much of a bandwidth hog, which is especially nice when your connection doesn't have a lot of bandwidth. Plus, you can always swing by our channel to chat with us about software freedom and adjacent topics.
Zulip is another chat service that we and some of our member projects use (our Outreachy organizers, mentors and participants use it, for example). Zulip is more modern by design than IRC, with emojis and reactions built in and does a good job of organizing different discussions. There's email notification when someone is trying to reach you directly, which is nice if you're not always on Zulip. It's also accessible via web or by installing a local client.
Asterisk helps us self-manage several phone lines and teleconference rooms. We hold our daily stand-up on the phone and schedule calls with member projects, volunteers, and contractors throughout the day, in different "rooms."
Mumble is a great tool for holding international phone meetings which can otherwise quickly become expensive for folks outside the hosting country. You set up a room and then everyone connects via the internet through their own machine, preferably with a headset.
Jitsi is a free software video calling tool for when everyone wants to get dressed and see each other. The Outreachy organizers often use this for their meetings and Karen and Bradley use this as a part of their remote Free as in Freedom recording set up. Jitsi is particularly helpful to propose as an alternative when others want to use Zoom. It can be really nice when you want to share screens or when folks want to be able to see each other. You do need a decent internet connection for video calling.
Firefox Send is a handy way to send files to people that's encrypted and that expires after you use it. This is useful so you can avoid using proprietary services that may be collecting information about the files you are sharing with other people. This works even with large files and requires no technical knowledge, local client or account setup to use.
These are weird and uncertain times. Tools are only a small part of making remote work effective. We're in this together and we're happy to talk about the remote work experience with you anytime. In particular, you can join us at 2pm Eastern/6pm UTC on Thursdays in our IRC channel #conservancy on freenode, when we plan to be around to shoot the breeze.
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