Best way to get overviews of what my distributed team is working on?

I run a distributed team and getting a lightweight, transparent, daily overview of what my team has worked on, is working on, is planning on, and is stuck on has been challenging.

Is this a problem that you also have? What has worked well for you?

In my full-time job, we’re all distributed and we do a call every morning. Raise any problems we might have, off-topic ‘what’s going on’ and each of the managers does a weekly one-to-one to get more specific about anything and keep a pulse of what’s happening. It’s a quick 5-10 min call but it’s a chance to bring everyone together.

Then, we use Wunderlist for task management, assign tasks to people and set deadlines. Once we ‘star’ something, we know it’s done.

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We use Trello cards to track tasks. Along with daily status emails that lets me know what they worked on, and plan to work on next.

Do you use anything aside from email like Skype or Slack for team communication? That’s been a huge part of keeping track of what’s going on and getting help/feedback when needed.

A daily call is a great way to let everyone sync up, and to let people grab others they need help from at a time they are OK to be distracted. One good way to run it is to look over the currently open tasks (works well in a scrum/kanban environment anyway) and talk through those. If anyone hasn’t talked the question then is what are they working on. This approach can help it feel less like a status update and a chance for the boss to drill individuals on what’s going on and more like the team organising themselves around the work to b done. Hence, it can feel like a useful meet rather than a waste for time for the participants.

However, if everyone is working separately and not all on shared tasks it can be a bit silly as most of the meeting is a waste for most participants as they have no input or interest in the other work going on. Not at the level of day to day progress reports anyway. In that instance some kind of one-one between you and them is probably preferable. I’ve used daily updates (Did yesterday, doing today format) on yammer at one place, it wasn’t popular. Another is a daily email update, there are tools which help automate this. That may be better as it’s more private so if someone is struggling they may be more open about it.

Finally, if you’re using Trello you could take a look at Corrello (disclosure: my product) which can in some situations help with getting an overview of what’s going on. If you’re not using Trello or something like that, that may well be a good place to start. However, these “what are my team up to” problems usually come down to communication for me, not one piece of technology or another.

We have a jour fixe every Thursday. The entire team gets on a conference call and discusses what we’ve been up to over the week. It’s pretty much the only live “meeting" we have.

We have one chat channel (we use IRC) in which we can chat. All updates from our project management tool are posted in the channel. That gives us a real-time feed of what’s happening through out the team.

Otherwise, we handle almost all tasks through our issue tracker (it’s our own product, You can filter issues for ones that have been updated that day or week, so that’s another way to see what’s happening on a day-to-day basis.