Communication Tools for Decentralized Teams


Digital Earth is FLAT! Today, if you want to build a top-notch team, you decentralize. There’s a hook here though. How do you stay connected with a team that rarely meets face-to-face if at all?


When you’re building a world-class team, it can be hard to find people to fill every role, especially if you’re building a company or department that is focused on emerging technologies such as augmented or virtual reality.

I’ve worked with a number of teams from around the world and around the country, both at Tesla, as well as rLoop (a Hyperloop company). The story of rLoop is it’s a group of strangers, from around the world, that met on Reddit and built a Hyperloop pod to compete at SpaceX and win one of the five awards available. The team was over 1000 people, lots and lots of moving parts, some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

Then at Tesla, I built the augmented and virtual reality department there then grew it to over 90 people. We had people on our team that were in various cities around the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as people at the GigaFactory, and so we had to make sure that communication was prevalent. There were many ways for us to make sure that that happened. That’s because there are lots of different communication styles on a team, not just for people’s styles, but also for communication context and needs.

I’m going to go through here quickly because there are a lot of tools available. But also there are a lot of contexts and many communication channels that are needed in a decentralized team.

I’m going to start with the communication channels. When you’re building a decentralized team

  1. There will be chatting, the chatting has to happen in a digital text form.
  2. You’re going to need to have some sort of centralized design system that helps everybody in your design team keep track of the content and the creation process,
  3. there’s going to be presentations between people on the team one to another, as well as presentations that you could do for stakeholders of the various projects you’re building,
  4. you’re going to need tools for screen sharing
  5. for meetings,
  6. file sharing,
  7. video calls,
  8. you’re also going to need a time zone converter,
  9. a way to communicate over email
  10. ways to track programming and
  11. how do you keep track of all the tasks that everybody needs to stay on top of to make sure that you complete your goals on time?


Lots and lots of stuff. Let’s dig in. Okay, let’s start with programming Because software in today’s age is going to be a huge key to what you’re doing. So with programming, your software engineers are going to have a few preferences. The two best software tools that I know of for centralizing all of the programming logic, all the code that’s written for your software, GitHub and GitLab are the best ones.


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For task management, most teams that are working on projects like this, are doing something called Scrum, which is a methodology for project management. it helps projects go quicker and finish up on time as well as on budget. The three tools for tasks task management are:

  1. Asana, which is they’ve got a free as well as paid tears,
  2. JIRA and
  3. Trello, Trello is also free. And it’s very, very useful, I would suggest taking a look at Trello first if you’re just getting started out.

If you have money to pay, and you want to have like a suite with a lot of these different tools packaged together, you can go with JIRA, because it works together with other tools that you’re going to need eventually for other parts of your project


For email, the two that I recommend are

  1. Gmail and
  2. outlook,


There’s a time zone converter that I use often, because when you’re working together with people, even if they’re here in the United States, or Canada, or other parts of the country you live in whatever it is, a time zone converter can come in handy when you’re working with multiple people in various time zones. There’s something called World Clocks. It’s a Chrome extension that I use. And you can add as many world clocks on there as you need to and it’ll keep track of the time and each time zone for you so you don’t need to do all of the calculations by hand. This makes understanding how to schedule with other people much easier.


For video calling, there are three video calling tools that you can check out.

  1. One is Zoom,
  2. The next is Google Hangouts,
  3. And third, is Skype.


With file sharing, this is a big key. So if you’re building a team, you’re going to have documents such as release notes, you’re going to have documents for sharing how different processes go and have different procedures. One of the best file sharing tools out there. And you probably already know about this is one, it’s Google Drive. But the one that we used the most in these two projects, the Tesla and Hyperloop project with rLoop, was SharePoint and Confluence. Those are very, very big name file sharing tools that can help in many ways. They’re very helpful in allowing you to produce new documents, allowing others to see when they’re edited, and then giving others access and permissions to be able to edit these different files.


Now, for meetings, you want to make sure you’re having regular meetings at least once a month for whole team meetings. But for the smaller teams within your world-class combination of people, they should be happening on a daily basis. And for meetings when people are in various locations. Zoom is a great tool for doing meetings. Skype is excellent, and also has good recording capabilities. UberConference is a free one where you can schedule free phone calls, you also get an 800 number, you also get a website with a customized URL that you can share with other people to join in your meeting. It’s very, very good. I love it. Actually, you can also use Go-To-Meeting it’s talked about and used quite a bit, but I really like UberConference.


So for screen sharing. Sometimes if you’re working on a certain piece of the project, and you trying to tell somebody over the phone, what you’re working on and the problem that you’re seeing, or you just need to get some assistance or help on something or you want to share something on your screen that is not like a document, you can use something like slack video. If you’re either already using Slack, you can use the paid version of slack and have access to video where you can do screen sharing. One of the most popular ones though is Google Hangouts. I use Google Hangouts all the time with teams that I’m building, is another good one I’ve seen TeamViewer be used quite a bit. Skype has screen sharing capabilities, as well as WebEx.


If you’re working on a design team, or if you’ve got a design team or even a designer on your team, just assume just one single designer, you want to have a good way of sharing designs and having a process and being able to iterate on those. And the one that I’ve found is called Invision, I’ve never used it, I’m interested in it. I don’t know how it works. But from my preliminary searches and research online envision seems like the place to go for project management for designers and design work.


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If you’re going to do presentations, there are three good ones. The one that I use most often is Google Slides. The most part the most prevalent one, of course, is PowerPoint they’ve even got a 3D option now for PowerPoint which is kind of cool and then third is present you may or may have not heard of pressing before Prezi is kind of cool and it’s very different in the way that it presents content. So you’ve got this big view that’s kind of scaled out of your whole presentation. And what you do is you lay out the different pieces onto this big flat sheet. And let’s say you’ve got a piece on that sheet that is smaller, and then another piece on the sheet that’s larger. When you click next, from one to the other, it will zoom in or out to fit that thing to the screen. You can also have transitions where it rotates the screen to make sure that your elements show up in line. I don’t know it does a lot of zooming. It does a lot of panning and rotating. It’s very interesting and intriguing. There’s good and bad to that though, right. The good part of that is it keeps people interested in trade and like seeing like more about your presentation and they can even see the whole presentation sometimes if you design it right from like a 110,000-foot view but the negative side of that of course is it can detract from what you’re saying. So in most cases, if you’re going to do Prezi keep it really really simple if you can’t keep it simple and Prezi stick with some of the basic stick with one of the basics like Google Slides. PowerPoint.


Let’s move on, though, to workflow automation. This – I do this shit all the time. I love doing workflow automation for some reason. So whether it’s marketing or transferring data from one spreadsheet to another, or getting notifications about an update to a spreadsheet, or getting notifications or emails about something that happened on your website, or maybe somebody goes to your website and they take action on there or something like that, or you reach a goal and your Google Analytics, you can add something to a spreadsheet, you can have that update you with like a push notification of some sort, you can store that data in the cloud. And then you can trigger a social media post to go out about something happening. workflow automation is incredibly powerful. And the two tools that I use to do that is I. F. T. T. T. It’s “If This Than That”. So if you go and Google “If T T T”, you’re going to find “If This Than That”. It’s a workflow automation tool. Another one is called Zapier and of the two I use Zapier most often and I think most people do use that because there are so many different pieces that are built for different recipes that are built for different actions that you want to take workflow automation is a lot of fun, and it requires zero programming, you should go check that out right now, actually, if you know of another workflow automation, let me know in the comments below. I’m very curious to see if you know of other workflow automation tools like these or better.


And then lastly is chatting. So building up your team is not just about like documents and sharing stuff. And working on a project. There’s a lot of collaboration and a lot of culture building and community building. And all of that happens in chatting. So one of the tools like slack is used for chatting most often in a lot of teams, and a lot of groups. Another one is MatterMost. And then another third one, which is a new one is called teams. And I’ve seen some people migrating over to teams. I don’t know anything about it yet. Except for that it’s built by Microsoft, I like Slack, a lot MatterMost is similar to slack, except for you can host all of your own stuff on your own server. So for additional security, but building that team building, communication, building culture, building, a sense of connectedness is going to come through chatting throughout the day. While you’re working on projects. You can have different channels that are specific to different teams or projects or ideas can talk about random stuff in one channel, flip over to a different channel and talk about something that’s highly specific to the certain project that you’re working on. Chatting is one of the keys and maybe one of the biggest keys to building an excellent team that is disconnected in terms of geography. Make sure your team is connected socially and emotionally and mentally, but not through geography. Forget about geography, connect people, connect with people from around the world, build your world class team through all of the different communication tools and different communication channels.


With a digitally flattened Earth, take advantage of the opportunity at hand and build a world class team. Now, if you have the entire world of talent to choose from, who are you going to invite to join you in your journey. If there’s a project you have in mind, but you don’t know where to start looking. Start with LinkedIn. Find people that have plenty of connections and discover how you can add value to them in exchange for working together. I mean, who knows, maybe they’d be interested in helping you out by connecting you with somebody in their network, potentially that other person and their network can become one of your next core team members.

Leave a comment below if you’ve got questions or concerns about any of these tools. Let me know if you’ve got ideas for new tools. Share that with the community that is listening to the podcast. Now I’m highly interested in hearing from you. Make sure that if you do like this, you subscribe now and make sure that you’re getting reminders anytime that I post a new one of these so you can always be first and up to date.

until next time,

no regrets.


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Tyler Lindell

About the author

Tyler Lindell - Like Ginkgo for your Virtual Self