Standups for distributed teams

My quest for the “one true workflow”

Standups are on-the-spot meetings that are typically 15 minutes long and consist of three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • What is blocking your progress?

These questions help inform the sprint planning for the following week.

So if you’re not involved in that process, you can wind up getting assigned tasks that need discussion and clarification. Especially if they’re assigned to be delivered the next day.

So that’s sometimes an issue when you work remotely like I do.

Standups for distributed teams

So I’ve been thinking about how a distributed standup would work, but the problems with that idea are:

  1. Setting up a room for video conference on your side takes time. This ruins the ‘fast & focused’ idea if you’re also waiting for several people to connect their webcam and test their mic.
  2. For teams working across timezones: your standup might need be at an awkward time – like 3 or even 7 pm. At which point “What will you do today?” is redundant.
  3.  This is just my experience, but the best time to ask me what I’ve done and what problems I’m having is the end of the day. Not the morning after.
  4. The blocks I typically have are decision-based, and kind of my job to resolve. Sometimes they’re related to my machine setup (e.g. needing to replace my laptop with something that can handle illustrator and sketch open at the same time) and as independent, that’s on me too, but helpful to share.

Asynchronous Standups

There are many asynchronous standup plugins that run on slack, but these aren’t free.

Instead, Miles Thibault suggests you create a dedicated slack channel for Standups, and use slack posts to write notes when you’re done working. Like so:

I think this works pretty well, especially if paired with customised slack reminders. For example, if I write:

/remind @moodthy to "Write a standup note" at 17:30 GMT Slack responds with:
 Slack will know to remind me at 19:00 CET
Slack reminder converts time for you!

You can customise the reminder with an @mention of your colleagues or contractor and changing the timezones for each one.

I already use Asana’s “Status update” feature to keep a work journal where I describe:

  1. what I did during the day
  2. what’s left to do tomorrow
  3. locations and names of files – I will forget
  4. problems I have and questions to ask
  5. any other info I need to remember in the morning, so I don’t lose time as the coffee permeates my bloodstream.

So, copying the essentials of that text solves the standup problem, quite nicely, I think.


Other tools for standups across distributed teams

  1. Appear in creates an always-ready video chat room that sits above your Trello board. I haven’t yet had a moment where something in Trello needed an impromptu video discussion, but when organising sprints and assigning tasks for the week, it would be a great to check in with people and make sure everything is reasonable.
    It can get lonely working long hours alone, so being able to dip into a virtual room could be nice. And it seems to work better than standups for distributed teams.
  2. InVision Freehand has a group whiteboard which everyone can sketch on as well as live prototype or draw flowcharts. It smoothes out shapes and lets you clone them quickly.

After the meeting is done, you can share it with everyone as a live application.

Here’s a link to a demo board.

You’ll need to select “sign in as guest” if you don’t have an account, but you can draw, zoom in, and annotate the contents of the board to add clarification, post meeting.

It’s pretty great, and another reason I love InVision for communicating design and collaborative work.


  1. Be mindful that people may work atypical hours to fit around their lifestyle, so don’t assume that someone in your time zone will be at their desk at 4pm: they might be picking up the kids from school, in physio, or helping out at the cat shelter.
  2. It’s worth asking if daily standups are productive, especially if video calls are necessary. Maybe every week would allow people to report on more meaningful progress? It depends on your projects.
  3. I do like the idea of a virtual coffee room to hang out in, which is a plus for Appear.In
  4. Where possible, asynchronous is better for productivity, but communication before task allocation is important. 

I’ll talk more about task allocation and project management for distributed teams in another post.

Do you have any tips for distributed teams? Any plugins rocking your workflow?

Drop them in the comments below :)

This post is part of a new series on distributed teams.

Get my other tips for remote work and distributed offices.


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