The Transformation has Begun!
The last two weeks I’ve been spending just about all my time balancing two jobs. My day job at UMW—which is now slowing fading into the horizon—and my amorphous role at Reclaim Hosting as support specialist, burgeoning sysadmin, evangelist, co-founder, and GIFmaker is starting to take center stage. I’ve been working pretty much night and day the last two weeks because my partner, Tim Owens, was on a well-deserved and long-overdue vacation. I won’t lie, I missed him a lot. I have been spoiled. He has single-handedly been running Reclaim like a boss for the last six months. And I got a first-hand glimpse into just how amazingly talented he is while he was at the beach. From support to development to the next idea to bringing more schools onboard, Tim’s the whole package. In fact, it was really intimidating to step in as he was checking out for a while.
Luckily we made the extremely smart move of hiring Lauren Brumfield. What’s cool is over the last two weeks Lauren and I having been working together to get a sense of how everything works together. This will help us tighten some things up, and prepare for the onslaught that will be this fall. We have over twenty institutions working with us this coming semester (ten times the number we had last year at this time), not to mention the countless departments, faculty, and students that Reclaim serves each and every semester. Bringing Lauren on now not only allows her time and space to learn how things work, but also gives us fresh eyes on how we work and what we can improve. We crave constant, focused feedback on how we can streamline some of our service interfaces and operational processes (which we get regularly thanks to many great folks like Christina Hendricks)—so don’t be shy, let us know! Lauren will be working with us to make sure this all happens. We need someone to help us organize, prioritize, and get done many of the things we have outstanding. And given Lauren has taken on the self-appointed title of Operations Manager, and thanks that means we might be getting a bit more orgaminized.
One of the things I worked on over the last two weeks was setting up our payroll. I was in contact with someone from ADP, the payroll behemoth, but Tim and I have been intrigued, and served quite well, by the latest breed of service-based applications coming out to help run a small business. For example, we use the tool Intercom.io for all of our support tickets, and that has been really successful. So after Tim mentioned ZenPayroll, Lauren and I spent some time looking into it over the last two weeks, and the whole design of the tool and the ease and elegance of the on-boarding process for a complete newbie was insanely elegant, helpful, and intuitive. The application not only helps you get your payroll up and running with everything from direct deposits to federal and state tax withholdings to contractor W9s, etc., but it also teaches you how it all works like the best kind of video game. There is a lot to be learned from the design of an app like this.
Tim, Lauren, and I are starting to develop a distributed work routine. A tool that has become central to that routine is Slack. That’s where I talk real-time with Tim and Lauren throughout the week, share issues, ideas, and generally communicate. It allows you to build your own organic channel-based structure, which I love. It doesn’t feel like a system, just a quick, group communication tool with options.
In conjunction with Slack we have another tool call Asana that we use as a project management/to-do list for everything we need to get done. Lauren turned us on to this last week, and we’ve been organizing our various accounts, adding structured to-do lists, and setting up a calendar there. It’s the anti-Slack, and I think the two complement each other well in that regard. So that’s four tools we use to communicate with each other, the innumerable reclaimers, get paid and structure projects.
And none of these deal with a whole other suite of tools that we use to actually manage the various servers, shared web hosting, domains, etc. That list might have to be saved for another post. But what’s been interesting as I witness the distributed architecture of Reclaim emerge, is that it reminds me a lot of the distributed architecture of early Web 2.0 course sites that integrated blogs, wikis, delicious, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc. That radical idea of an ecosystem of course/individual tools is proving just as successful here, but one of the key elements to that success will be making sure the people we help don’t have to struggle between and amongst them—that’s one of the great promises of APIs.
I’m loving Reclaim Hosting for many reasons, but perhaps most of all for the awesome people behind it. Interesting to see how it works on your end! I use Slack a lot too; have never heard of Asana so I’ll check that out.
Here’s another suggestion, since you asked for them. Maybe put a link to the Discourse community somewhere in the support area? This is a great thing for ppl who don’t exactly need tech support, but would like advice on how to use certain things, do customizations, etc. not sure how many ppl know about it.
And I love the chat box in the support area, and how it integrates with email. So cool!
The Discourse idea is an excellent one, and now that I am transitioning full time to Reclaim, I think that is something I would lvoe to start pushing. What’s more, it’s a good way to channel what folks might think of as technical support to a broader idea of community support.
The integrated chat support is a feature of Intercom, it is very slick. I really do dig Intercom.
I tend to focus on process (hey, I manage projects in education as my FT work, so no surprises there), so really appreciated your sharing how you are all learning to work together. This is something that is not often shared, as this initially messiness is something we like to pretend does not exist. Thanks so much for sharing your tools — some new ones I have not seen before (I swear by Trello, though will take a look at the others you mentioned!).
BTW, I agree with having links to some Discourse resources (especially as I just started a Discourse install with Reclaim, too!!).
Two suggestions if you are taking them. Is there any way to integrate your excellent support threads (with their great email notifications) so we can reply to them via email and have those add to the threads? The other involves WP. I love WP and wonder if you have considered listing some of the “tested and best” in your experiences that folks in HE could use to start with? I know you install a few when you do a WP install, but wondering if some of the others could be highlighted as a starting point for newbies (or older ones, in my case, that may have been missed)?
All the best with this most exciting work; you have all embarked on a wonderful service to our educational community.
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