Surevine’s first remote RLM

Since (almost) the start of Surevine, the quarterly RLMs have been a key feature in the calendar. As a remote company we’ve found it so important to have the chance four times a year to get together and build bonds across Surevine.

Unfortunately, the current situation has meant we weren’t able to all gather in one location for our spring RLM, but that wasn’t going to stop us. We’re trying to continue as normal, so the question for the RLM became how can we do this virtually? We also wanted to ensure that we got the chance to bond outside of our usual teams, work on things we wouldn’t normally work on, and have fun. We therefore chose a hackathon finished off with a pub quiz.

Hackathons can be excellent for driving innovation and bringing fresh ideas to challenges that we may not have had time previously to think about. It’s imperative that the problems being worked on are something of interest to the team. We asked everyone to contribute ideas and then voted on them. The 4 ideas with the most votes were:

  • An open source mashup of document management and chat tools
  • Pick an open source project and get to know it a bit better
  • A Surevine infrastructure controller
  • Switching to our homegrown internal communications platform

Open source document management and chat

The team looking at this problem first thought about the different individual document management and chat tools that are already open source projects such as Rocket.Chat and Alfresco. The team used a design canvas to define the opportunity, explore the problem space, define the problem and then explore solutions using the double diamond approach.

They discovered that there are already plenty of tools out there that can do exactly that, and so the focus switched to finding what tool would suit our needs. NextCloud was a product that seemed perfect and is open source. This left us figuring out if it is what we require for our needs, and if not, then can we fix any problems to make sure it is?

Open source hacking

The next team decided to pick one open source project and give it all our effort: Rocket.Chat. Initially they looked through the bugs that had been listed on GitHub. However, after many hours of working at this they hit a wall. They therefore decided the team would be better off splitting up to work on some smaller bugs, and to analyse the Rocket.Chat community and how active it is so we can find a way to contribute meaningfully.

A Surevine infrastructure controller

This idea emerged from a problem that Sureviners have had for many years now. The Surevine infrastructure is controlled by time settings, meaning that sometimes the infrastructure starts its regular shutdown whilst people are still working and somebody would have to manually override it. But it would be great to enable commands in a bot that would be able to control this for us. If we wanted to fire something up, all we would have to do is ask our bot in the internal communications channel.

Our team successfully managed to create an open source chatbot integration, which could deploy on various different platforms, whilst staying secure.

Our homegrown internal communications platform

The final team focussed on making the switch to our very own secure video, voice and chat platform for our internal communications. Whilst this involved less building as the product was already there, it did involve a role reversal of sorts to try and uncover what our own user needs would be and the accessibility of the platform. Questions such as what do we love and hate about our current platform, and what systems would be needed to migrate all users were thought about.

The team created an internal project proposal, a list of requirements a developer would need to undertake and a list of actions to create a demo environment to show people.

End of the day

Sometimes a day isn’t long enough for a hackathon. We plan to properly demo each of the outcomes at our next Open Space, our regular whole company meeting, but this day certainly left us with more exciting things to come.

We finished the day with a pub quiz and asked everyone to grab a tipple of their choice to make sure we were having just as much fun as normal.

When we asked people for feedback, it was all very positive. Some were amazed it worked. Many certainly missed the social element. We know for next time that we need to make the lunch and the social parts stronger to continue to build the Surevine bonds, because it does look like our summer RLM in July will also be virtual!

And we learnt that it’s a lot harder to take a heart photo on camera than it looks.