When you find yourself spending more time managing a system it is time to simplify. So we went from Google apps, Slack, Trello and Notion to just one thing:

Discourse , a modern take on a concept older than the World Wide Web (www) itself – discussion forums (aka bulletin boards).

Chatterbox distractions

While Slack certainly was great for real-time chats and somewhat easier than old school Internet Relay Chat (IRC), it also became a burden. Dip out into a meeting and you will struggle to catch-up. It also is a massive draw on productive time and lends itself to procrastination.

Whenever we need real-time chat, and we do need this often during the day for a quick chat, we use Signal . It provides us with a very secure and direct way to chat one to one or as a group, across device types and is simple enough to be nothing more. Think of using it like a phone call – which ICYMI (in case you missed it) it now also does and video.

An office of a different kind

Moving away from Google apps has been a key strategic move as we wanted something more secure to keep our data private and on somewhat safer European shores.

What we left behind were office apps and file sharing, which by my own struggle to find alternatives are sorely missed. Office 365 is not a desirable option either nor is paying a premium for an office suite overburdened with decades of accumulated features.

So we went to TresorIT, a zero-knowledge encrypted file storage and sharing provider out of Switzerland and started looking at LibreOffice and Apple’s productivity tools.

Apple’s and oranges

The latter turns out to be a great fit and its iCloud collaboration features, although currently in beta, are proving to be a fabulous replacement for Google and somewhat more secure. We never place sensitive customer data in these docs even though iCloud encryption beats Google’s lust for everything meta. We still use the Apple Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps and store files securely in our Tresors.

Simply wonderful

But most often, we all felt a draw to something more simple and convenient to use. Something that works on mobiles and laptops beautifully, reliable and above all lets us focus on the content.

We ❤ Markdown and found the Bear app for iOS and macOS an indispensable tool.

A place to call home

And finally, this is how we leverage Discourse – a simple message board – as our single platform for communication, collaboration and planning.

Whether it is a simple question or idea, and all the way to complex document drafts and project plans, we just post a new thread.

Everything has a unique address, which makes linking to something much easier. Nobody feels overwhelmed by complex user interfaces or has to figure out how to use it. It just works – simply.

Collaborate and discover

Often we just start a thread and everybody contributes to the content. We have all posts set to be wiki’s by default and everyone can see a version history – you too can check out how this article has evolved.

One of the longest running threads is in fact evolved into some form of collaborative pin board with pages of interesting links to articles online, along with comments and micro discussions. Still, it is easy to find your way around and the timeline view makes it convenient to remember stuff.

Instead of a separate blog, it made sense for us to put all communication into threads. It’s just easier for all concerned and very efficient too. I normally write drafts privately in Bear and just copy and paste the markdown formatted text to a thread, like I have done with this article.

Could one size fit all?

While I wouldn’t suggest a setup like ours for all use cases, at least for our growing team it fits the bill nicely. For now that is as we are happily evolving our tools as requirements change and technology capabilities improve.

What do you think? How could this work for your endeavour?


Also published on Medium.

Article by Axel Segebrecht

I see myself as a product owner in Scrum terms or more generally as a senior project manager who shapes and realises the client's end product. This can be either with a consultancy or directly working with clients in a contract role.

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