The Secret Sauce, Ep. 33: Collaboration Tools

Effectively collaborating in a remote-first culture is no simple task, but at Palantir we manage to do so by utilizing collaborative tools like the Google Suite. 

Director of Operations Colleen Carroll reveals some of her favorite collaboration tools in this week’s episode of the Secret Sauce. 

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Transcript

Allison Manley [AM]: Hello, and welcome to the Secret Sauce, brought to you by Palantir.net. This is a short podcast in which we offer a quick tip on some small thing you can do to help your business run better. I’m Allison Manley, Sales and Marketing Manager at Palantir, and today’s advice comes from our Director of Operations Colleen Carroll, who talks about how the right collaboration tools can make everyone’s workday go a whole lot smoother.

Colleen Carroll [CC]: Hi, my name is Colleen, and I’m here today to talk about collaboration tools that we use here at Palantir.
We use many different tools here at Palantir, but the ones that I’m going to be focusing on the most are the ones that are basic to being a Palantiri — the tools that we use to communicate and collaborate effectively as a remote-first culture.


Some of the tools that are pretty essential to being a Palantiri are really the Google suite. And by that I mean that we use email, through Gmail of course. And that works, that allows us to communicate with each other. But it’s really all the other things that come with the Google apps domain. We use Google Docs for everything. We don’t have Microsoft Office or anything really installed on the computer. We rely on the cloud, we rely on Google Docs in the cloud, to hop in a document together, to draft a note together, to put draft agendas together or to take minutes together. We also use Google spreadsheets and Google presentations. If we can’t get in a document and look at it together, it’s almost as though we’re missing a critical function. We’ve been using the Google suite for many years now.


One of the other critical parts of the Google suite that we use is Hangouts. We use that for lightweight video conversations. Because we’re not all here in person sometimes, it’s important that everyone who’s on a meeting be able to see each other, and to be able to talk at balanced and equal volume so that everyone can hear each other. And to that end we also require that people have really good headsets and microphones. So much so that if you’re on a Hangout with a Palantiri, they will correct you and stop the meeting to help you tweak your audio settings so that they can hear you well. Because we have such an inclusive culture here, we want to make sure that everybody has an equal place in the conversation. And you can do that with Google Hangouts by seeing every person and hearing them.


One of the other nice things about Google Hangouts and, really, many of the video chat tools now, is that it allows you to share your screen. So it’s another way to collaborate. Let’s get right to it, what are you seeing, let me see that, oh, I know what that means. It allows us to really have a much more informed conversation.


Another Google tool that is crucial to our day-to-day is Google Calendars. Because everybody has a Google account, they can easily subscribe to any other Palantir team member’s [Google] Calendar. They can see where they’re at, they can schedule a meeting, they can ask them if they can move a meeting. It makes it really easy to get things scheduled, because we aren’t all here in person and can’t stop by somebody’s desk. By providing that information on demand, it makes it easier to collaborate.


The last Google-related tool that I think really empowers the sharing of information and greater ability to collaborate is the Google Drive. Obviously when you use a Google Doc, a Google spreadsheet, a Google presentation, it puts it right up into the Google Drive. But the Google Drive is only as successful as it is organized. And so one of the things that we’ve done is to create a Palantir shared folder, and tried really hard to organize it so that people can easily find things. Again, that on-demand nature is important to our culture because — I don’t always know what people need and at what point in time. I can certainly send an email communication saying, here’s that presentation I made, or, here’s that 360-degree review form. But people don’t always need it right then and there. However, if I have a folder structure, you can kind of consider it like a library that’s easily browsable and accessible, they may find, oh, there’s that 360-degree form, or, look, inside there is that presentation that’s a quick-start guide on how I can solicit 360-degree reviews from my peers.


So we try to organize and present information in a way that’s easily accessible and shareable, and in a format that’s easy to collaborate. So to use the 360-degree form again, sometimes people on the team want to create a 360-degree review, but they may want some help drafting questions — creating questions that give them the right amount of constructive feedback. So if they create a document on the Google Drive, they can share it with me and I can coach them through maybe some different wording, help them redefine their goals. It’s not only them being able to create the form themselves, but them being able to share it with me very easily allows for a stronger collaboration and a more effective outcome.


One of the last tools that we use, really for communication and collaboration but most for communication, is HipChat. It is essentially our water cooler. It’s our primary mode of having conversations with each other. Inside of HipChat we organize conversations into different rooms. We have a general Palantir room that’s usually the laughter and giggles room, where we share images and videos with each other, and talk about day-to-day things. But then we have more topic-based rooms like a sales room or a design room or a coders’ lounge. We have a social room, we have a spoilers room for people who are all watching the same television shows, and other things that help build our unique culture here. We have HipChat set up so that all things are available to all Palantiri, and again that helps spur conversations that are important to the team and are share those with other members of the team, and aren’t pushed from the top down. They’re not structured in any particular way.


At Palantir, the ability to collaborate virtually is key, especially as a virtual team. We wouldn’t be able to do that without these tools, without the Google suite, using Docs, presentations, Hangouts, Calendars, the Google Drive and the shared folders. There are much more tools within the production team as well that help facilitate peer programming, and I think you should stay tuned for a further podcast to hear more about those tools. Thanks!


AM: Thanks Colleen. That’s the end of this week’s Secret Sauce. For more great tips, please check out our website at Palantir.net. You can also follow us on twitter at @palantir. Enjoy your day!