Deekit: Bringing Distributed Teams Together By Drawing
June 14, 2016

Estonian ex-Skypers Deekit believe that if you can draw a box, you can draw your team together. Their product, a real-time online whiteboard, aims especially at remote employees who need to collaborate on daily basis. We asked their CEO Kaili a couple of questions to find out what they think of remote work revolution and how being remote affects the way they work.

What is the story behind Deekit?

Deekit got started by four founders from Skype. We joined the company in 2005 and one of us even earlier. While working with teams and people all over the world, we felt that simple chat and video calling just isn’t enough to have a great remote working experience. Being remote feels really remote.

We need to have simple interactions with teams, just as we would in a physical office. To have the opportunity to jump to a whiteboard a sketch your thoughts together. To engage people in giving feedback (usually, we point fingers at screens) and much more.

All of it must work in real-time enabling us to engage everyone, no matter where someone is located.

As a remote employee, you don’t always have the luxury of great connectivity as those in an office. So the trick is that such tool needs to work over poor connectivity, too.

As we could not find a great tool to meet this need, we decided to set out and create one. We are literally on a mission to make remote feel less remote. To bring teams on the same page and collaborate as you would while being in the same room.

How big is the Deekit team presently and where are you based?

There’s 7 of us at Deekit working at Deekit right now. We are distributed around Estonia as a team right now and occasionally some members take a longer stay around the world (Andres quite recently returned from Tenerife where he spent over a month). We encourage each team member to find the best place to work from.

How did experience from working at Skype help you?

Skype has shown us all that you can connect the world and remove the distance between people. Now with Deekit, we are on a mission to take this a step further.

Over the years at Skype, we have been fortunate to learn a lot. Both about products, building a team and working with people and users around the world. When you connect people, magic can happen.

“Remote work is about team culture and building culture takes time.” This quote can be found on your company blog. What does culture mean at Deekit?

Building culture takes time, indeed. And it evolves with every person who joins the team, too. When we started Deekit, we set down the core values that are important for us. Today, looking back, we think some have been the right values and some, not so much. That’s a whole long blog post waiting to be written. Some of our core values include:

Freedom of speech. Express your opinions, ideas, and feedback.

Disrupt comfort zones.

Team members and customers are people. Treat people as you’d like to be treated. Both in life and in the products that you build.

Transparency. In everything.

Agile, learn fast.

What are the preferred communication tools at Deekit?

We use Slack for many things. Overall chat, different bots, watercooler and more. We’ve written up longer how exactly we are using Slack in our blog, and a few tips on chatting better,

We even opened up Slack community for our users and we also welcome other teams working remotely to share tips and genuinely support each-other.

For calls, we use a mix of Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts. Mostly depending on who we are calling to.

Internally we don’t use email, either. It’s a different story with people outside the team, of course as there’s no easy way around email then.

For everything else (design feedback, backlog and our scrum board, documentation and more) we use Deekit. We’ve ditched other tools as it’s so much easier to bring everything together and collaborate in real-time.

What challenges do you see in remote work?

The biggest challenge that pretty much every team brings up is communication. Remote work starts with your mindset. It’s disaster to do when only one or two persons in the company work elsewhere. It has to be a team effort – all information must be shared and available for everyone.

Tools that you use to communicate must work in real-time and engage the entire team. There’s nothing worse than staring at a power point slide over screen share or receiving a photo of a whiteboard at the end of a meeting. These are sharing, not collaboration.

You were part of Techstars 2015. Can you describe this experience?

I’m actually writing an ebook on this as there’s so much to tell and share. Techstars isn’t just about making it to the Demo Day. It’s about building the best product and reaching your users. Entire Techstars team, alumni, and amazing mentors are there to support you on that journey.

At Deekit, we took a strong focus on user engagement as we believe this is one of the core important things for us. That our users receive the value expected from the product and use it a lot. We entered the program a bit over a month after launching the public beta, so we were literally learning about everything. Who our users are, how they are using Deekit and why – to name a few. Techstars helped us to ask the right questions, deliver faster and also find what we need to improve.

But the key to Techstars isn’t just the three-month program. It’s being part of a family for a lifetime.

One of your Facebook work tips says “Create an ergonomic workspace to feel comfortable.” What do you need in your work space to be productive?

It’s tempting and easy to sit on a couch at home and work from there. But it’s not the right answer as you’ll impact your posture, the productivity isn’t as good and there’s always more distractions around.

A few things to consider:

1. Get a dedicated space for work. A place at home (or at a co-working space) where you work and focus. It helps to switch mentally to working mode instead of letting your mind wander around. If you have a family, agree that when you are in your “working space”, there is no disturbing. Unless it’s critical, of course. If you have pets – keep them out, too.

2. Invest in a desk and chair. It’s important to have a good posture while working.

3. Add your “feel” to the room – things that support your focus and creativity. For some if could be having plants around, for some a painting or two. Or books. Make the space comfortable for you!

4. A workspace that’s too small and cluttered can feel difficult and overwhelming. If that’s the case, get creative to re-arrange the workspace to create more room or find an alternative.

5. For different types of tasks, you might need different environments. When writing code, a home office could be great. When writing a blog post, you might find a cozy cafe much better. Experiment.

6. Get yourself a proper camera and headset.

7. Natural light can do wonders in terms how you feel and how productive you are. If possible, create your workspace close to a window. And always ensure enough light.

8. If possible, mix between standing and sitting. When sitting mix between chair and stability ball.

Can you name some distributed companies that inspire you?

Oh wow, there are many! Obviously, Skype is one of them, but we are big fans of Buffer, Automattic, Zapier and many others.

What are your views on the remote work trend?

I believe that the web is our new office. I believe that remote work and remote learning with the right tools opens up so many opportunities for both employees and companies. For a person from smaller areas in the world, it could be a life-long dream to work for one of the international companies. Being able to work remotely can enable that. It also supports companies to find amazing talent literally from any part in the world.

Learning and education are another amazing sides of the story. We’re all used to be going through video courses through Youtube, Coursera and others. For many of us, such self-learning without any interaction is hard. Already today we see more tutors and teachers going online creating entirely interactive learning experiences and we’re really thrilled to be part of it with Deekit.

There are many children and adults in the world who have not been able to attend a school. Either because there are no teachers where they live. Or because they have some illness stopping them from going to school. We see more teachers joining Deekit from around the world to change that. For example, a teacher from Australia helping adults study entrepreneurship and encouraging them to start their own businesses.