Like others in the Great Lakes region and Toronto, we’ve been closely monitoring the Novel Coronavirus 2019 situation via Toronto Public Health and Ontario Ministry of Health. With the pace the situation has evolved since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, we can assume that things will continue to change rapidly in the weeks ahead.

As a remote-first worker co-operative, Hypha has been discussing how to navigate this situation both internally, as member-owners, and externally, as community members, when expressions of solidarity and mutual aid are more needed than ever. We’re currently heeding the advice from public health officials and medical professionals on social distancing and self-isolation. However that doesn’t substantially prepare us to approach this pandemic at the community level. As an initial gesture, however small, we’ve prepared this guide with offers of help to share our experience working remotely for those of you transitioning to remote work. We recognize this doesn’t address the broader concerns about whose work can transition to remote, what economic insecurity many Canadian workers are facing, or how service and gig workers are now being forced to move into front line health positions on top of their existing responsibilities. In the coming weeks we look forward to thinking and acting together to address these and other pressing issues more fully.

If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through our Open Collective. Donations allow us to support people transitioning to remote work and cover costs associated with maintaining shared infrastructure.

How Hypha Can Help

We’re doing the following to assist members of our community at no charge.

Open Office Hours

“Crash course on working remote”

Anyone can join us at 11:30-12:30 ET by videoconferencing on Jitsi for the next three weeks to discuss collective solutions to challenges that arise when working remotely:

  • Fri, March 20
  • Thu, March 26
  • Thu, April 2

Add these dates to your calendar.

30 min 1-on-1s

Get answers to your questions about remote work

We are offering free 30 minute 1-on-1s to help strategize/address specific questions you have on transitioning to remote work. Just email us at hello@hypha.coop to set up a time.

Jitsi Videoconferencing

Use of our hosted videoconferencing infrastructure

See below for our descriptions of how we use video conferencing software.

Anyone is welcome to host a call on our Toronto-hosted Jitsi instance. All you need to do to use it is:

  1. Visit https://jitsi.hypha.coop in your browser
  2. Type any name for a room (this will become part of the URL), or use the suggested one, and press “GO”
  3. Have your meeting!

WhatsApp Discussion Group

Join our “#COVID19Toronto Remote” discussion group

We are hosting a WhatsApp discussion group #COVID19Toronto Remote for anyone working remotely (perhaps for the first time) to ask questions and share tips they’ve found.

You can join using the following link: https://chat.whatsapp.com/KMZcdNhK00lJcm5JOGnf4q

Working Remote in a “Virtual Office”

Over time we have developed a number of practices to help our members collaborate effectively online. We are sharing our practices and tools here with the hope that people may find this resource useful as they consider how to work from home during the current pandemic.

Culture and Practices

We have found that having a single knowledge base for members to reference smooths coordination. Our Hypha Organizational Handbook describes how members get situated in our “virtual office” and the vision, processes, and culture of our cooperative. Our handbook also documents objectives for each of the working groups within our organization.

For day-to-day task tracking and making sure we’re making progress on them, we use a GitHub task board (basically a Kanban board with different columns to track the status of tasks). We use the same task template across all our issues which looks like this:

Task Summary
🎟️ Re-ticketed from: #
🗣 Loomio: [Loomio Link]
📅 Due date: Wed, Mar 18
🎯 Success criteria: Develop hypha action plan for response to COVID-19

Details of the task

TODOs for members

We have weekly meetings that all members attend. Having an established meeting template and knowing who is “cultivating” (i.e. chairing) and notetaking before the meeting begins, makes our time together a lot more efficient. This is one of the meeting templates we use and you can find our archived meeting notes here.

Working remote means that we lose some of the organic conversations that happen in a workplace. We usually start our team meetings with “personal check-ins” to make space for conversations that aren’t strictly work related. The cultivator comes with a discussion prompt to start the personal check-ins. Some we have used in the past include “What was your first email address” and “What is your first memory of the Internet”.

Establishing a virtual office may require us to sign up to new digital services, which means we will be relying on more providers for our day-to-day operations. Don’t forget to keep a Services Inventory to keep track of what services exist, what they are used for, and who has access to each.

We also draw inspiration from other individuals and collectives:

Software and Tools

While deciding what software and tools to use, we have had to ask questions around privacy, lock-in, user experience, and demands on our time. We have highlighted some of our tool choices below. We host and manage some tools ourselves, and have extensive experience with some others, these are marked with the 🍄 emoji below.

Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing software that is reliable and offers high quality audio and video (such as Zoom), is also often expensive and has a worse track record on privacy issues. Hypha uses Jitsi, which is a free and open source software for most of our videoconferencing needs. We host our own instance to ensure that it has enough bandwidth to support our day-to-day use. Jitsi works in the browser and also allows attendees to dial in, making it convenient for use while travelling.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
Jitsi 🍄 Free Runs in the browser without needing to download another app. Hypha hosts our own Jitsi server. Audio and video quality is inferior to Zoom. Browser-based client can present connection issues, particularly if using Firefox. On Safari, there is no video support and the audio does not work reliably. Mobile applications work well on Android and iOS.
BigBlueButton 🍄 Free Runs in the browser. Users can upload presentations to present. Collaborative tools like whiteboards, laser pointer, participant emoji/mood. Browser-based client works well on desktop and mobile browsers. Good audio quality. Easily scalable to 10+ callers, routinely used up to 50 callers and there are examples involving larger groups. No official public servers.
Zoom Free for 1-1 meetings or 40 min group calls If reliability and high audio/video quality are your top concerns, Zoom is a great choice. It requires downloading an app but the process works well. Audio and video quality is high. According to their privacy policy, Zoom collects personal data including for advertisement purposes. Data is typically stored in the US. Zoom has a poor record of handling customer privacy and security concerns.
Whereby Free for personal use, but has room size limits Runs in the browser and is easy to use. In small meeting mode Whereby’s communications work “peer to peer” and doesn’t pass through their servers.

Other popular videoconferencing tools:

Notetaking and Wordprocessing

For meeting notes and jotting down quick ideas collaboratively we use HackMD as a lightweight text editor in the browser. If you choose to use HackMD (or etherpad), make sure you’re aware of who has permissions to read and write to the pad. By default HackMD pads are unlisted but not private, i.e. they are publicly viewable if the URL is known.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
HackMD 🍄 Free Great if you want a simple browser based note taking tool with support for Markdown. Works well with a working open philosophy. Some familiarity with Markdown.
Google Docs 🍄 Free with a Google account Works well for more intensive collaborative writing, copy editing, and proofing in the browser. Unclear permission settings.
Riseup Pad Free Similar to HackMD. Good for collaborative notetaking in the browser. -

Other notetaking tools:

  • Roam Research for personal notes
  • Notion for personal notes and collaborative documents (Free plan offers 1000 block limit)

Task Management

We use GitHub’s built-in project management tools to track tasks since we also use GitHub for version control. If you’re already using GitHub, this may be something you’d want to consider. But if you are a first time remote worker you might face a steeper learning curve with GitHub especially if you aren’t familiar with version control and source management. Trello would be a better standalone option.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
GitHub Projects 🍄 Free for public projects or small private projects Good if you use GitHub for its other features as well, such as version control. Owned by Microsoft.
Trello Free for standard features Very easy to use. -

Decision Making

We make most of our decisions face-to-face during videoconferencing calls. But sometimes when we can’t be together or the topic of discussion has many different facets to consider, we use dedicated software to help in decision making. For quick decisions, we often vote with :+1: or :-1: emojis in our chat. When the decision making process is more involved, we use Loomio which keeps discussion threads in one place and has tools for polls, voting, and proposal-driven decision making.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
Loomio 🍄 Free Easy to use once you’re familiar with all the facilitation and discussion tools. Free software that can be self hosted.

Chat

Chat is where most of our day-to-day discussion happens. At times when it’s heavily used it can be overwhelming to keep up with messages. It’s important for us that chat tools have good notification settings so that we can configure for ourselves what messages grab our attention. Chat applications like Matrix and Slack also allow you to have different rooms or channels for keeping conversations separated by topic.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
Matrix 🍄 Free Riot web app for Matrix works in the browser or desktop/mobile can be downloaded. Great for large rooms with many users. Many notifications by default, end-to-end encryption is not smooth. Messages can be federated to other servers.
Signal 🍄 Free Secure texting for 1-1 and group chats. Privacy minded. Not as popular as WhatsApp. Requires a working cellphone number.
WhatsApp Free Easy to use for texting and group chat. Popular in Toronto. Owned by Facebook. Requires a working cellphone number.
Slack Free (10,000 most recent messages) Easy to use for group chats. Limited history, file storage and “3rd party apps” on free account.

Scheduling Time Together

Coordinating when we’re all available for a meeting or an event can take up a lot of time. We’ve found the best way is to set regular meeting times beforehand. In other instances when we have to schedule time together, we use When2Meet to find time slots where our availabilities overlap.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
Google Calendar 🍄 Free with a Google account Easy to use. Easy to create shared calendars. -
When2Meet 🍄 Free Easy to use. Minimal interface with no external service integrations.
Calendly Free Easy to use with external service integrations. -

Others scheduling tools:

Storage and File Sharing

Since we use Google Docs for collaborating on project proposals and other documents that require rounds of revisions, Google Drive has become a natural location for us to store our documents.

Tools we’ve tried Cost Ease of use Remarks and concerns
Google Drive 🍄 Free (Individual, 15GB) and paid (individual and business plans) - Confusing permissions structure.
Nextcloud Free (Select Providers have free Individual plans) and paid - Both provider and self-hosted options.
Box Free (Individual, 10 GB) -  
Dropbox Free (Basic, 2 GB) - Minimal storage for free accounts.

Virtual Events

Members at Hypha have some experience hosting webinars, facilitating interactive virtual sessions, and setting up livestreams for events. If this is something you want to learn more about, email us at hello@hypha.coop.

Virtual event tools:

Contributing to this Guide

We welcome improvements to this guide. There are a few key ways you can help us improve our projects, read our contributor guidelines to find out how to submit feedback, requests, and bug reports as well as code and documentation changes to our code repository.