Your friends at Viget present Flourish, a Viget News & Culture Blog

The One Tool You Need to Win Your Office Pool

The greatest time of the year is upon us! I don’t mean the jolly green holiday where we get in touch with our Irish side, nor the pilgrimage southward (by southwestward) to take in panels, happy hours, and brand promotions. It’s the NCAA Tournament aka March Madness aka the “sportsball bracket thing” — the most exciting 3-week competition in all of sports.

The excitement of watching 54 games in the first 6 days is only dwarfed by America’s burning desire to predict the future of the entire 20-day tournament. Some use conventional wisdom, mascot preferences, and analytical research, while others follow their animal instincts. With the creation of the office pool, it seems we’ve all been shooting toward the holy grail of goals: a perfect bracket. Unexpected teams win (and lose) games and, while this makes for exciting television, it can shatter our predictive confidence and result in a bracket full of red X’s.

As an agency with plenty of data nerds and sports fans, we know two things for certain: there's great power in social analytics, and we love sports.

If The Dress taught us anything (other than things about web design), it’s that people love to share their opinion on social media. So we thought, why not leverage the insights of social media to predict each and every winner of the tournament? Luckily for us, we have some fantastic friends at AddThis who have access to over 1.8B (B for billion, not brackets) monthly users and their social sharing preferences.

With this data, we’ve been able to keep tabs on America’s social pulse and advance in the bracket the schools that are getting the most buzz. We’ll be updating the bracket as games finish and pulling in data after each round to re-project predictions — to see if the buzz gets “smarter” as time goes on. Much like our own personal bracket entries, we know this method will result in a few wrong predictions, but our heart is still hopeful it could be the perfect bracket we’ve all been searching for.

So if you’re looking for the best prediction tool as you’re making your decisions before noon today check out Buzzbracket.com for inspiration, then follow along throughout the tournament.


Documenting Culture

At Viget, we do a few things intentionally, but pretty organically, to document our company culture. They don’t add a lot of overhead to our operation and they strengthen our ability to attract and retain the best clients and talent in the world. But, mostly, we do it for another reason altogether … keep reading to find out!

Event Photos

Viget Flick Albums

Since August 2007, Viget has published 8,718 photos and created 163 Albums on Flickr.

From quarterly company-wide events, ongoing Meetups, community service days, and after-work get togethers, we have a lot of events going on. We take photos at every event and post them on Flickr. While we are pretty adamant about making sure it gets done, we don’t hire professionals and instead look to find people interested in playing the role of documentarian for the day.

Over the years, we’ve learned how to use photography to better tell event stories and these days I’ll sometimes create a shot list -- however overkill this seems -- to ensure we don’t miss a few crucial bits, especially B-Roll type footage (signage, artefacts of the venue, before and after shots) that you may miss if you only shoot people’s faces.

Sizzle Reels

Celebrating Fourteen Years at King's Dominion is just one of the many Viget films

Video is an effective way to capture the mood and, in the last couple of years, we’ve started making films that capture an event or year in the life of Viget. Like any good sizzle reel, these are short, fast paced, stylized overview of the community and work that we’re proud to be a part of!

To get the tone right, we’ll start by reviewing the footage first, then picking the music based on the overall direction we’re going for, and then edit the video to that music.

Lab Report

Our fearless CEO Brian at the Free Lunch Friday helm delivering the Lab Report

The Lab Report, a long-kept weekly tradition, includes not just important office and project updates, but also a whole section dedicated to funny quotations and anecdotes about local happenings. We strive to celebrate the summits and follies of our team whenever possible. Some of these quotations slowly become the thing of Viget lore.

No single person will be able to capture all of the wonderful moments that happen each day. We encourage everyone to help document and share memorable quotations or anecdotes.  

Why Document Culture?

We’ve found an enormous value in documenting culture. It is a great mechanism for sharing our vibe with the outside world and for getting to know each other better so we have a stronger bond.  

When I was evaluating Viget before getting hired, I loved the opportunity to “get to know everyone” from the massive library on Flickr.

For prospective clients, having hundreds of photo albums gives them an easy way to see what we’re all about and remotely “meet” our team and company. We frequently include these kinds of images in our pitches and presentations and, even if we’ve met in person, we hope clients visit Flickr.

Perhaps most importantly, we need assets for future toasts/roasts when we each celebrate 5 years at Viget, promotions, or other milestones. :)

The Secret

Peyton Crump Over The Years

Peyton sports a fresh new style almost every year, since (Flickr) recorded time.    

Mostly, we document our culture because it's fun. It’s fun to look at photos -- especially when they reveal how long we’ve worked together and how many experiences we’ve shared. It’s fun to laugh about the quirky details an old Lab Report has captured. It’s fun to see that the cutting-edge work we were so proud of 3 years ago, highlighted in a reel, is now a part of the new industry norm. Some things in business are the same as in life -- we do them because they're enjoyable.


Three Ways We Keep Remote Offices in Sync with HQ

Weekly Staff Meeting View From HQ

Weekly Staff Meeting: 3 offices and some work-from-home, all sharing video

Like many startups, Viget started in a basement. Today, we have three sweet offices spread across the country, as well as a few long-time staff working from home. Our company headquarters is right outside DC, and we have a team of 16 in Durham, NC and a team of 15 in Boulder, CO. Keeping remote offices in sync with headquarters is tricky, but worth doing. I want to share three things we do at Viget that strengthen collaboration across our locations (plus a confession from a virtual worker).

1. Basecamp & Slack

We use Basecamp and Slack for team communication. (We set up “projects” in Basecamp and “channels” in Slack by discipline, project, and location.) This means each person is part of dozens of groups communicating on different topics. Using these platforms allows for a combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication, which works well for teams working in different time zones. So, for example, when Lawson wanted to share a link to Harvard University’s social intelligence test, he posted in Slack’s General channel and, when Brian wanted to get feedback from everyone on the new dev page on Viget.com, he posted to Basecamp’s General Discussion project.

2. Weekly All-Staff Meeting

Affectionately called “FLF” (Free Lunch Friday; or, in the case of Boulder, Free Brunch Friday), every Friday Viget buys lunch for the entire company as part of an all-staff meeting. All the offices join via videoconferencing and each office gets a turn to share updates. The updates loosely follow the format of the Lab Report, including office and project updates, but with some additional local flare. The updates are given with a bit of shtick and we rotate around the company for special project “deep dives” and LabShares where individuals share some work or personal interest with the company. These meetings are scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes, though sometimes run longer.

A quick side note: ordering food for groups can be a logistical nightmare, so we built Shorter Order that makes it easy to get a group order off your to-do list.

3. In-Person Gatherings

Since the beginning of Viget, it’s been a tradition to get together in person, out of the office, to reflect and celebrate the past year. The gatherings have evolved over the years and now play a vital role in connecting the remote offices. These events typically include a half-day or so of discussion and then an evening and following day of social activity. One of my favorite recent ones was at a campground where our meeting was held in a lodge by a lake, and the evening included bonfires and music late into the night. The next morning, we learned about forest medicine, archery, and other survival techniques. In addition to the elaborate annual celebrations, we also get the whole company together one additional time per year (for more work, less play) and encourage modest inter-office travel whenever people are up for it (for the in-person collaboration benefits).

Confessions of a Virtual Worker

Working with remote teams presents a lot of challenges, some of which we still struggle with.

For example, we’re getting better at making videoconferencing a habit; but, the technology is not completely reliable (see below for notes on videoconferencing). I’ve seen a lot of our meetings start late because the connection or configuration isn’t quite right. Incorporating chat into our workflow using Slack can be great for collaboration; but, it’s addictive and can also cause a lot of distraction.

Will remote work ever be perfect?

Probably not. But, given the trends (which clearly show remote working is on the rise), we don’t have a choice:  we have to tackle these challenges.  The good news is that being conscientious of distributed teammates gives us empathy for our clients (who are usually remote). As remote collaborators, we learn to proactively provide status updates, share progress, and acknowledge each other's messages and feedback. These kinds of habits make us better communicators across the board.

P.S. On Videoconferencing Tools

There’s a plethora of videoconferencing tools out there; but, we have yet to find a reliable solution. We predominantly use Google Hangouts and Go To Meeting for group conferencing, which have performed better than other tools we've tried -- but, they are still fickle. Since we’re all on Macs, FaceTime works well when you only need to talk to one person. talky is getting daily use from our dev teams and join.me is also a favorite -- similar to Go To Meeting, but you don't need to download and install a desktop application to view screencasts. And, when we’re videochatting about code, we use Screenhero.


Interviewing (Many) Intern Applicants: A Few Guidelines

We’re at the height of internship recruitment season here at Viget, and that means I spend most of my time reviewing cover letters, resumes, work samples, and online portfolios for around 300 internship hopefuls. If an applicant seems promising, I conduct an initial interview; in the past seven weeks, I’ve conducted forty-five of them.

It would be impossible to handle our volume and maintain my pace without a few guidelines in place:

  1. Brevity. I keep each interview to fifteen minutes. I go longer only for especially strong applicants, either because I want to learn more about them or because I want them to be especially impressed with Viget and our internship program.
  2. Daily Maximum. I avoid booking more than four interviews on any given day, and I leave at least 15 minutes between interviews to document and share feedback with other reviewers. I’ve found that’s my limit before I start losing my mind track of who’s who.
  3. Consistency. You may be wondering: with only fifteen minutes of interaction, how can I possibly form accurate judgements of an applicant? The key here is to make all the conversations mostly the same. It’s the way in which each applicant establishes his or her uniqueness against a consistent backdrop that enables me to draw a judgement—and top applicants distinguish themselves almost immediately.  I use a template for each interview, which lists all the questions and information I want to cover. I follow the same order every time. And—this leads to my fourth guideline—
  4. Clear scope. I ask applicants only a few, straightforward questions and I aim to form judgements about only a few key things. This works because I know I can rely on other reviewers to draw further, different judgements (usually more focused on the nature of the applicant’s work and skills) later in our process.

Here’s the simple template I use:

Questions To Ask

  • Briefly introduce yourself.
  • What do you expect to do professionally after graduation?
  • How do you understand our internship as helping you achieve that professional goal?
  • Do you have any questions for me about Viget or our internship program?

Topics to Cover

  • stipend
  • location/housing/transport
  • laptop/software needs
  • summer dates/vacation
  • evaluation time frame/other offers

And here are the few things I aim to judge:

  • communication skills
  • basic professionalism
  • genuine commitment to technology and learning (aka a certain geek/nerd factor)

To be clear, I usually wind up forming a wide variety of other judgements along the way, but defining my scope and my responsibilities narrowly allows me to stay focused and on time. One of my top priorities is to give almost no indication to the applicant that I’m working with a template or structure, striving instead to engage the applicant in what feels like a natural and interesting conversation about his or her background, interests, and career goals. Because I have my template at hand, I can feel confident departing from it when that makes sense. Those are usually the stand-out moments that I enjoy the most—and which are highly correlated to speaking with a top applicant.


Copying Text From Images to Your Clipboard

Getting the text out of a raster-based image when you don’t have access to the original source files is something that no one looks forward to. Retyping text is a waste of time, and waiting to get original source files is inefficient. What you really want to do is to take a screenshot of just the text portion of an image, then paste the actual text in your application, like this: