I work in a dispersed group of developers. We have offices in IL and KY, but we also have a lot of team members - self included - that work from home and live a long way from either of those offices. We have been using online services for conferencing and desktop sharing, and instant messaging and this has worked well for our communication needs. The problem with these options was a lack of good discussion flow, and often when we did it would be isolated to just two team members on an IM conversation. When trying to relay the good thoughts to those who were not present, things would get lost in translation.
In a meeting in the fall of 2010 one of my newer colleagues suggested that we start using IRC (yes, that IRC - Internet Relay Chat) for team communication. Another team member took the initiative to set up and host the server, and our chat room was born.
I delayed the process of getting an account set up because I wasn't too keen on the idea. My earlier experience with IRC was from around 1996 and earlier. It was mostly going into a few rooms only to realize the people who occupied them annoyed me - greatly and for various reasons. So, I wrote off the notion personally, but didn't really protest. Eventually, under light harassment from the same colleague who presented the idea, I caved and set up the account.
Still skeptical, I tried to remember to take the time to sign in every morning. I was clearly not the only one who was struggling to make it part of the daily routine. It was several weeks before everyone was consistently getting on the chat, but once everyone was remembering... something pretty amazing happened. It was equivalent to the synergy we had in the old days working together in the KY office. It was really as if we were sitting in the same room at times. We could "cut-up" with each other, talk about sports, politics - or whatever else, but most importantly we could talk about work. We could have in-depth discussions about the project, we could share information or ideas and we could do so in a forum where the entire team could share ideas or think of "gotchas" in real-time.
Suddenly, I found myself just changing my nick to indicate that I was away (instead of signing out). This way I could check back in later and read up on the conversations I'd missed while I was away. I think IRC is supposed to work this way, it wasn't designed so some loser could ask everyone who entered the room for an "asl"; it was for real communication.
It took some coaxing to get me to join in, but I'm glad I did. It has greatly improved our communication in the office, it has in some ways revolutionized the way things work for me in my home office. While it is not as good as being able to go out for drinks with the co-workers after a long day, it does make the line blur between office and home-office, and that makes working from home even better.