Remote work at Trello. An #AtlassianSummit conversation.

Last week the SoftwareDevtools team was at Atlassian’s #AtlassianSummit event and we had a great time.
We usually write about topics for Remote Agile teams, like How to adopt Scrum, Agile anti-patterns or Agile Retrospectives. During the event, we decided to explore how was Trello's remote work culture.

These events are a great chance to get together with Atlassian partners & vendors like our good friends at Comalatech and Deiser, who are also Marketplace vendors for Atlassian. Also, a great chance to meet Atlassian users from all around the globe and from all sorts & sizes of companies. The real icing on the cake is the chance to talk to Atlassian’s own engineers, product managers, designers, etc. That really gives you a first-hand look at what Atlassian has been working on.

Thanks to Atlassian recently acquiring Trello, we were able to meet some Trello team members. We took the opportunity to talk about Remote Work with Bentley Cook, who’s a Developer Advocate at Trello. Read on to learn more about Trello’s remote work culture, and some tips & tricks that Bentley shares with us.
Trello & Atlassian on-stage

Advantages of Trello when working in a distributed team.

Bentley, tell us a bit about yourself, your role @ Trello and how did you get started being a #DigitalNomad?

I’m Developer Advocate for Trello. I work directly with developers that are building on the Trello platform. I spend a lot of time answering questions about the API, how to build power-ups, writing documentation, blogging, that sort of things. Trying to get the word out there for developers that choose the cool thing to be building on!

One of the exciting things about Trello as a company is that it is 65% remote. We have people spread out all over the world. We’ve got people in Austria, the US, South America. So, when I joined I was like: ‘HEY! I don’t need to live where I’ve been living for the past few years, let me go explore!’. So my wife and I packed up all of our stuff and said: ‘We’re outta here!’. For the past 3 months, I’ve been living out of the stuff that we packed. I hit Boulder, Colorado for some skiing, and been on a journey for the past months. Stopped by France for a little wine & cheese, here in Barcelona now, and headed to Dublin Island next.

Trello talks during #AtlassianSummit Cool! Tell us about working in a remote team. What’s the experience like for you, and then let’s talk about the tools and some tips & tricks to get the most out of this flexibility.

One of the cool things is that everyone does work online from 1 pm Eastern to 5 pm Eastern US. So, it gives us that chance to collaborate a little bit more synchronously. So we will have video calls all the time in that timeframe. That helps a lot.

I’ll never forget the first real experience of having a truly remote culture. I was at the NYC office, and there was a meeting (We use Zoom to video chat). We were all in the office, except for one person. And we all connected to the video call in a different room. Every single person gets on their computer, there’s no meeting room where 20 people are standing around and 1 remote person. Every single call, even if it’s with people in the room, everyone uses their computer to connect. And that gives makes you feel that everyone’s even. That was one of my earliest experience. That shows you what an equal culture you can have with remote workers. I encourage you to do that.

Keeping a level playfield, that’s important. Can you elaborate; How can you inspire others to follow after that?

One of the key components (and it’s been a great thing to discover at Atlassian) is having these core values. The most powerful for me is to “Assume positive intent”. That means that Is really easy when someone says something about your work or your code. You go: “That’s my code!, That’s my baby! I worked so hard on that! You can’t just walk in here and say that!”. And you can take it very offensively, thinking “That guy was being a jerk!”. But the truth is that most people aren’t. We’re all working together, we’re all on the same team. You gotta be able to take a step back and think: ‘Hey, was Claudia just being mean? No, she’s super cool! She was clearly trying to be helpful’. You assume the positive intent.
One thing that blends after that is being honest and open. Not hiding anything, not having private conversations. If there’s something that you need to know, there’s probably somebody else in the company that needs that too. We’re trying to be very loud about what we are working on. We talk openly about it. So that you have trust, you know what everyone’s working on and who do you need to talk to. And that’s something that at first seems a little bit weird, most companies have a private room and team rooms. At this point, it feels like you are putting yourself out there open for criticism. Having that level of trust really creates an equal culture, where remotes are included in things. It is equality across the board and you trust everyone that you work with.

Excellent. So tell us about the tools that you use. Atlassian & Trello platform of course. What else do you use for code reviews or something, do you use something in particular?

No, I don’t really. We’re trying to build a cool, inclusive remote culture. So we use of course HipChat (Update: We're pretty sure they now use Stride) for the everyday chat.
I really like 3 things that we do: Every Friday we have a coffee talk. When someone in the company shows us what they are working on, what are they excited about: ‘I learned how to use HTML, and I’ve never used it before.’ That’s a lot of fun and actually brings people together.

Another fun thing that we do, we have a Trello board called ‘Mr. Rogers’ and once every 2 or 3 weeks everyone gets assigned to a card and is a card with 4 or 5 people assigned. And you have to find a time to hop on a call. And a lot of times is people you’ve never worked with or talk to before, and sometimes you have a conversation about Trello and work, or sometimes the conversation is more like ‘It’s ski season here!’ and it’s a great time to build a relationship with people over video calls. A lot of times is someone from Argentina, and New York, and California. Just hanging out. It’s like that. And that’s something that I love. I’m a very extroverted person and it’s a great way to bring remote teams together, and just have that ‘in-office’, ‘water-cooler’ experience. That’s when you have these collisions: ‘Oh, you’re working on that!? Let’s talk about it a little bit more!’ and it’s really powerful because is not something that everyone’s doing at 6 pm. It’s part of the Trello experience. There’s 30 min to an hour that you SHOULD be hanging out with your co-workers. So that’s really beautiful.
#DigitalNomad

Tell us a bit about your experience on your first #AtlassianSummit.

We (Trello) were acquired a few months ago. Excited to be a part of the Atlassian family. I’m really excited. I’ve never been to a user conference before. I’m very familiar with tech conferences, so now #AtlasCamp is more like what I was expecting, people hacking on things.

For me walking in and watching the long lines for registration. I thought: ‘All of these people are here for Atlassian. This is amazing!’ It’s clear that we are part of something big and powerful. That people love Atlassian. That was my rewarding moment. This is bigger than all of us. Really exciting. And people traveling from all over the world! It’s been awesome.

Anything else to share?

I think that with remote working is how you bring in the best talent. You’re not forcing people to relocate. If they want to live in Idaho, or in Mexico, let them live. It’s the 21st century, we have the tools and we can make it work. There’s no reason not to let people live & work wherever they want and be happy!


It was a very nice conversation with Bentley, he’s a cool guy and we hope we have the chance to collaborate with him sometime in the future.

If you want to learn more about what went down at #AtlassianSummit read more on our Blog. We’ve also talked to Adam Hynes, written about the talks, the opening, and a twitter timeline of the event.
Recently we were asked to upload the video interviews for this post, so here you are, the full video interview.
We also talked with Adam Hynes, Sr. Dev at Atlassian. Here's the full interview.


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