Trello shows us how to grow closer as a distributed team
November 16, 2016

Trello surely doesn’t need a special introduction, especially if you have been online for the past few years. Beloved by distributed teams, freelancers and even co-located companies all over the world, Trello boards make us more productive and organized. Being keen users ourselves at Surf Office, we’re happy we could have a peek into their culture thanks to one of the newer additions to the Trello team, Content Marketing Manager Jessica Webb.

Trello - Jessica Webb

Jessica, what does your role at Trello entail?

I work in marketing, which means a lot of user stories and also trying to figure out who are the people who actually use Trello. I came here from Hubspot where I worked for three years.

Trello has been around for a bunch of years but it grew fast organically so now the marketing team is trying to use that growth. We’re trying to understand how people relate to Trello and use that to tell a better story. As a marketing team we’re taking things that are already happening and putting that to a wider audience.

Have you worked remotely before?

When I started in Hubspot they had one office but now they have several around the world. Hubspot had a culture of being able to work remotely but I personally worked in the office. There were times when I would work for a few weeks from here and there but the majority of people were working in the office.

How does your current remote role at Trello differs from your past roles, either at Hubspot or elsewhere?

When I joined Hubspot I worked on the team that dealt with lead generation at the top end of the funnel through email marketing, social media and marketing campaigns. In my present job there’s a lot more green space. There’s this excited tension when people feel that there is so much we can do. It’s our job to figure out what things will have the best impact.

This is something that Trello has prioritized from day 1 — our users has been the most important thing and if we’re not doing things that help them then we are not doing our job.

And if you had to focus on the things that are related to being remote?

Our teams are becoming increasingly distributed across the world which gives us a great opportunity to get things done all the time, based on the time zones. But we also have to be even more organized and respectful of our time. We have weekly team meetings where we rely heavily on Trello so people can be updated without having to be online at the same time. That being said, we try to have at least a few hours of overlap every day.

Trello Team Lunch

Trello Company Retreat

Where around the world is the Trello team based?

It’s getting really widespread, we have people from California to Canada, Brazil to Sweden.

We have a thing called Trello Together where we bring our entire company somewhere for a few days to have a remote retreat. It’s not just for people who are remote, like when you book an office, it’s really for everyone. That will be something really new for me and really cool to experience. Our meetings are already for full sizes of teams but it will be nice to shake hands and get together.

There used to be a similar gathering called Remote Week, which was held in New York, right? Did Trello Together replace Remote Week?

For Trello Remote Week we flew in all remotes to New York City where they spent the week in our HQ. But after some time we realized it wasn’t sustainable for a few reasons. One of them being that it costs the same or more to pay for just remotes in NYC than everyone to go somewhere else.

The biggest issue was that only the remotes were “free” meaning HQ people still had their daily routine responsibilities to take care of because they were “home”. Trello Together gets everyone to a new neutral place, on equal footing where we can not work and just focus on team building.

Trello Offsite Puerto Rico

Trello Mascot

Trello Team Offsite

How do you cope with meetings, being so widespread around the globe?

We try to limit ourselves with very few meetings, that’s a great part of our culture. As we’ll grow and become more distributed we’ll probably have to have meetings in different times with different people. It’s also going to make us evaluate what things are needed in people, like willingness to hop on a call. For example, when I’m on Slack and it’s getting confusing we usually hop on a video chat. Seeing each other face to face to talk it out makes it easier to explain things.

Can you explain the concept of your Mr Rogers?

Mr Rogers is one of my favorite things about Trello. The concept of Mr Rogers (we use a Trello board for this) is to randomize different Trellians each week and it’s up to you to figure out the time that works for both of you to have a video chat. The point is to get to know each other in a non-work way. So it’s not about figuring out what you do with the team or the product but to ask things like “Where are you from? What are you doing?” I found that it makes me feel a lot more connected to the team, especially with people I don’t work with very often.

With a lot of people I don’t know where they live so with Mr Rogers you can find that out. It also helps with things like “Hey I’m going somewhere, I’m going to check if Liz lives there and we can meet up.”

It’s one of those things that feel good — to see a team mate and where they live. And also just finding people’s backgrounds, where are they originally from, finding out that they in fact speak three different languages… People are never what it looks like on the outside. That’s something I only got from Mr Rogers. In office environment a lot of conversations are on a very surface level so you don’t necessarily get that place where you get all those details.

Any other things from Trello’s remote culture you can touch on?

One thing that our marketing team does and that I find helpful is the concept of maker days. It is a time for heads down, doing work and trying not to have meetings. Normally you have a lot of calls throughout the day but people really respect maker days. I think it takes a certain amount of discipline to be really focused on work and not looking at emails.

Trello Team Picture

Trello Sign

Are there any things related to Trello’s remote mentality that are demonstrated in your daily work?

We have remote all hands meetings for the entire company. I found it incredibly rewarding and refreshing that the entire company has the remote-first mentality. If you’re having a meeting and even one person is not in the office, the entire meeting will be remote. It should never feel like that person has to deal with the situation. So when we have our all hands meetings and our CEO is in the office he’s doing the meeting over video chat..

Another surprising thing that I try to live up to is to be close to my team mates, closer than I thought I would. I feel like I know them on a whole different level, it just feels a little bit more personal.

Do you have any other remote-related benefits at Trello, apart from supplying the office equipment?

We have things like gym reimbursement which I definitely appreciate. Throughout the day leaving my desk can be a challenge because I’m so focused on work. So during my lunch I can go to the gym and that’s something that keeps me sane.

I’ve also heard something about delivering birthday cakes to remote employees.

Ah, yes. I haven’t had my birthday yet since I’ve joined Trello but I’m excited for that.

What do you value most about working remotely?

The trust and independence I get makes me work better and gives me the space to work fast.

And what challenges do you encounter in this lifestyle?

It took me a couple of months to figure out what the ideal setup would be for me. Trello sets you up with things like a monitor but where I live I didn’t really have the office space to work from. Now that I have it it’s so much more helpful. I would say that for anyone who works from home it should be a priority to build a working environment.