What’s it like to push out a major software release when your dev team is suddenly thrust into a remote working environment? On this installment of Dynamic Developer, I talk with Angela Byron, senior director of product and community development, with Acquia and co-author of the book “Using Drupal,” about how Acuqia made the final push to release Drupal 9 with a team that had to work from home because of COVID-19. As Byron is also a developer who’s worked remotely for years and managed distributed teams, she shares her insights on navigating the post-pandemic world where more people are working remotely. The following is a transcript of our interview, edited for readability.

Releasing Drupal 9 after a rush to remote work

Bill Detwiler: Drupal 9 was just earlier this year. And besides being the first major update in five years, it’s also significant because most of the final work on this release had to be done remotely and everyone was adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic and working remotely. What was that last push like and what challenges did doing the work remotely create?

Angela Byron: Yeah, it’s really fascinating because our beta came out March 20th, which was right around the time where everything was shutting down and it became clear this was, I mean, it became clear to anybody paying attention, this was a problem much before then, but that was really the point at which offices were closing, schools were closing all over the place and things were not going to go forward. Normally when we do a release like this, we had a couple of in-person events scheduled, because while the Drupal community is global and international and it’s thousands of people all over the world who work on the software. So we use a lot of remote tools. We also benefit from in-person collaboration because it allows for that kind of nuanced discussions, whiteboard things and stuff that had benefits from that.

Angela Byron, senior director of product and community development with Acquia and co-author of the O’Reilly book “Using Drupal.”
Image: Acquia

We had a couple of in-person events, one in April and one in May that where we were, this is where we’re going to like get a bunch of stuff done towards the end there. And it became very clear that was not going to happen. And so we really had to retool things and quite a bit in order to make that possible. So yeah. Yeah. Sorry.

Bill Detwiler: How did you do that? I mean, I can completely understand, expecting to have these kinds of in-person meetings where you’d be able to have those spontaneous hallway water-cooler, over lunch kind of chats or have those teams whiteboard things up. When that became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen, how did you address that?

Angela Byron: Yeah, so we were lucky in that we had already been set up in a good way to begin with and two things that I think helped tremendously were we already were doing online meetings on Slack. And the way they’re done is they’re at a set time and the topics are numbered and there’s a Slack thread that you go in. And the nice thing about the way those meetings are run is, they end up being asynchronous. So a bunch of people show up at the meeting time, but they can fill in details after the fact. So we were able to rally people around, these are the top five issues to hit and people were able to feed back on them in between and we were able to action on them pretty quickly.

The second thing we had set up in advance was sort of like a burn down chart in a way that was kind of public to everybody’s view. And like these are all the modules that need to be ported in order for Drupal 9 to ship on time. And that had already been there and so we started using that as our rallying point to say, all right, we got this done. Let’s keep checking things off here. In response to the pandemic and the forced remote-ization of everybody, specifically, one really cool thing that happened is, at a regular DrupalCon, we would have a sprint room and the sprint room was like a big ballroom with tables everywhere. And maybe this table is the media table and that table is the automated testing table and people would gather around.

We were able to replicate that by setting up in a Slack channel, which was like contrib-sprint-day or something like that. And we scheduled the sprint day at the same time, it would have been at DrupalCon, so that Friday and Saturday, and we had a global, basically, presence where we set up mentors for every single time zone in a 48-hour period who would be online in this channel and fielding questions from people. We had already pre-typed out a set of instructions for like, okay, if you want to port a module to Drupal 9, here are the steps that you need to take. Here are some steps you need to take to validate the patches that are generated in this kind of thing.

And I’d say the fourth thing we did there was, was around automation. And so I’m moving from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9 requires a couple of sometimes extensive changes, but usually just like a couple of small changes. And we leveraged a tool called PHP rector in order to automatically generate patches for these small changes and put them all over the issue queue. So we were able to eliminate a lot of human effort that would have been easy to find at a conference. You just pull random people in from the hallway. But this allowed us to say, okay, well lacking that opportunity, let’s see how much a robot can do to kind of take on some of the tedious work so the really high level cerebral work, we could just talk through it as humans.

Drupal 9

Bill Detwiler: I think that’s really interesting because we were talking a lot about this a little bit before the call, and I’ve talked to Dries about this before, because of Drupal’s very nature as this global open source project with thousands of people contributing to, you were already accustomed to working with people who weren’t geographically close to each other. And we were also talking about some of the barriers that you’ve had to overcome over the last decade and a half of developing Drupal when you do have widely a very, very, very diverse team contributing. Talk a little bit about that.

Angela Byron: Yeah. So this kind of format where we’re talking real close to each other and we’re riffing back and forth, and that kind of thing is perfect if everybody involved as a native English speaker, but if everyone involved is not a native English speaker, it puts certain people at a severe disadvantage because they can’t follow the conversation. So the two things that we’ve done is, sometimes you need a rich meeting like this to cache through a really specific problem. But two things that we’ve done is number one, we try wherever possible to have text meetings rather than video meetings. And it’s a little bit of a give and take because something I noticed as a remote employee is if I’m not present with my face in a meeting, it’s easy to forget I exist, so it’s a little bit of that.

But with everybody being remote and on the same playing field, we try to lean towards textual communication because that allows people to say copy and paste, what was said into Google translate and put it in their own language and they get a better understanding. The second rule we have is regardless of where a meeting happens, if it’s in the hallway at DrupalCon, when that happens again, or if it’s in a face to face meeting, or if it’s on Slack or wherever it is, we have a rule that’s like issue queue, or it didn’t happen.

So we make sure that any decisions that are made or the highlights of whatever conversation took place is documented in our issue tracker so that you can always go back and find that information, regardless of who was there at the time, or what happened and that kind of thing. And that rule has really helped you because it means even if the initial meeting happens in a rich format like this, that the results of that meeting and the big decisions that were made are in a format that’s more accessible to people to be able to go from there.

How to succeed as a software developer working remotely

Bill Detwiler: Now, I know you’ve been a remote worker yourself for a very long time. And so can you talk a little bit about how that experience has helped sort of form some of those best practices you’ve talked about? I mean, I’ve managed people who’ve worked remotely on my teams and you’re exactly right, I can identify with, and I’ve also worked remotely. When you’re on a conference call and you’re just on that speaker phone and you can’t hear really well and you’re like, “What was said? What did they say? Is that …” And then you try to interject. I mean, no one can…

Angela Byron: Everyone goes ah, because they completely forgot you were there.

Bill Detwiler: This embodied voice appears in the … or everyone’s looking down at the phone and the speaker phone in the middle of the conference room conference table. But talk a little bit about how your own experience as a remote worker sort of shaped some of the practices that you’ve been able to put into place to successfully manage a big project like this remotely.

Angela Byron: Yeah. So my entire Drupal career, anyway, I have worked remotely. I started in my apartment in Montreal as a Google summer of code student, and then went from there to work for a consultancy and then went from there to work for a startup and so on and so forth. So my first gig, it was like everybody was remote and that works really well because you’re all on the same playing field. If there’s not written communication, nobody knows what’s happening, so that tends to work easier. In an all remote situation, I think the key things are to have, number one, a known place like an issue tracker or a Wiki or whatever it is, but a known place where it’s like big decisions are going to be written down and you trust that everyone’s going to put them there so that no one is out of the loop and everyone knows where to find it. So a knowledge base of some kind is critical.

Number two, getting out of the text sometimes, despite what I just said about what works well for Drupal is, having these rich interactions, because the thing is, you can’t tell from a Slack conversation that somebody on your team, their cat just died or something, and they’re having a really rough day or someone’s really angry because there are protests everywhere about police brutality or whatever. And you need that kind of rich interaction with your teammates in order to kind of get more of it. In person is obviously the most rich communication, you get body language, kind of the overall vibe that someone’s giving off. But the more rich that you can make that interaction, the better off you are to see the humans in each other and I think that’s really critical.

Bill Detwiler: How do you strike that balance? Because I know that a lot of teams are having that challenge right now in that people have Zoom overload. People who’ve worked in an office and maybe haven’t worked remotely, or maybe they’ve only worked remotely one day, a week, two days a week, something like that. And now they’re doing it every day of the week. And their primary means of communication is through tools like Slack or through email or Google Hangouts, or IM, or text or whatever it is, those kinds of non-visual communication methods. And I think everybody said, well, we want to continue those rich conversations as you, as you put it so well. Those in-person meetings through Zoom, so everybody … or Meet or whatever it is you want to use. But I think that that brings its own issues with it. People now are saying after a couple months of doing this, I’m burnt out on this. I don’t want to be on another video call. Or I’ve done four video calls a day and for some reason that is more draining than actually being in an office with other people. So how do you strike that balance in your own life when you were working or, still working remotely?

Angela Byron: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really funny. It’s like conversations that just used to happen at the water cooler or at lunch or whatever now need like a dedicated 30 minute block of time and you have to like prepare yourself mentally for it and stuff. And oh, man is my apartment clean right now, all this stuff that you have to do. I think it’s a couple of different things that has worked well for, for my team. So number one, we make sure we have two days a week that are meeting free. So we have check-ins Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So if you need anything, you’ve got the opportunity to braise it and that kind of thing. We use asynchronous status updates in between. So just on Slack, we use a thing called Geek Bot, which prompts you for, what did you do since yesterday? What are you doing next? And where are you blocked?

It also asks, how are you feeling? Which I think is really good because then it allows you to kind of get a heads up like, Hey, so and so’s not doing well. I should like pull them aside and kind of see how they’re faring. So that’s one thing. Another thing is, I think a lot of the impetus to try to have all these meetings is because people don’t feel like they have the opportunity to have those more social interactions. So we’ve taken the opportunity to like deliberately schedule those. So I found, and this was way before COVID happened. I had a remote team, I found they were burning themselves out. They’re working all weekends and they were just like, it was becoming a slog. And so we set up a call every Monday morning.

It’s optional, because not everyone loves those, but it’s optional and it’s called Awesome Weekend Stories. And the goal of the call is to make people show up and have something to report that they did that was awesome on the weekend. And it’s so to provide like some light social pressure to get people to actually think about something other than work over the weekend. And those have been really cool because it’s allowed me to learn, like one of my coworkers is a pilot, in their spare time. And like another is like a world class table tennis player. It’s just like, what! You find all these cool things. And I think that takes some pressure off too, because then when you get to the working meetings, it’s like, we need a meeting because we need to work. We’re done. Okay. Now let’s go back to what we were doing.

So I think it’s kind of a mix. And when you don’t have those interactions, it’s tricky. The other thing I try and do is buffer like a three or four minute, and it’s not actually scheduled, but three or four minutes at the beginning of any call would be like, Hey, how’s everything going? And kind of get the feel of the room as well. But yeah, what I try to do is deliberately not over-schedule meetings. I try to, if it’s a meeting that could have been an email, it’s keeping in email and if it’s a meeting, that’s got to be a meeting, let’s do it. But let’s respect everybody’s time, keep it short, but still check in on the human element.

Best practices for managing software development teams that work remotely

Bill Detwiler : As someone who’s had a foot in both sides of the equation, as someone who’s managed remote teams and as someone who’s been and is still a remote worker. How do you keep those kinds of interactions, like you mentioned where it’s like, Hey, what did you do today? Or tell me what happened since yesterday? How do you keep those interactions from being seen as a, prove to me that you’re working when I can’t see you? Because I think that’s a lot of the concern that people who haven’t managed remote teams before, or haven’t been a remote worker themselves worry about. Is it that like, Oh, if I can’t physically see or track what my team is doing that, how do I know they’re doing anything? Or maybe even if you know, have ways to sort of track sort of the ROI and see them hitting their deadlines and meeting what they need to do. You worry about them kind of doing it the right way because you can’t be there to sort of see how they’re doing it. Or you don’t think other team members are there for them to ask questions. Maybe that’s a nonissue for a lot of folks who already communicate digitally, but I know that’s a concern that I hear from some managers that suddenly you’re thrown into a remote working environment.

Angela Byron: Yeah. Well, my first tip is hire people that you trust to get their stuff done. That’s my first tip. If you’re hiring people that you have to supremely micromanage in order to trust they’re going to get stuff done, you’re going to have a bad time because there are ways to instrument everything and track how many people are committing to GitHub and track how many people are logging into this, that and the other system. And I find that level of oversight is both annoying to do as a manager, frankly, and also super oppressive to have to deal with as an employee. So what I try and do instead is, at the beginning of the week, when we’re talking on our kind of kickoff call with the team, set out what are the goals that we need to achieve.

A lot of people use sprints for this. We need to get the following things done and then having check-in points throughout so that if someone gets stuck, there’s a way to get unstuck. I care a lot less about whether my team member is working exactly 40 hours per week. What I care about is we’re dependent on you to get this thing done by Wednesday, did that happen or did it not? And if it didn’t happen, did you feel safe raising, Hey, this isn’t going to happen in time because I’m blocked on this so we can come in and help you. And so as a manager, what I try to do is create that psychological safety where it’s like, listen, stuff’s going to come up. That happens. I don’t worry too much about like what you’re getting accomplished by them, but I need transparency.

So if something happens … As a manager, one thing I do to help facilitate that is I bring up, we have a status update. I’m like, you know what, I didn’t concentrate on anything all day because I’m trying to homeschool my seven year old and it’s subtraction with regrouping and it’s not going well or whatever. But setting the example from the top that it’s like, we’re humans and we’re going to have good days. We’re going to bad days, but we’re all driving towards a specific goal. I also try to set the example and I needed to be better about this. I’ve asking for help, showing that it’s okay to ask for help if you can’t get things done. And other people feeling free to jump in, if they see a teammate struggling. But if your situation is that you really care a lot about people logging the time that you’re paying them for, there are tools out there to do that kind of stuff, but I would urge you to pull it up a level.

You know, you want them working 40 hours a week, fine, but what’s the outcome that you’re really aiming to achieve and make sure those things are happening because those things might be happening with the person only pulling six hours a day, or they might be happening by a person pulling 20 hours over a weekend and then a couple of days off or whatever. But the main thing is, look at that outcome that you’re after and really focus on that piece and that kind of thing. But that said, we did have a situation with one of our employees. It was like, it was like a perfect storm of they joined the team the day that all of the schools closed because of COVID and have a two year old running around.

And we were operating under the assumption that it’s like, Oh, we’ve got a senior designer on our team. This is great. Here’s a bunch of work for you. Hope it goes well, kind of thing. And that was not a good situation at all for someone to onboard. And I don’t think it was clear to us until later that that had happened. So I just want to, if I went back to do that again, it’s like frequent check-ins with people, making sure that … A lot of things that we’ll do in our team is also pairing. So get two people working together on the same issue because that way they can help each other out. And then it also helps your … some people call it a bus factor, but I prefer a vacation factor where if someone goes on vacation, there’s someone else who knows everything that they know.

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Bill Detwiler: I think that that’s really important too, in that, is there a skill set that you find lends itself well to working remotely or are those skills that can be trained? So if you’re a hiring manager and you know that you have a position that’s remote, is there a certain skill set that you look for in that person, previous experience working remotely, or really in your experience having done this for a decade or more, does that not really matter, that anyone can be a good remote worker, if they have the right tools, if they have the right skills and they have the right tools.

Angela Byron: I think it definitely comes easier to some people than others. So I don’t want to say some people could never be a good remote employee, but I do think that there are a set of skills that lend themselves better or worse, depending how it is. If you’re extremely extroverted and you feed off the energy of in-person interactions, you’re going to struggle a lot. And a lot of people are right now, struggling with, I need that. Like I need the perky person at the office who cheers me up every day, that kind of thing and getting it over kind of a tin can thing is not the same. I think the people who do better with remote work are people who are self driven. So, they’re not just sitting around waiting to be told what to do. They’re taking initiative and finding things that need help and they jump in and they do it.

The second thing is they overly communicate. Remember that to everyone in the office, you are some disembodied voice on the other end of a conference call. You need to be funny. You need to be smart. You need to like show those talents that you have because you need to work twice or three times as hard to be as present in the room as everybody else around you, which is unfortunate, but that is kind of how it is. It’s actually been interesting with COVID because all of our meetings now, normally be a bunch of people in Boston yakking at the front of the room and now they all have name tags because they’re all little boxes on the screen. I love it. But anyway, it’s just little things like that.

So overly communicative jumping in and owning it. I think those are two of the big things. And again, that humility, that ability to ask for help when it’s needed. I think the people who fare the least well in remote work are people who get stuck, do not communicate about the fact that they’re stuck, are scared to ask for help because they don’t want to … they feel like they’re going to get yelled at, and then they fall off the grid. And then it creates a really bad situation when you’re like, okay, where did that person go? We need their help because you really need to be present and out there.

Mistakes to avoid as a developer who works remotely

Bill Detwiler: What are some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve seen people new to remote work make?

Angela Byron: It’s funny. I make most of them, I think.

Bill Detwiler: I mean, I think we all have, and that’s what’s great about it because you can point to things and say, yeah, I’ve done that too.

Angela Byron: It’s funny because when this all started happening, you’d see those articles that are like, well make sure to keep a morning routine and you should get up at a set time every day and you should eat breakfast, brush your teeth and get dressed and do your makeup every morning and get on a call, all businesslike. And I’m like, yeah, I don’t do any of that. I wake up about 10 minutes before my first phone call. I mean, granted, my company is like an Eastern time. So it’s like, sometimes those calls are at six in the morning and I’m not getting up at 5:30… But biggest mistake or sorry, the question was-

Bill Detwiler: What are some of those biggest mistakes that people new to remote work, that they make?

Angela Byron: Yeah. I think the falling off the grid is a big one and not wanting to appear stupid is a big one. I ran into this when I was a Google Summer of Code student, because I got selected for Google Summer of Code. I was like, Whoa, that’s crazy and then didn’t know what I was doing because I had never used Drupal before and it’s not super easy to learn when you’re brand new. And I was like, well, they think I’m smart so I can’t ask for help or they’ll think I’m stupid. And I sat there bashing my face against a table for three days over something I could have asked help for in like 20 minutes and gotten it wrapped up. So I think that’s a thing, especially if you’re starting at a company in this environment. Normally you start at a company, there’s the, here’s where we keep the snacks and here’s the people you’re working with and it’s not the same. My brother just had to start at a university and he hasn’t met any of his coworkers yet because it’s all been online interactions.

Bill Detwiler: Is it incumbent on the manager or the other team members to almost, like you said to over help, I guess, to make it known for people who are working remotely that like, Hey look, you need anything today? Is there anything I can kind of help you with? Or to let them know that it’s okay to over-communicate because I guess that having worked remotely and having worked in an office, those are the kinds of conversations that are really easy to have in an office setting because you just poke your head up over the cubicle and go, Hey, where’s the reposit? How do you do this? What method is, what’s this? How did you define this? Okay, sure, and go on. But when you work remote and you’re staring at a screen and you’re, I’m going to have to type this in Slack, I’m going to be there forever. Do I really want to … I think that really, it’s almost like you said, you have to overdo it on things like that.

Angela Byron: Yeah. So as a manager, the way we’ve set this up is making sure there are release valves for those kinds of situations. So one release valve is daily stand ups that are asynchronous over Geek Bot. There’s your first opportunity to say I’m blocked on something, help me out, et cetera, because we specifically ask you if you’re blocked on something, if you need it. We have richer in-person sync ups three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And that’s where we go round as a team and we raise like, this thing came up and I could really use your input and we hash it out and then we are done with it. It’s also the opportunity to say I’m having a bad time in a way that is not archived forever for everyone to see.

And then I think the third way is by tracking the work that does get done and seeing trends over time and things like that, being able to tell, Oh, Hey, so and so’s having a rough week, what’s up with that. And being able to proactively have those conversations, but I don’t think like, I feel like if you’re repeatedly poking someone and being like, Hey, you, Hey, you were having, that just puts a lot of pressure on them. So I would not recommend that approach. What I recommend is, again, when we were having this issue with this new designer that joined our team, that was having a little bit of struggles coming onto the team because it was all these conflation of issues. I kind of said to myself, I’d probably need to take this person aside and talk to them, but I don’t want them to feel singled out. So what I did is I said, I’m just going to take all of you aside individually and talk to you about how COVID is affecting you.

What kind of accommodations you might need and this kind of thing and it ended up being like a really productive conversation with everybody on the team, even the people who had been on the team for months and weren’t having any problems. You found out like, yeah, my 18-year old step-kid is going to be graduating in a driveway this year instead of like normal situations. And so we kind of turned it from this problem or not a problem, but just like a situation where we were like concerned here and we’re able to turn it into something that was beneficial for the whole team.

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Bill Detwiler: As a manager too, how do you, being remote puts extra, just requires a lot of extra time in terms of having one-on-ones being on video calls more than maybe you would. We’ve talked about that. What do you find yourself doing maybe more with a remote team that maybe you wouldn’t do in an office and how do you do that? I mean, how does it work best for you?

Angela Byron Remote teams that you don’t do in an office?

Bill Detwiler: I mean, I’m just thinking about, as a manager, right? When you check in, how much time of your day in any given day is sort of spent with video calls versus maybe spent in text via Slack or is spent on working in another tool or is what that conversation that you had on the phone. So it’s kind of this gamut, this continuum of communication. You’ve got a quick IM, you’ve got something, an email, you’ve got a collaboration tool, like Slack or Teams or whatever you’re going to use. And then you’ve got a phone call and then you have a video chat like this. I mean, I know with my boss, he and I have always had just a phone call because we like to walk when we’re having that weekly hour long one-on-one strategy session. And I’ll do that, but some people prefer video calls. They find that more productive or more engaging or for some meetings, we do as stand-ups, we’ll do the Brady Bunch. Everybody is squares across the screen. And then I feel horrible because it’s my team. Everyone’s screen is different in terms of where they are. So I have to call on people. So I’m like, how so and so? And I’ve asked, is there another way to do that? They’re like, no, there’s-

Angela Byron: Yeah. Sadly.

Bill Detwiler: What are those things like that that you found have worked well for you?

Angela Byron: Yeah. Well, like I think you’ve touched on one, which is that every person has different communication preferences. Like for me, if you send me an email, it goes into a bucket with 27,000 other unread emails and unless someone like pings me on Slack, I probably will get to that at some point. So as a manager, the first thing that I’ve done is go around to each team member, find out how they prefer to communicate. I got some programmers that are like, please do not schedule me in meetings, leave me alone. I need to focus and have unbroken concentration. And so for them we set up the two meeting free days. And when I need something from them, I ping them about it in Slack, but I don’t add them. So it doesn’t like ping them in their face, that kind of thing.

Others really need the in-person interaction. I benefit from that a lot. I benefit a lot from like body doubling or there’s another person there. And I just verbal processing as I’m like, what, I don’t even know how they, Oh, this is how it works. Okay, thanks. It’s just like rubber ducking and then it’s solved and you’re off the phone. So, I think that’s number one is finding out from your team. Obviously this isn’t scalable for team is like a million people, but for my company’s team, I get to know. And even in the Drupal community where there’s thousands of contributors, the key few people that I have to interact with all the time, I do find out what their best communication style is. So that’s one access through which this is worked out.

I think the other one is, there’s like a continuum where text based asynchronous communication is here and in-person interaction is here and then other communication things fall along that continuum. So like email is for, I have a lot of thoughts to get out and it’s going to take time for people to get back to me. And so I want them to have time to process it. So you send it that way and maybe a Slack ping about it, if you want. A quick back and forth might be Slack because it’s like super quick and you just need a little answer about something. If it’s something that needs more rich communication, for example, if it was ever a personnel issue or anything like that, that would definitely be on this side of the spectrum. It’d be in person, if I could possibly do it, otherwise video conference, if not. And definitely not recorded or anything like that. And then there’s other things kind of in the middle.

I spent a lot of time in the Drupal community, like on things like the community working group and trying to keep the peace. When you have 2 million users from all over the world of different genders, religions, political affiliations, everything else, it can get fun. And the richer you can make the communication, the better off you are because you can see things like body language and tone of voice and things like that, that you can’t get through the textual written communication. So if it’s more factual and informative, it goes over here because then it’s archived for longterm. But the more personal and or heated it gets, the more we’re over here. But again, always having that sort of archive of the high points of what happened so that people could go back and reference it.

How to help remote workers feel connected

Bill Detwiler: What about the more esoteric kind of challenge of helping remote workers feel connected to each other? How do you manage that? We’ve talked a lot about being a remote worker and we’ve talked about managing remote workers and that kind of one to one communication, but you’ve also got team members that may be used to sit next to each other and now they’re not, so they don’t feel connected. Or maybe you have a team that’s spread out around the world from the very get go. And so, as you said, you’ve got a very diverse set of backgrounds and beliefs and maybe even languages. How do you work to build or keep that sound of aspire decor, the sense of connection to each other?

Angela Byron: Yeah. Acquia has gone about this in a few different ways. So I mentioned earlier the Awesome Weekend Stories call on Mondays that we’ve kept that up and that’s been really fun. We also have a Slack channel, like the random Slack channel where people post pictures of their kids or like random facts they read on the internet or whatever and that keeps some of that going. Acquia has also set up like a life at Acquia calendar during this COVID period. And so people can put things there, like coffee chats with their coworkers. There’s a weekly, let’s all get on the internet and play a Jackbox game together, a trivia or that kind of thing. But I think it definitely has to be deliberate because humans are social animals. If you keep work, all work 100% of the time, you’re going to alienate people, especially people who kind of depend on that human connection through their coworkers to kind of feel that connection with the larger company and the larger efforts that you’re working on.

So we sort of do a mix of that. In non-COVID times, we also do periodic, like on-sites get everybody together in person and then do like a cooking class together, that kind of thing. But in absence of that in this world where we’re all working remotely, I think the answer is like to deliberately set up those times. We just closed the oldest bug in our queue. You know, it was like 11 years old or something, I don’t remember how old it was. And so we set up a big zoom meeting where everybody got a drink of choice and we all cheers at the same time. So I think looking, like kind of actively seeking out those opportunities for connection. And then unfortunately you do need to schedule something and put it in people’s calendars or they don’t know about it, but, but that’s kind of how we’ve gone about it is, is kind of deliberately seeking those opportunities for social interaction and aiming to facilitate them both in a prescheduled and also just like an esoteric, like post here’s something funny, like here’s a meme channel. You can just post things that make you laugh, that kind of stuff.

SEE: 3 ways to help your team stay connected while WFH (TechRepublic)

Getting remote work right: Lessons Acquia had learned

Bill Detwiler: So, we’re all in the midst of the pandemic right now. And people are thinking about what the new normal looks like when they go back to work or whether they continue to work remotely. It’s not for, from your perspective, since you work remotely and manage a remote team, it’s not like you’re probably suddenly going to start going into the Acquia offices. But for people who may be kind of thinking about that, or maybe thinking about, or for companies that are thinking about, do I, should I keep people working remotely, maybe more, not everyone, but more than I had in the past. What would you tell those companies as they look for, how do we do it the right way. We’ve had this period of three months, now we don’t know whether we want to kind of continue this on a limited basis or whether it makes sense to bring everyone back. What would be your advice?

Angela Byron: You know, given that the consequence is deadly, I would say go at it very slowly, probably be a laggard in that regard. I think Boston really lifted restrictions off office space on, I want to say June 1st or something. And I think Acquia is going to look into that maybe the end of July or something like that at the earliest. So, that’s the number one is like, don’t put pressure on people to get back to normal life just lickety split. A lot of people have a lot of different life factors. They may have immunocompromised situations either with themselves or loved ones. They may have older relatives that they’re living with, that kind of thing. And so I think the number one thing is to be understanding and flexible with everybody’s different life situation and to make that happen.

I think the other thing I would recommend is like, remember how it felt, because we all have been remote now. And I would love to see going forward that we remembered to do things like, “Hi, I’m Bill and I’m the CTO of the whatever thing.”, before you start talking, rather than just assuming everyone that you can see with your eyeballs knows exactly who you are. I think what you will see broadly, I suspect is, you may see people moving away from the office. I have a friend who works as a comptroller for a retail company and she’s like, “I haven’t had to go to the office at all. Someone goes in there to check the mail once a week, that’s it.” You know what I mean? And it’s like, yeah. So I think going forward, what I would love to see is more flexibility and people given the option. Some people really thrive in a remote environment. I go to the office and I get nothing done all day because people are talking to me, which is great. I love talking to people. But then I go back to my hotel room and work until midnight to get my actual job done.

Other people cannot stand this, they need the cross office chatter. They need the water cooler and the snacks. And they need like the overhearing of conversations and things like that. So I would love to see us move into a world where we acknowledge that both of those are valid and valuable ways of working, that we don’t pressure people one way or the other on which one they choose to do. And we’re all mindful of what it was like when everybody was on that same playing field. And we make sure to be cognizant of like, Oh, that thing we just talked about at lunch, we actually should write that up in the knowledge base so everyone else knows about it and that kind of thing. So those would be my recommendations.

Bill Detwiler: Well, Angie, I certainly appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule and being deliberate about talking to us. Where can people go to get the latest Drupal release and learn about what’s in it?

Angela Byron: Sure. Yeah. So the latest Drupal release, you can find on drupal.org. And since that’s a weird word, I can spell that, which is D-R-U-P-A-L.org. And the reason you might want to do that is Drupal is kind of this cool project that’s halfway between a content management system and halfway between a headless decoupled content management framework where it can do kind of either one. And so people use it because they want media, they want layout page design. They want the ability to do decoupled or mobile applications built off of a static backend that’s got access control and decoupled content types and entities and fields that are specific in this kind of thing. So yeah, I would urge you to check it out if you want. It’s really fun.

I like to say that programs like WordPress and Squarespace and stuff like that are perfect, if you know exactly what you want and what you want is a blog or a static website. Drupal is great, if you don’t know what you want and you maybe want your blog to also have an eCommerce platform attached to it, or also a forum or you want it to power the kiosk in front of this mall or something like that. It’s pretty cool. It’s a project. So yeah. drupal.org, acquia.com is the company I work for that also was hard to pronounce and stuff. So that’s A-C-Q-U-I-A.com. It sells services, hosting, that kind of thing around Drupal. And then my personal website is, webchick.net, which is easier to spell. So anyway, but again, thank you so much for having me on. It’s been great to talk to you.

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