185: Building a great remote team, helping clients & giving back

The European Acquia Global Support team had an onsite week in Reading the week after Drupal Camp London 2015. I got the chance to see a number of them there and sit down with two of my friends from "Supporta!"–Daniel Blomqvist and Henk Beld. We talked about remote teams and helping others succeed with Drupal, while also paying it back/forward by sharing and teaching what they learn and what they know.

Making a global team a team

Daniel and Henk shared some of the things they do and use on a daily basis to keep a "follow the sun" support team happy, helpful, and productive.

  • Wake-up meetings – Henk explained the European team has a wake-up meeting with the Australian team, who can pass on any news, open tickets. or problems. About six hours later, the European team "wakes up" their colleagues on the US East Coast (the Boston office and remotes), who in turn had off to US West Coast (the Portland office and remotes), who finish their day with a wake-up meeting with the Australian team members.
  • "We are problem solvers" – "We're such a tight team," explains Henk, "because we're problem solvers. I really believe if you have to solve problems, you have to rely on each other."
  • "Solid onboarding" and training – Daniel was preparing for a full week of helping a new team member to get up to speed. "We do quite solid onboarding as well. Next week I will be meeting our newest addition. At the same time, she will meet with Amy Q, from the Supporta training team every afternoon together with me."
  • Lots of communication on lots of channels – The team members are in touch with each other all day. The European support team does daily audio-visual hangouts and Daniel tries to keep one open all the time in case someone needs to find and speak with him. There is also a dedicated company-internal chat room for the Global Support team. Henk points out that if there's a problem, team members will open a hangout dedicated to that specific situation and that getting on a voice/video channel saves time and confusion compared to endless text communication in email or otherwise. "Anyone who works with customer support of any sort also knows that a 5-minute call from time to time with a customer can take away a lot of pain and a lot of stress," add Daniel.
  • The backchannel ... Just like the Four Kitchens teams, Acquia Global Support team members have a specified context and tool for letting off steam, off-work topics, telling jokes, and building their teams outside of the job. They use a Telegram chat room for this.
  • Meet. In. Person. Regularly. – Get to know each other. Face to face relationships help later remote ones enormously, as shown by the success of the Drupal community itself, which holds around 100 conference-style events a year and countless meetups. The European Supporta! team has quarterly all-hands onsite meetings that last a week and are help in Acquia's Reading offices.

Related posts on Acquia.com

  1. 10 Tips for Success as a Remote Employee – blog post by Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire
  2. Working on Remote Teams – the Developers – Acquia Podcast 182 with Four Kitchens developers Taylor Smith and Matt Grill
  3. Helping Remote Teams Work - The Manager – Acquia Podcast 180 with Elia Albarran, Four Kitchens Operations Manager
  4. Building a great remote team, helping clients & giving back - Acquia Podcast 193 with Acquia Global Support team members Daniel Blomqvist and Henk Beld

Paying it forward the open source way

Henk talks about how the team handles common, hard, or repeated issues, "The beautiful thing is that if a recurring issue happens, there's always somebody stepping in and writing some manual or doing a short training video on that so we're up to speed quite quickly."

Daniel continues, moving into how Acquia Support makes a difference both to Acquia's clients and the whole Drupal community: "It may begin as a critical issue for a customer, that leads to a Support Leadership escalation that then becomes a very long documentation on how we solve this. This goes to a Support initiative to actually write something about it that goes back to our Acquia documentation that then becomes public-facing. At that point–which might take a year or a week, depending on the issue–the entire Support crew will probably know about this. And we will have both internal-facing as well as external-facing documentation on it."

I like how the team is open and transparent in how it helps Acquia's customers. Seems to be a strong proof point to me that openness and good business go hand in hand. When Henk solves customer problems, he explains, "With some of the customers, I tell them: I see the problem. I started with this. Now I did this, then I did that, then that. And this is how I solved it. The customer [is thrilled] and the next time we don't get a ticket for that. With a closed environment you can't do that. You just send a bill and say 'We fixed it.'"

Drupal gets better thanks to everyone's contributions. Daniel talks about solving problems for customers and then making sure the fix makes it back onto Drupal.org to improve the codebase. "We engage. We track down the issue. We write some code. We can commit that as a patch. And it can become a part of the module in Drupal. This the customer issue has become an issue that's now open for everyone. We're really giving back."

Guest dossier

Interview video