Heroku Remote Culture with Francis Lacoste AMA

Hi Francis, thank you so much for doing this.

As part of the Hacker Noon team, I’m working remotely (in Hanoi, Vietnam) as well. Just a few questions about remote work:

  1. I’d like to know your ways of motivating and adjusting yourself to work.

  2. Have you faced any troubles trying to communicate with your team members, or has anyone in your team had trouble trying to communicate their issues before? If yes, what do you think is the best solution?

  3. Do you think remote work is better than office work?

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Interesting question @daniel-murphy!

There are probably many aspects, top of my head I’d go with:

  • You want to build a remote-first organization.
  • You want to tap into a wider pool of talent.
  • You have trouble hiring talent locally because you are in a very competitive market (i.e. Bay Area)
  • You are already running a distributed organization with teams spread across multiple offices.

That list is far from exhaustive, but that should give you an idea.

Cheers,

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What are some automation tools that you cannot live without?

@flacoste related to your answer.

How does the hiring process of remote workers exactly work on Heroku? Where do you find remote workers?

Hi @kien!

Well, I’m motivated by the nature of the work. In other words, tapping in the intrinsic motivation of the work is the best motivator.

Oh yes, that happens all the time. And I’d argue it happens even if you aren’t remote. The best solution is investing in building real relationships with the people you work with, so that you have open line of communications, know them, and build the trust and vulnerability necessary for honest communication. That is true whether you are remote or not. You have to be more deliberate about it remotely though. We encourage people on the same team to have 1:1 with each other, not only with their manager for example.

No. It all depends on context… that said, I wouldn’t work in an office again :slight_smile:

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How does the hiring process of remote workers exactly work on Heroku? Where do you find remote workers?

Francis I’ve been remote working since the 4800 baud modem :smiley: in all seriousness since 1997 for about 75% of the time. What are the top 3 things you find most difficult for those new to remote work to adjust to and likewise for management to adjust to?

Hi @community_nick!

When I started working remotely, we used email, Skype (without group videos) and IRC, so we shouldn’t fuss too much about the tools. But it’s true that now this makes it so much easier.

I personally love Zoom which gives a much better experience especially for >4 people meetings, and has a nice break-out functionality which enables the use of more traditional in-person facilitation patterns.

I’m still looking for a decent whiteboard replacement. That space sucked for a long time, but there are many new possibilities there, none of which I’ve really tried. Heard good things about mural.co, and Miro.

Some wiki-type or knowledge organisation tools can be useful too.

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Hi @andy-connory!

When I started at Heroku (which was a YCombinator company), they told me that initially weren’t remote because they discouraged that strongly. Not sure if that’s common or not, but I could see that as a challenge in the Bay Area bubble. Taking a leap here my best suggestion would be to look for VCs outside of the bubble, and that get the power of remote.

Cheers,

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Hi @gregory!

I-am-not-a-lawyer™ so won’t give you any advice here :slight_smile:!

My feeling though is that would be establishing oneself on shaky ground…

Cheers,

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Hi @jack-maccourtney,

That’s a real problem. The wider the time zone differences, the harder it is to truly collaborate. You end up with people working by themselves or with the need to do hand-offs. Ideally, you want to ensure that your unit of collaboration has at least 4 hours of overlap, which gives you plenty of windows for synchronous communications. And then organize these units so that they have clear boundaries where they need to interface.

Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby’s book From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver has a lot of good recommendations regarding that question.

Cheers,

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Hi @lewis,

For this, nothing beats getting the team together in physical space. That’s a boost to building the necessary rapport. And it’s not a one-time thing, you need to do that on a regular basis (at least 2-3 times a year).

Cheers,

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Hi @grennan-hack,

Interesting question, but I have limited visibility here, so I don’t know :man_shrugging:.

Cheers,

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Hi @daria,

This is a very important question! It turns out that one of Salesforce’s core value is Equality. This means that the company invests a lot in Diversity and Inclusion training. And a lot of what you learn there actually helps a lot in a remote environment. In a distributed environment, you need to be very intentional about communication. So we also invest in learning to listen, ask questions from a place of curiosity, work on recognizing our biases and assumptions, and challenging them.

It’s hard work, often uncomfortable, but definitely worth it (especially, as these skills have application outside of work too).

Cheers,

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Hi Francis, thanks so much for doing this AMA! This isn’t necessarily related to Heroku’s remote practices, but more of a big picture question about Heroku’s tech future. I hope you’ll still answer it! (It is an Ask Me Anything, after all. :wink:)

The rise of serverless has caught a lot of people by surprise (at least, I was surprised). This is coming at a time when frontend-heavy frameworks are all the rage, and full-on servers are relegated to the role of API, or at best, SSR dummy.

I mention this because when I started using Heroku, about 10 years ago, it was very server-centric, and very Rails-centric. This leads me to my question:

What can you tell me about your plans for the potential of a serverless, frontend-heavy future? How does Heroku not only survive, but thrive, in an ecosystem where a fully configurable backend is neither necessary nor desired?

P.S. I don’t mean to bash Heroku with this admittedly pointed question. I love Heroku – it’s how I got started as a developer! And I’d like to see Heroku thrive well into the '20s, '30s, and beyond.

Best regards, and thanks again!
Austin

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Hi @David!

That is awesome! I wouldn’t say we are that metrics-driven culture here, but if we were, I don’t think it would change because we are in a remote environment. You probably have a dashboard where people can track these metrics already, and you use it to drive your meetings. That translate very well, even if you are on Meet or Zoom call.

Well, being remote is a perk in itself! After that, you want to make sure that if you have perks for your office-folks, remote folks get something equivalent. One example of this is when the SF office was having a party, we offered remote employees to expense a meal with their family or friend. Other examples of things we offer remote employees here: headphones perk, home-office perk, or home-Internet expenses.

Cheers,

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Hi - I thought I would jump in on this one. I’m Jennifer and I manage the Code[ish] podcast. Code[ish] was an idea from our developer advocacy team. At Heroku we are developers at heart and wanted a forum to be able to communicate to other developers - and thus the notion of doing a podcast was formed. We named it Code[ish] because it’s about coding (mostly). If you have any comments or suggestions I’d love to hear them.

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Hi @dora,

I joined post-acquisition, and that’s when Heroku switched strategy to put more emphasis on remote hiring. That wasn’t without its challenges, as Salesforce while remote friendly (Ohana@Home is the second largest Hub) is still mainly focused on physical “hubs”. It’s huge, which means that a lot of teams are distributed (working from different offices) and people working from home part time. And there have been shenanigans over time depending on where Heroku sat in the org chart - as policies regarding travel will differ. But there was also a lot of alignment points between the Heroku and Salesforce culture, which means that we are able to have a positive influence on the wider remote culture.

Cheers,

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Hi @at_martin,

Yes, there are definitive challenges being a remote leaders, especially, if you are working with non-remote leaders. That usually means more travel to build relationships in the environment they know, so that you have trust when you are not there.

When Heroku started going more remote, we did a “Remote week” where everyone worked from home and challenge. That helped build empathy for the experience. I’d also suggest that if you want to have a strong remote culture, you need to have a leader who is remote themselve, so that the leadership team can take that perspective in.

Cheers,

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Hi @Dane,

That’s a tricky question with a lot of assumptions. When I started at Canonical, I wanted to do everything asynchronously. The thought of talking on a call with someone to solve a problem seemed just a waste of time. Over the years though, after seeing many discussions taking days over email threads (or PRs, or document’s comments) without resolution, and where people talk past each others, I’ve come to see the value of synchronous communication.

Not everything needs to be synchronous - show and tells, broadcast communication, etc., that can all happen recorded in the manner you suggest. And that works. But don’t underestimate what you’ll get out of a “whiteboarding” session or design discussion. So make sure to ensure that you have sufficient overlap between your team members for when you do need synchronous communication. Plus, it’s impossible to build rapport without face-to-face communication (and some would argue face-to-face in physical space). My experience is that you can go a long way with 1:1 video, but not sure how widespread that is.

Cheers,

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