How to Create a Mainstream Work Remote Culture

How to Create a Mainstream Work Remote Culture

May 19, 2020

GitLab Head of Remote Darren Murph maps out the future of a new normal; as more people engage in remote work, companies face the challenge of creating a cohesive company culture within a dispersed paradigm.

By Darren Murph

As markets around the region gradually ease restrictions, companies forced into a coronavirus-induced shift toward remote work are now in a position to evolve their DNA and make a more permanent transition.

Remote work is becoming mainstream. In May, the Singapore Government encouraged employers to enable remote work beyond the country’s partial lockdown. Twitter has committed to a more permanent transition, telling its employees that they are now allowed to work from home beyond the pandemic.

Other tech giants like Google and Microsoft have also broadened their work from home measures for the near future.

GitLab’s 2020 Global Remote Work Report found that an overwhelming majority of respondents believe that remote work is the future, but it’s also the present. 84% of those surveyed are able to accomplish all of their tasks remotely right now.

Additionally, 90% of respondents feel they are already set up for remote work, saying they have the right tools and processes and they are provided with autonomy from their company leadership team.

As the new normal will mean more and more people working remotely, companies face a new challenge in creating or transitioning a company culture and a team-centric environment.

A company’s culture boils down to values and how they’re instilled in each team member, each process, and the way the organisation communicates. When the company leadership is committed to remote-only or remote-first, the company’s values should be openly and transparently discussed right from the start of the hiring process, as candidates will need to understand and fully embrace them in order to be successful.

GitLab is an all-remote company that allows people to work from almost anywhere in the world. All-remote organisations empower team members to work in settings that allow them to balance their personal and professional lives.

A completely remote environment allows organisations to retain team members as they move to be closer to parents, travel the world, or follow their significant other if they have a job transfer. People don’t have to choose between their happiness and their career.

GitLab’s core values are collaboration, transparency, and iteration, and they stem from a firm belief that every team member can contribute, participate and should be made privy to the decisions made by the leadership team.

Due to our all-remote nature, we are committed to full transparency and documentation. Every line of communication such as meeting notes and project status updates are shared with the entire team, so the global team work from a single source of truth.

A company moving from a traditional, on-site workforce will need to adapt to maintain its company culture for a remote team.

Building a culture for a distributed team is hard, and requires intentionality. One of the biggest mistakes remote team leaders make is trying to create an exact replica of the in-office experience and culture, virtually. Often, in-office teams build a company culture that has been shaped over time by a series of random interactions and ideas — which isn’t necessarily the optimal approach.

Remote teams need to be much more deliberate about how they communicate informally with one another to help establish a company culture.

While remote teams lack the shared physical space and water cooler chit chat that typically decide the culture of an in-office team, having the company values written down and consistently reinforced by the leadership team can start to create culture, no matter where your team members are.

A remote team has the opportunity to be more intentional about how team members interact and build relationships.

GitLab formalises informal communication through scheduled social calls that are specifically designed to help team members meet and interact virtually without an agenda, and as part of every GitLabber’s onboarding process they are encouraged to set up virtual coffee chats and 1:1s with others at the company.

We also are firm believers in not removing the “human” aspect of work. Those that are new to working remotely might be inclined to view children or pets interrupting video conference calls as a mistake. At GitLab, we believe in embracing these interactions as a way to help get to know one another. For example, we use juice box chats as a way for teams to use their Zoom accounts for kids to converse, play, and bond with each other across oceans and time zones. It helps allow us to meet and socialize intentionally and informally.

Companies new to remote work can struggle with ensuring employees achieve work-life balance.
Company values play a strong role here. For example, we strongly believe in results over hours spent working, asynchronous communication and having the flexibility to work a non-linear workday if that’s what makes you most productive. Establishing these values are ingrained in every team member, from top to bottom, can help address the challenges many face when starting to work remotely.

The key to a successful company culture is all about intentionality. Building a culture remotely isn’t any more difficult than building culture in a co-located setting, it just requires a more strategic approach.

Our day-to-day behaviours, meetings, and communication styles reflect our values and build company culture. When onboarding new employees, we pull them right into our company culture through those practices. While co-located culture can be based on who’s the biggest charisma or the loudest voice in the room, our onboarding and all-remote philosophy allow new employees to feel comfortable and adapt to our culture by making their voices heard in a unique way.

Additionally, to ensure new remote hires are integrated into the company culture, our onboarding tasks include getting set up on Slack and scheduling Zoom calls with new team members to ensure social connections. It is also highly important to have an onboarding buddy who can provide guidance and perspective throughout the transition.

The future of work is remote, and to prepare for the next phase of work, companies must consider remote work an essential part of their workforce proposition, not just a nice-to-have.

As technology continues to improve how we communicate and how businesses operate across the globe, the need for brick-and-mortar offices and consistent, on-site attendance will continue to decrease. Remote work is here to stay, and we are already starting to see use cases multiply.

Leadership of remote teams will require a greater level of transparency, openness to feedback, and swapping command and control for servant-leadership.

(Ed. GitLab Head of Remote Darren Murph says he works at the intersection of culture, process, hiring, employer branding, marketing, and communication. Funfact is Murph holds the Guinness World Record as the planet’s most prolific professional blogger. GitLab is a DevOps platform built from the ground up as a single application for all stages of the DevOps lifecycle enabling Product, Development, QA, Security, and Operations teams to work concurrently on the same project.)

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