DARREN MURPH is the Head of Remote at GitLab – an all remote software-collaboration company that has now grown to over 1,300 staffers in more than 65 countries with no owned offices. Darren is also the author of Living The Remote Dream,’ GitLab’s Remote Playbook, as well as ‘iPad Secrets’ and ‘iPhone Secrets’. Not to mention, he holds the Guinness World Record for most blog posts ever written! In this interview, we talk about how GitLab works as the world’s largest all remote company, what the Head of Remote position entails, and what companies are getting wrong – and right – about hybrid working.

To learn more about Darren, visit his personal website, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter account.

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What drives Darren Murph to work remotely?

Having adopted a newborn at birth, Darren’s motivation for working remotely has changed. Once holding the belief that “remote work was life’s greatest cheat code to actually do the things that most people have to put on their bucket list,” he is now powerfully driven by the idea that remote work can fundamentally change the way the world operates. He believes that “if just a small percentage of newly remote workers post COVID use their recaptured commute time to adopt or foster a child, we could solve the orphan crisis in an incredibly short period of time.” It begs the question, what other world issue could we resolve by cutting out the commute?

Why GitLab is so successful and how your remote company can be too

DOCUMENT YOUR WAYS OF WORKING. At GitLab, they meticulously document their ways of working due to their rigorous onboarding process.“If it’s documented, it’s more efficient.” The Remote Playbook is where they store all of their culture, values, operation procedures, etc. The GitLab team handbook is the central repository for how they run the company

COMMIT TO ASYNCHRONOUS WORKFLOWS. Because of the difficulties of working synchronously in multiple time zones, people want to keep within a single time zone. “When you commit to asynchronous workflows early on…when you scale and hire more people in a more diverse array of time zones, it actually gets easier because you have more redundancy and more resiliency in more places.”

BE OPEN AND TRANSPARENT. The GitLab handbook is now over 13,000 pages and is a public resource. “We work handbook first. If it’s not in the handbook, it doesn’t exist.” The intention behind this is to eliminate any surprises – what you see is what you get. It’s a chance for someone to familiarize himself or herself with the culture to know if they’re a good fit for that type of working environment, and to essentially know what the onboarding process will look like once you get there.

HAVE A METHODICAL ONBOARDING PROCESS. Using a checklist so that everyone knows what’s coming next helps make the transition smoother. At GitLab, this is largely self-driven, with the principle of being a “manager of their own attention” because in an all-remote setting “you can’t just tap someone on the shoulder.” This is also a way to assure that the handbook is kept up-to-date. Aside from always reinforcing the habit of looking in the handbook before asking someone, GitLab also assigns newcomers a buddy so that they don’t feel alone.

MAKE YOUR WORK VISIBLE AND TRANSPARENT. A lot of leaders are asking how they can make their team feel like they belong. “The answer is to make your work more visible and transparent.” When we can easily see what the goals and objectives are of the different groups, we’re more likely to feel like a part of the team. It tears down walls and helps us move away from the older “command and control” style of working.

CONVERT TACIT INFO TO EXPLICIT INFO. When we work remotely, we have to convert tacit knowledge – the unspoken rules of working together, to explicit knowledge – writing information down for everyone to see. When we work explicitly, teams can identify issues much sooner.

HIRE A ‘HEAD OF REMOTE’. There is a fundamental re-architecting of how all work gets done in an all-remote company. First, you must manage the physical infrastructure across the global footprint. Secondly, you have to manage the way people behave – documentation, communication, etc. And lastly, there are the tools and software we use to communicate and collaborate with. It’s the job of the head of remote to pressure test the entire organizational design to make sure that all culture and workflow operates well in a location-agnostic way. It is also to be both an internal and external advocate for remote-first principles to make sure that the people who joined GitLab as well as those who have been here for a really long time are kept up to date on what we’re doing to thrive as a remote team, what new tools we are piloting, what new workflows we’re incorporating and how our values are iterating over time.

DECIDE IF YOU’RE ‘OFFICE FIRST’ OR ‘REMOTE FIRST’. “On the surface, hybrid looks like it’s the best of both worlds but without incredible intentionality, it quickly devolves into the worst of both worlds.” The global conversation is fixated on where people are physically located, but what we should be focusing on is how the work gets done. The best way to be successful is to audit every single workflow in your organization and ask whether or not the work can get done without an office as a crutch. “The moment you write on a physical whiteboard that is not connected to the Internet, you’re ‘office first’. And the moment no one is in the office, the entire thing falls apart.” When we’re ‘remote first’ we’re going to collaborate on a digital platform so that everyone, office or not, will have access to that information.


Podcast production by Podcast Monster

Graphic design by Alfred Boland

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