You might be aware that a fair percentage of the GitLab team are parents, and we all work remotely. Not only are we a remote-first company we recently affirmed our dedication by changing this declaring we are a "remote only" company. We believe that remote working is the way forward, when it’s done right.
In this post, we’re giving you a view into our experiences of remote working as parents—we even asked members of team to chime in with their thoughts. While there’s no “typical” day in the life of the GitLab employee, there were a lot of similarities in what people find great and challenging about remote working.
We’re very family-oriented here at GitLab (of course I say here meaning all over the world) When we asked our team why they like working remotely, the thing that came up first and foremost was that people get to spend more time with their kids and partners. It’s simple, really: when you don’t need to spend two or more hours a day commuting, that’s two hours you can spend being with your family, or recharging so that you’re in better form for your family.
“I eat together with my son every day,” says Pablo, an Operations lead who works from his home in Dublin, something not a lot of dads get to do during the day.
Luke, GitLab designer and new dad in Colorado Springs, can share flexible parenting hours with his wife, a nurse who works long shifts. “We don’t have to send our daughter to daycare,” says Luke, which has financial benefits as well, “and I have the flexibility to take breaks throughout the day with my family. It’s awesome.”
“The flexibility makes family life exponentially easier,” says Haydn, from our Sales team, “which reduces stress and makes you more productive and motivated. You can’t put a dollar value on it – it’s priceless.”
Balancing everything in one space, while challenging, is something you can get good at pretty quickly. Zeger-Jan, a student CS in Utrecht, finds that being a student, parent, and remote employee work well together—thanks in part to asynchronous communication, ie. using Issues and email whenever possible, so people can get to things when it makes sense.
Contrary to what it might seem like, productivity is shown to increase when you take people out of the office setting. Our team agrees. “Working at GitLab has increased my productivity at work,” says Chad (GitLab CRO based in Sacramento, California), “as I’m not spending time commuting, and the hours I focus on work increases—but so does the time I’m able to spend with my family. Win-win for all.”
A lot of the challenges, we found from talking with our team, come from a lack of boundaries, something you don’t really have to think about when you work outside the home; for most people who do, work stays at work. It can be a little too easy, says Richard (in Bath, England), “to spend time working when I should be blocking off quality time with my children. My son often says ‘Daddy is always on call when I come home from school.’”
In other words, it can be distracting to have work near your family life and family near your work life. Also, if the other partner works outside the home, they might unconsciously expect the home-working parent to do things in the house during the day, which can lead to, ehm—tension.
And it works the other way, too: for those who intentionally combine working and being a parent, things can get logistically complicated. New dad Luke says it can be difficult at times to schedule meetings around feeding times, for example, and “of course poopy diapers, upset tummies, and spit up often interrupt my day,” but “it sure beats commuting to an office every day, and being away from my family.” Well said.
How do our working parents deal with the challenges?
First of all, mark off some space. If you can’t create a home office, sometimes you might just have to go somewhere. “I often head out of the home to a nearby café or co-working space,” says Heather. Co-locate with colleagues if you have any nearby, or if you have friends who also work remotely, share a space.
Boundaries help with distractions, too. Set your mobile phone aside for certain hours of the day, eliminate social media-type distractions, shut the office door, put in earphones, and make sure your family knows that between the hours of this and that, you’re only reachable in case of emergencies. If your spouse consciously or unconsciously expects you to get things done, have that conversation and ask them to not think of you as being “home.”
We think it’s important to trust our team to get their jobs done on their own steam, and we’re fine if that incorporates a good bit of home-life in the mix. It’s even in our handbook that GitLab employees should feel free to include pets, kids, partners, and family around during video calls if they want to pop in and say hello!
We also try to do things to make our team’s remote work experience comfortable and seamless where we can, like paying for height-adjustable desks, ergonomic chairs, Internet (of course), mobile phone, video calling credit, and even office space if they need it. This is well worth our while, because it means our team members are happy and productive.
What benefits do you find? What do you do to manage the challenges?
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