As an all-remote company that defaults to asynchronous communication, GitLab relies heavily on textual communication. This can feel unusual or even uncomfortable for those who come from a colocated environment, where in-person meetings and vocalized communiques are the norm. Embracing text communication and learning to use it effectively requires a mental shift. Mastering this should be seen as a long-term project, though there are tips to breaking down barriers and experiencing benefits.
Be sure to read GitLab's guidelines to effective and responsible communication to understand the foundational elements on which this all-remote guide is built.
Writing is a skill which can be learned. Great writing involves mastering proven principles and understanding how narratives influence thoughts and actions. Below, we've documented a series of principles which are commonly linked to writing procedures at Amazon, but are useful approaches for anyone communicating in a professional setting.
1. Use Short Sentences— Alex Garcia 🔍 (@alexgarcia_atx) September 19, 2021
Keep your sentences, Kevin Hart short.
Amazon says under 30 words.
I’d say to keep them under 15 words.
This keeps them clear and concise with an emphasis on clarity. pic.twitter.com/dQWiypgStx
The topics covered on this page were discussed in a GitLab Live Learning session, which was recorded and uploaded to GitLab Unfiltered, and is embedded above.
In an all-remote organization with team members spread across an array of time zones, communicating through text is ideal. Not only is it inclusive and considerate, but a bias towards communicating through text creates a company that documents everything.
Documentation is an essential competitive advantage. Companies which rely on vocalizing end up repeating themselves over and over in meetings, creating an inefficient environment with tremendous opportunity for knowledge leaks. While communicating and documenting through text may feel like a burden in the moment, it prevents a toxic cycle of meetings and touch points which serve only to "bring people up to speed."
Tim Casasola of Sanctuary Computer asserts that "great writing makes remote work better. It saves time, reduces meetings, removes extrovert bias, and invites other perspectives."
Communicating answers to problems via text makes documentation easier. Rather than transcribing one's voice, one must simply copy and paste in a structured format within a company's handbook. It's vital to understand that nurturing this habit serves more than the person receiving the answer. It is, in essence, paying it forward. Documenting solutions makes a more efficient future for every new hire who joins and asks the same question, not to mention existing team members who join a project or conversation midstream and need to understand what steps have been taken thus far (and why).
Below are several additional reasons to master the art of textual communication in a business.
At GitLab, we communicate assuming others have low context. We provide as much context as possible to avoid confusion.
#thanksSlack channel, for instance, we encourage team members to be specific about what they are thanking someone for, such that you do not need prior context to understand how a value was being lived.
The internet is forever. Words have impact long after they are written, and even when you're communicating internally, the manner in which you speak with one another should be viewed through an external lens. Words have meaning, meanings have effects, and effects have consequences. Those consequences, good or bad, are the lasting impact of the words you choose.
For those who struggle with this, consider what you would type if a journalist, your manager, or a family member were in the room observing the conversation. This tip will not serve all scenarios, but it's worth considering if stakes are high in a conversation.
Below are several reasons why text communication can be difficult.
In February 2022, the Learning and Development team at GitLab hosted Maria Moss for a live speaker series on interpreting tone in text-based communication. Key points addressed in the discussion include:
Watch the recording of this disucssion with Maria:
Text communication can be easily derailed, and assumptions can lead to good-mannered communiques being viewed as a slight. A number of GitLab's operating principles are useful to reference if you end up in a scenario where you are unsure of how to communicate effectively and responsibly through text.
If, during a text conversation, you feel that someone is not communicating in the spirit of a company's values, respectfully ask if they believe that they are in a 1-1 setting. It's easiest to assume the worst and quietly disengage, but doing so creates several additional problems. One, the person communicating is not given the gift of feedback, so their perspective will not change. Two, the person concerned remains timid about communicating with someone, which can lead to toxicity and dysfunction if unaddressed.
At the speed of business, it's possible for even the most well-mannered of colleagues to say something regrettable when their heart was typing faster than their brain could regulate. In the event that you think you could have written something better, contrition is advised.
Say sorry is an operating principle at GitLab. It's simple, yet powerful. Saying sorry via Slack or email, or a quick Zoom call if two parties are online at the same time, enables trust to be rebuilt. When using asynchronous collaboration tools such as GitLab Issues and Merge Requests, feel welcome to reply atop your message if you feel that you may have written something offensive. This will send another email notification to those tagged, whereas an edit to your original message will not.
GitLab is a collaboration tool designed to help people work better together whether they are in the same location or spread across multiple time zones. Originally, GitLab let software developers collaborate on writing code and packaging it up into software applications. Today, GitLab has a wide range of capabilities used by people around the globe in all kinds of companies and roles.
You can learn more at GitLab's remote team solutions page.
You can learn more in GitLab's communication handbook as the Single Source of Truth (SSoT).
Managers should strive to incorporate positive feedback into their day-to-day work. Particularly in an all-remote setting, where people can work for days, weeks, or months without seeing a colleague in person, friendly words go a long way.
It's easy to brush positive feedback aside as nonessential, but that is unwise in a remote setting. If the only feedback a report receives is negative — while hearing nothing when they are exceling — they are likely to view feedback as an attack. Moreover, they're likely to feel unappreciated and misunderstood, and are apt to view critical feedback as something that is being delivered to spite them rather than improve them.
Said another way, putting effort into positive feedback as well as negative feedback creates a climate where the latter is taken seriously. If you are in a situation where you need to deliver critical feedback, consider also offering up what a person is doing well. This creates an element of trust, that you are viewing things in totality and recognize that people are not their work.
Feedback is a mechanism to become more understanding and more compassionate. In remote settings where you're working with colleagues from around the globe, feedback enables you to squash misconceptions and become a more understanding human. Though challenging, you should assume positive intent when receiving feedback. If it feels like an attack, ask for clarification.
The goal is to create a two-way street of communication, so that all parties are heard, and work is put in by all sides to ensure that points are understood. It's also important to think through your responses to feedback. You can’t choose how you are spoken to, but you can control how you respond.
If your default reaction to feedback is to become combative, consider acknowledging feedback and respectfully asking for time to process. Then, schedule a follow-up conversation once you've had time to process it rationally and not just emotionally. This prevents you from feeling compelled to reply in haste.
We judge ourselves by our intentions, but people judge us by our actions.
In an all-remote setting, it's important to have a healthy amount of perspective on words that you type. Ask for clarification, and ask if your communication could be delivered in a different or more effective way.
For managers of multiple people, you may find that one report prefers a certain delivery while another has a different idea of what is ideal. There are multiple ways to deliver a message. Similarly, there are multiple ways to interpret a message. It's worth being proactive to ensure that your intentions are delivered.
When communicating, it's your responsibility to own how something impacted someone, regardless of how you intended it. If you're surprised by how a given communique impacts someone, ask for clarity without being combative. These moments are ideal for learning more about yourself, and how you can tweak your approach to communicating via text to be more considerate.
Complete all knowledge assessments in the Remote Work Foundation certification to receive the Remote Foundations Badge in GitLab Learn. If you have questions, please reach out to our Learning & Development team at
GitLab is one of the world's largest all-remote companies. We are 100% remote, with no company-owned offices anywhere on the planet. We have over 1,500 team members in more than 65 countries. The primary contributor to this article (Darren Murph, GitLab's Head of Remote) has over 15 years of experience working in and reporting on colocated companies, hybrid-remote companies, and all-remote companies of various scale.
Just as it is valid to ask if GitLab's product is any good, we want to be transparent about our expertise in the field of remote work.
Specific examples of using text effectively are ideal for showing new hires how to learn this skill. If you or your company has an experience that would benefit the greater world, consider creating a merge request and adding a contribution to this page.
Return to the main all-remote page.