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All-Remote Learning and Development (L&D)

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Introduction

On this page, we're detailing how learning and development (L&D) works in a global all-remote company.

How does learning and development (L&D) work in an all-remote environment?

Credit the conventional classroom environment for implying that learning is best achieved in a face-to-face, in-person setting. That mentality largely translates to the working world, where it is assumed that learning and development is best suited for boardrooms and lecture halls.

In an all-remote company, learning and development can still occur on a face-to-face basis, albeit through webcams and video chat software. Even in colated organizations, a growing percentage of learning and development — particularly required training courses assigned by human resource departments — are delivered via webcast.

We believe that all-remote companies are at a competitive advantage when it comes to educating and developing team members. Across the spectrum of learning styles, all-remote companies are able to easily scale training sessions, give team members greater agency over their development, and include historical cultural elements in onboarding procedures.

Learn more about learning and development at GitLab in our Handbook.

Benefits to all-remote L&D

Learning and development teams within all-remote organizations enjoy unique benefits, a few of which are highlighted below.

Challenges with all-remote L&D

Most challenges associated with all-remote L&D can be addressed at the hiring stage. All-remote companies should seek team members who want to be a manager of one, thrive in environments of high autonomy, and who embrace virtual communication mediums. Learn more about how to hire in an all-remote company.

The importance of documenting everything

Learning involves much more than comprehending what's necessary to complete a job. In fact, we hope candidates aspire to learn about GitLab's history, all-remote culture, and values prior to joining the company.

The above would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without a committment to documentation. Documentation is so important at GitLab that we have a section of our Handbook devoted to it.

Particularly in all-remote companies — where everything from interviewing to onboarding to career development takes place outside of a central office — regimented documentation is the only way to ensure future team members have access to the same information as past and current team members. Even if you've already started a company but have failed to document key learnings, it's never too late to start.

Handbook first

GitLab's Handbook would cover thousands of pages if printed. Each page is loaded with institutional knowledge on important topics like hiring, values, and benefits, Content is contributed, refreshed, and refined by hundreds of team members across the company.

We encourage other all-remote companies to adopt this handbook first approach. Simply, we default to adding knowledge to our handbook before disseminating elsewhere. Learn more about GitLab's Handbook usage.

From a learning and development standpoint, this approach ensures that all team members have access to all learnings — past, present, and future — at all times. This is a highly inclusive way to manage knowledge, and it reflects our mission to change all creative work from read-only to read-write so that everyone can contribute.

Learning and development as a mindset

We encourage companies to consider GitLab (the product) to manage L&D within their own handbook. With a merge request, for instance, any team member can suggest new learnings to the appropriate places. Colleagues and those managing learning and development can comment, add feedback, and shape what is eventually added.

This is powerful in that it encourages team members to continually be mindful of new learnings, and to not keep those learnings to themselves. Said another way, all-remote teams are ideally positioned to contribute to learning and development, rather than simply waiting for the L&D team to generate new material to ingest.

This creates an atmosphere where all team members are hungry to learn from one another. Indeed, those in charge of learning and development in an all-remote company should look to colleagues across the organization to understand which areas are most misunderstood, and what modules would generate the most interest.

How do you onboard new team members?

At a high level, this is how new team members are onboarded at GitLab.

High-touch and low-touch flexibility

The beauty of an all-remote setting is that onboarding can be as high-touch or low-touch as a new hire wishes. Those who prefer visual learning can engage in a series of video calls and screenshare sessions to walk through each element of their onboarding issue.

That flexbility is unique to the all-remote environment, as those who prefer a self-guided experience are typically forced into a very social onboarding at colocated companies.

Empowerment from day one

GitLab's onboarding process is empowering. If a new hire gets stuck during onboarding, they are encouraged to update the Handbook, record a video to help others who may encounter the same obstacle, and contribute to learning and development from day one.

At GitLab, new hires are onboarded using GitLab (the product). We believe in using the tools we create. This allows new hires to become familiar with GitLab in a way that feels meaningful (e.g. in learning GitLab, they are also accomplishing necessary onboarding tasks). This also provides a continual set of new users to test GitLab with fresh eyes. These individuals are ideally positioned to point out missing features or areas for improvement as we iterate on the product.

Learn more about GitLab Onboarding in our Handbook.

How do you manage job families?

All-remote companies should strive for a single source of truth in all facets of running the business, including job families. Job families and their descriptions should be accessible to all from day one. GitLab makes these descriptions available even to prospective team members in the Job Families section of our Handbook, reinforcing our Transparency value.

This removes ambiguity about how the company functions, how it is organized, and what each position is responsible for.

From a learning and development standpoint, this transparency is vital in providing clarity in career development. In role levels, requirements for each are clearly listed. This also allows team members to find colleagues in functions outside of their own that they are interested in learning more about.

Recording meetings and trainings for asynchronous learning

In the video above, published on the GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel, Chrissie B. documents a question from a fellow GitLab team member — "How do you create a blog post as a non-technical user?" — by capturing the answer and walkthrough on video.

This is a classic example of a GitLab team member answering once so that multitudes will benefit, reinforcing our Efficiency value. Notice that Chrissie's primary function is not within learning and development, yet her contribution leads to a more educated workforce.

In the video above, published on the GitLab YouTube channel, a member of the People Operations team conducts a training on decision making. Being unable to attend in person matters not, as the training is archived for later viewing.

Ask Me Anything (AMA), group conversations, and key meetings

All-remote companies should embrace learning and development not as something done during once during onboarding and then once or twice per year, but as a continual operation. GitLab encourages team members to also learn from each other, as the below methods demonstrate.

AMA

Reinforcing GitLab's Transparency value, we routinely encourage the entire company to join for AMAs (Ask Me Anything), where individuals can pose questions to executives. This not only allows team members to learn from leaders, but it allows leaders to learn more about what matters to team members and those they serve.

In the video above, published on the GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel, GitLab CMO Todd Barr conducts an AMA. More AMAs are listed below.

Group Conversations

All-remote companies are unique positioned to break down silos. Group Conversations allow members of any function to dive in and ask questions of a function outside of their own. Too, it gives members of one function the ability to ask questions of their own function.

Learn more about Group Conversations in GitLab's Handbook.

In the video above, published on the GitLab YouTube channel, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij leads a Functional Group Update Training. More Group Conversations are listed below.

Key Monthly Reviews

Learning and development occurs more naturally when team members are well-informed. If there are knowledge gaps in the company strategy, it's difficult to apply new learnings. Particularly in all-remote settings, it's important to make OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) visible across the company.

This allows team members to educate themselves on what matters to each functional group, enabling new learnings to map to something tangible in their day-to-day work.

Learn more about GitLab's OKRs.

In the video above, published on the GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel, members of GitLab's marketing team discuss a plan to operationalize marketing metrics for use in KPI and OKR presentations.

For each GitLab executive, we hold a monthly call to discuss Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Objectives and Key Results (OKR). This goes well beyond the usual scope of learning and development by providing on-the-job education on metrics that impact various parts of the company. Said another way, learning and development has greater impact when it's mapped to something tangible.

Learn more about GitLab's Key Monthly Reviews.


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