GitLab is one of the world's largest all-remote organizations. As we've scaled remote, we've documented over 40 individual guides that comprehensively cover the proven principles of remote-first work, culture, process, and optimization. The foundational elements are distilled in The Remote Playbook.
For some, there's still a looming question: How do I know if we're running a great remote operation?
Enter The GitLab Test: 12 Steps to Better Remote. Kudos to The Joel Test for the nomenclature inspiration.
The great part about this test is it takes around 10 minutes (or less, if you read quickly). Each question is a quick yes or no. A score of 12 is perfect and 11 is tolerable. 10 or lower indicates that there are significant office-first strongholds which are preventing your organization from reaching the goal of Phase 4 of Remote Adaption— Intentionality.
The quickest way to send the clearest signal that remote is the future is to start at the top of the organizational chart. Remove execs from the physical office, and you’ll quickly figure out what gaps you need to fill with tools and process.
If you force the executive team to work remotely for a meaningful amount of time (over one month, in most cases), you'll discover communication gaps, as well as voids in tooling and process.
If senior leaders default to gathering in the same physical office, decisions are apt to be made less transparently and office-first norms will thrwart progress in shifting consensus gathering, brainstorming, collaboration, and decision making to remote-first.
Excellent remote teams are able to move work forward in relative concert without stiffly defined working hours. Broadly speaking, defined working hours create comfort in collaborating syncronously, even when it's more efficient to work asynchronously. The bigger issue is the implied reliance on synchronicity. This creates a foundational risk that collaboration, coordination, and iterative decision making grinds to a halt when someone cannot work their defined shift.
In areas where defined working hours are required by the role or client, great remote organizations will add redundancy or bolstered documentation to enable team members to enjoy the spoils of a non-linear workday to whatever degree possible.
There are valid reasons to work synchronously. Communicating about work is best done asynchronously. This includes status updates, FYIs, process documentation (e.g. how to alert your security team about a suspected phishing attempt). It also includes meeting about a meeting.
Prerequisites for this to work well are below.
Great remote organizations undergo an audit which seeks to convert tacit knowledge (e.g. implied knowledge) to explicit knowledge (e.g. documented knowledge). This begins with a values audit.
It's not enough to have core values documented on a company website. Each core value needs operating principles, such that a globally distributed team can reference tangible examples of how common terms like collaboration, iteration, and results are lived out. This also creates shared understanding of what values mean to your specific organization. Ideally, all team members are empowered to contribute proposals to bolster values and share newly-discovered methods of living them out.
Different company functions may require different tools to drive results. For example, a Design team may use MURAL, Figma, and Photoshop, while a Marketing Operations team leverages tools like Salesforce and Marketo. Great remote organizations leverage a single tool (e.g. GitLab, Friday, Dropbox Spaces, Qatalog) to surface work that is happening in department-specific tools. By surfacing ongoing work, via links or other documentation, this central tool acts as organizational glue. It enables a distributed team to discover what other teams are working toward with clicks instead of meetings. This intentional transparency fosters alignment, purpose, and enables feedback to occur earlier.
Great remote organizations are careful not to use the word "documentation" when they really mean "handbook-first." Documentation without taxonomy is a recipe for textual chaos, which is no better than verbal chaos caused by a perpetual loop of unstructured synchronous meetings. Handbook-first is an intentional approach to seek answers first before interupting someone's flow, and to document changes first in the appropriate place before making announcements in a chat tool or email.
Great remote organizations do not leave camaraderie (mutual trust and friendship) to chance or serendipity. Camaraderie is created and maintained by informal communication, and is a key pillar of culture.
Remote culture is largely built by empowering people to fill their social quota outside of work, in local neighborhoods and communities, and then bring that culture to work. Too many leaders are looking to replace onsite lunches with virtual lunches and happy hours, instead of empowering workers to look to their communities to further define who they are as people.
Absent communication guidelines, colocated organizations generally default to meetings as the catch-all for communicating about work. Great remote organizations create and document expectations and suggestions around communication, both formal and informal. For transitioning organizations, don't wait until you have implemented a central workspace tool to start articulating communication expectations. Even a boring solution such as requiring all work-related meetings to have an agenda attached to the calendar invite can usher in new ways of thinking.
A hybrid call is one that has a mix of participants in the same physical room, together with others who are remote. Hybrid calls should be avoided, as it's better to have everyone on a level playing field for communication and discussion. If a hybrid call must happen, however, everyone should use their own equipment (camera, headset, screen) even if they are physically sitting in the same room.
Humans are social creatures, and research has shown that there is value in in-person interactions. While there are tremendous advantages to operating a 100% remote company, leaders should consider being intentional about planning in-person elements, even if they're optional for team members.
Quarterly or bi-annual retreats, annual company-wide gatherings, in-person onboarding cohorts, and budgets for ad hoc in-person moments are just a few examples. Great remote organizations recognize that people do not need to spend hours each day commuting to see one another every 24 hours, but budgeting for strategic in-person gatherings are useful for bolstering culture and building rapport.
Great remote organizations actively work against proximity bias by utilizing praise and promotion tactics rooted in values alignment. A boring solution to encourage this is the use of a promotion document which requires a manager detail how an individual has exemplified company values.
Great remote organizations recognize that there are more than two places to work. While "the office" and "home" are two options, the third space is vast. Platforms such as Codi, Gable, and Switchyards exist to support these arrangements. Enabling team members to submit for reimbursement for coworking or external office space indicates that an organization is so sure of its remote-first workflows that it is comfortable empowering people to work from a variety of spaces.
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.
GitLab built a comprehensive course on remote work leadership which is hosted on a leading online learning platform, Coursera. The course, titled “How to Manage a Remote Team,” provides a holistic, in-depth analysis of remote team structures, phases of adaptation, and best practices for managers, leaders, and human resources professionals. It is offered free of charge, with an optional certificate available for $49.
This course is ideal for current managers, executives, and human resources professionals who want to learn how to lead and support a high-functioning, scalable remote team. GitLab is one of the world’s largest all-remote organizations; experts from throughout the company will guide you through in-depth lessons for leaders, people managers, and HR professionals to build, manage, and scale.
By the end of this course, you will be able to:
For the final project in this course, you will create a real or hypothetical strategic plan to transition a team to remote operation. You will assess your organization's remote maturity and infrastructure, and identify the best team structure for remote operation — including determining whether to use an all-remote or remote-friendly model. You'll outline plans for documentation, education, leadership, and equipment or resource needs for your unique organization.
This is an intermediate-level course, intended for learners who have previous experience managing or leading people. To succeed in this course, you should have at least one year of management experience. No remote experience is required.
GitLab believes that all-remote is the future of work, and remote companies have a shared responsibility to show the way for other organizations who are embracing it. 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.