On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Betsy from GitLab about the definitive remote work playbook.

Some Conversation Highlights:

So anyone listening can search GitLab remote benefits, and it’ll pull up that page and probably do a much more concise job at explaining it than I will. But I think when we think about especially things like hybrid work, you mentioned some people going back into the office part-time or having part of their team there and part of their team’s remote work. We really encourage people to think about it that that is not a best of both worlds solution without being really intentional.

So what people have experienced in the past two years at this point has not been remote work at its finest because we’ve been going through a global pandemic. So while there have been many benefits that people have realized from it, and people have still been incredibly productive while not having all the tools that they would typically have in a remote setting, this is not remote work at its best.

So we’re excited to see people really take things like the playbook and implement some of those best practices, no matter what type of team they have to really get the full benefits out of it in the coming year. So when we talk to teams that are still trying to figure out where they fall and what the future is going to look like, we really encourage them to think about their specific team, what their goals are, what type of work gets done, and then figure out how that work needs to progress instead of where.


Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 29 minutes


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Betsy Bula
All-Remote Evangelist Gitlab Follow Follow

Music: This is Recruiting Daily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup

William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Betsy on from GitLab and we’re talking about the definitive remote playbook. So I can’t wait to jump into this. Betsy, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and GitLab?

Betsy Bula: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. I’m Betsy. I am an all-remote evangelist at GitLab, which is one of the world’s largest all-remote companies. So we’ve been remote since inception, so long before the pandemic. Today, we have more than 1,300 team members spanning across more than 65 countries around the globe. My team’s job is really to help share our remote work best practices with the world and also share them within GitLab.

So our goal is really to help other companies figure out how to embrace this future of living and remote work for themselves by sharing what we’ve learned along the way. We’ve documented all of our remote work knowledge in a very extensive collection of guides to really serve as a blueprint for other companies. And like you mentioned, we each year condense the most important lessons from those guides into our remote playbook. So this year’s playbook is hot off the presses with lots of new guidance and I’m excited to talk about today.

I’ve been at GitLab for about three years. When I first joined the company, I was actually on our talent brand team. So it’s been a really cool experience to have that perspective from both the people and the marketing side of remote work.

William Tincup: I love that. Well, let’s start through the findings from this year. Let’s just go through it. What have we learned? Where are we at right now?

Betsy Bula: So much has changed over the last two years as we’ve all learned. I think, the biggest thing we’re looking at for this year and what you’ll find throughout the playbook is that really how we work is going to replace where we work this year. We’re not going back to the way we worked in 2019. Whether your company is hybrid or fully remote, or you’re hoping to mostly return to the office with some remote days worked in there, it doesn’t really matter where you fall on that spectrum.

This path forward is going to require everyone to really rethink processes, rethink norms, what tools you use, how your culture works, in a way that’s going to serve a really dynamic workforce of diverse people.

So it doesn’t matter where they choose to open their laptop. The companies that approach this with intentionality are going to be the ones that can continue to attract and retain the most talented people. So the playbook really serves to go through really everything you need to know from asynchronous workflows, to meetings, to communication and culture management, all of those things that are going to help each company reach new levels of productivity.

William Tincup: So for a company that hasn’t embraced all remote, no judgment. Just it is what it is. How do we convince them of the benefits of all-remote? Typically, what’s your, when you talk to somebody and you’re like, “Yeah, we’re in the office two or three days a week, or there is still an office. Or we’re going to be in the office five days a week. Everyone’s returning to the office”? What’s the argument… And not the argument, but what’s your talking points with them to convince them that all-remote is just a better model?

Betsy Bula: Yeah. That’s a great question. I could talk about this for three days. So I’ll give you the brief overview there. I think there’s so many benefits not only for your organization, but also for your people and even for the world. In fact, we actually have an entire guide on this, in our all remote guides.

So anyone listening can search GitLab remote benefits, and it’ll pull up that page and probably do a much more concise job at explaining it than I will. But I think when we think about especially things like hybrid work, you mentioned some people going back into the office part-time or having part of their team there and part of their team staying remote. We really encourage people to think about it that that is not a best of both worlds solution without being really intentional.

So what people have experienced in the past two years at this point has not been remote work at its finest because we’ve been going through a global pandemic. So while there have been many benefits that people have realized from it, and people have still been incredibly productive while not having all the tools that they would typically have in a remote setting, this is not remote work at its best.

So we’re excited to see people really take things like the playbook and implement some of those best practices, no matter what type of team they have to really get the full benefits out of it in the coming year. So when we talk to teams that are still trying to figure out where they fall and what the future is going to look like, we really encourage them to think about their specific team, what their goals are, what type of work gets done, and then figure out how that work needs to progress instead of where.

So removing the location from the equation and really thinking about those processes and norms to be able to, again, benefit from the full spectrum of what remote work can offer.

William Tincup: So the challenges of remote work, you’ve touched on it a couple times. Different maybe at the start of pandemic than they are today. What do you see just in the change of the challenges to remote work? What do you, what do you see today is kind of the biggest challenge to remote work and maybe even the rest of the year? Where do you see this going?

Betsy Bula: Yeah. So there’s several things. Right now, a lot of companies who even have embraced remote work in the past couple of years have sort of skipped some things like upskilling your team that are crucially important for your team and your company to thrive remotely. So that’s one that we hope to see more organizations focus on this year is really that career and skill development, because these remote for skills are becoming more and more important for every type of company, and they really are going to be what differentiates candidates and leaders.

So things like communication, change management, storytelling, they all fall into like the very top of the most in demand human skills these days. So organizations really have to be intentional about now equipping not only their managers, but also just all of their team members with some of these remote first skills.

So I think that’s a challenge that more investment in learning and development is going to be important to solve. Another thing is a lot of teams who do have some team members, either staying fully remote or partially remote maybe haven’t invested in their team’s workspaces. So a healthy productive workspace is so important for someone to really thrive in their remote work setup.

It’s up to leaders to make those investments. Just like you would invest in someone’s desk equipment in an office, it’s equally important to invest in making sure they have the options and the equipment they need remotely. So I think we’re going to see a lot of teams, either struggling to figure out how to do that or realizing that it’s an important part of the employee experience that they need to address this year.

One more thing I would add. We’re seeing lot of conversation about these employee tracking tools and we would really encourage teams to track results instead of tracking your people. Even back when certain organizations were primarily in an office, seeing someone sitting at their desk every day does not guarantee their productivity. And so being able to learn how to really track output, setting up goals and things that a team member can work towards that are well documented and watching how they achieve those results allows you to stop worrying about when or where they choose to get their work done.

So those are some of the challenges and things I think that all types of organizations are going to be addressing this year. It’s exciting to see it unfold because I think it’s going to really benefit everyone in the end.

William Tincup: I love that you hit upskilling because it’s like how can we expect people to be successful at work, period, hard stop. But in this type of work, if we don’t actually invest time, money and energy into making sure that they’re successful.

Betsy Bula: Right, exactly. Yeah. I mean, even smaller things like how do you effectively use your chat tool are crucially important when you have either a remote team or a hybrid team anywhere on that spectrum. Even if you’re communicating via chat tool in the same office, on different floors. These are all important skills that not only you need for your company to function well, but then you’re setting up your team to really build those as career development skills.

William Tincup: I’ve always thought of kind of the four-legged stool of remote as tools, workflow communications, or comms and productivity. So A destroy that. Just tear that apart, A. You have free will to tear that apart. When you think of it, again, as a stool or chair, or whatever, what do you think of it as? What are the pillars?

Betsy Bula: That is a great way to look at it. I think your spot on, on several of those. I think one of the biggest things that we focus on is documentation.

William Tincup: Nice.

Betsy Bula: That would be the first one. Having a single source of truth is really foundational to everything else because it not only allows your current team members to really understand and rally behind what you’re working on, how certain processes work, what your norms are, but when you’re hiring people, it gives you this purview into the company as a candidate that you’re not going to get just by having conversations with people.

So instead of hearing different varying objective opinions about things, you’re really getting a better insight into what the company stands for and how things work. And then that carries through the whole employee experience through onboarding once you’re actually at the company and then allows you to thrive as a team member.

So documentation is huge. In fact, we have a publicly available handbook at GitLab that’s more than 2,000 webpages. That sounds very overwhelming, but it’s actually wonderful to just, anytime you have a question, be able to go search it and find the answers in the handbook.

The other thing you mentioned, and I would totally agree with is communication. So at GitLab, we’re really careful to outline everything about how we communicate, what we expect from team members down to how we use certain tools for some things and other tools for other things. So for example, we do not do actual meaningful work in Slack. We Slack as an informal communication tool. We direct all of our meaningful work conversations to the GitLab tool where we’re able to really document the history of a project and continue the workflows in a more productive way in that single space.

So all of that is documented in our communication guide and we’re able to really get the team on board with that one practice. Another thing very, very important and I know people talk about it, but it’s more than words on a page for us is values. So for GitLab, our values really inform everything that we do from hiring decisions to internal decisions about big and small things.

It’s how we work together, how we interact with one another. So really firming up for any team, I mean, remote or not, your values and what you stand behind not only will help that really overall culture continue to be bolstered, but it helps you add team members who you know also see themselves living out those values on a daily basis. Gosh, I could go on forever. Let’s see.

William Tincup: No, no you’re doing-

Betsy Bula: Am I missing one?

William Tincup: Well, you’re not missing anything, but we haven’t touched, and I’m assuming it’s kind of bundled in there, analytics and metrics.

Betsy Bula: Yes. So that’s another part of documentation. I mentioned briefly having goals that you work towards. So GitLab, we focus on OKRs, so objectives and key results. And that starts at the very top of the company, like what is the company’s of OKR or list of OKRs for the quarter? We do break it down quarterly and then it cascades through departments and individuals so that each person understands how their work is contributing to overall GitLab success.

So by having all of that documented and transparently shared throughout the company, you’re are able to really sit down and understand, “Okay, here’s the result. I’m being measured again for this quarter.” Whether you’re in sales and that’s a number to hit, or you’re in marketing and that’s a project to complete, you have that outlined for you and you then have the autonomy to self-manage and go achieve it. So being able to really focus on individually and at a team level, and then a company level, what those metrics and analytics you’re working towards are, is really important for any type of team.

William Tincup: So who owns remote?

Betsy Bula: Ooh, that’s a good question. We really advise companies to hire ahead of remote. So we have ahead of remote at GitLab. It’s a dedicated role that really focuses on all things remote work. It’s not possible for every company right now, but it’s something to work towards knowing that your executive team has lots of things on their job descriptions. They have full plates as it is. It really needs to be someone’s whole job to figure out how your team is going to work in this new way of working.

And being able to allow somebody who has that organizational design background really understands processes and you how to incorporate it throughout the company and also how to share it with others is something that you want as a part of your team. So if that’s not achievable immediately, we also will suggest that people could hire a role like a chief documentarian, someone that can really help you start getting onto paper or getting in a single source of truth like a handbook, what your processes are, how things work internally and what your tools are. And then you can grow it from there.

So having that remote leadership is really important, but it does it’s everyone’s job. We could talk all day about how everyone should operate at GitLab, but if our team members are not on board or they’re not aware of these processes, it’s going to fall down. So it’s really up to the entire organization to really embrace this way of working.

William Tincup: So for a lot of the listeners, A, they’ll love all of this. B, how do they know that they’re getting it right?

Betsy Bula: Also, a great question.

William Tincup: You know what I mean?

Betsy Bula: Yeah.

William Tincup: I know everyone knows the law of diminishing returns. Okay, fair enough. But I think with remote, different from other things that happen in recruiting in HR, they know what right looks like. They have a sense of what right looks like. And not right, is not the opposite of wrong. Right is like they know that the goal and they know that they can achieve. But with remote, they might not know what that is. When you interact with folks, how do you help them kind of navigate that?

Betsy Bula: Yeah. So I think it differs, if you’re talking about right for a team member, for example, or right for an entire organization. And in both cases, there’s not a one size fits all, which is part of the beauty remote work. So the autonomy that remote work gives individuals and companies is what makes it work so well. For the company, not only are you able to broaden your hiring abilities, but it enables you to create this authentically diverse team that then is going to bring you diversity of thought and experiences and make your products better and your decisions better.

And then for individuals being able to get it right is something that you’re always going to be working towards. You can have all the upskilling programs in the world and it still is going to be a journey for people especially if they’re starting out in their first remote job.

It’s a transition and a process and something that for GitLab we really focus on iteration. It’s one of our core values. So we’re always encouraging people to figure out for you as a person, what does your best workday look like? And that may change over the years. What is your most productive workspace and what equipment do you need to achieve tha?t.

How do you best or organize your projects? How can you be a manager of one? So some of this is trial and error on both the individual and the company level. But I think having that autonomy across the board is really what enables us to create better companies, hire more talented, creative people and really be able to embrace this future of living really.

William Tincup: So how do you encourage… Thank you. Great answer, by the way. How do you encourage people to garner that feedback on both sides, like here’s what we’re learning and here’s an annual report on remote? Here’s what we’re learning. And also kind of like the other side for employees like, “This doesn’t work for me or my manager, or my team, or whatever.” How do you encourage people to garner feedback, but also render kind of what you’re learning as a company about remote?

Betsy Bula: One of the things that we have kind of encouraged, especially in the past year or two is that a lot of companies have long had employee engagement surveys or moments where they’re asking their team for feedback. And then what happens to it depends on the company. In this case, it’s crucial for that feedback, not only to be really taken to heart by the leadership team, but also shared back transparently with the team simply because there’s not a one size fits all.

So I think a lot of organizations have struggled with their, quote, return to office plans because for some people going remote really improve their lives and they don’t want to go back. For others, they miss the in-person element of the office and they may want to have that option. So you’re not going to be able to find this perfect solution that applies to everyone’s lives and works for every employee.

So that’s where it’s important to really listen to what you’re seeing in those survey results and then reflect that back transparently to the team and say, “Look, here are all the different opinions that we are really sifting through and here’s kind of the state of preferences and needs, and all of the things that exist across the team and we want you to be aware of this as we’re going through journey and figuring out what works best for our company.”

So that level of transparency, first of all, will build trust across the team, help bring people into the decision-making process and let them understand why certain things are being decided for or against. And at GitLab, our mission is that everyone can contribute. So for us, personally, it’s very important that our team members feel like they can speak up in that kind of forum or for a decision that’s that important.

So what we’re seeing these days is that job seekers really are holding the reins and they have more opportunities than ever. So the teams that will thrive are the ones that are going to be regularly surveying their employees, allowing them to speak up and then sharing those opinions back with the team so that everyone’s aware of where you are on this whole transition and where you’re going.

William Tincup: I love this. So I don’t know. It was during a podcast. I was talking to somebody and they’re saying one of the interesting things about early stage career folks is they want to go to an office because they’ve never been to an office. Like, “It’s been so long for me. The newness has worn off.” But for socially they want to go out. They want to meet people. They want to do stuff. And in a remote environment, how do you encourage kind of that connective tissue that folks might require? And again, I’m not picking on early stage career because it could be anybody, but how do you connect the dots for them and create those experiences?

Betsy Bula: First of all, the in-person interactions are crucially important for any type of company. So even though we are an all-remote team, we have zero offices, we do see great value in gathering in-person when it’s possible. Obviously, the last couple of years have made that really difficult. So we’re missing those moments connect in person. But as a team, I keep saying this, but we have a whole guide about in-person interactions as well.

So there are things that during normal times we do like gathering the whole company for our company summit every year. We have local meetups and we get together at conferences. We encourage people to have co-working days, if there are people in their location or they’re passing through a city where another team member works.

So there’s benefit to that because you’re able to do the relationship building and those in-person moments. And then once you’re back to working remotely, you have a bit more of a foundation to build on and you work better together, remotely and asynchronously when you’ve built those connections in person.

So there’s certainly value in that and we are excited for the day when we can get back together as a team. But I do think it’s important when you either have to be virtual because of something like a pandemic or you are primarily virtual to focus on informal communication. It’s up to the leadership of the company to make sure that they’re creating moments for all members to be able to have like fill that social cup when they need it.

But I think the part that’s even more important is that, again, there’s no one size fits all for that. So like you mentioned someone earlier in their career might really crave more of that. Or they may live alone and not have a roommate or a family member that they can just chat with in between meetings. So it can be isolating if they’re not able to be connected to people at work.

So having those moments and the options to be able to get together for a virtual coffee chat and get to know someone one on one, or we really try to be creative about it. So they’re even things like team talent shows and virtual meals that we can share together and things that try to get out of the typical Zoom happy hour thing that everyone is kind of tired of.

So we really put a lot of effort into figuring out how to make those moments happen so that people can invest in each other as more than just coworkers and really understand each other as people.

William Tincup: I love it. Last question, Betsy. Early in the pandemic, there was a lot of stuff in the popular press about folks that thrive in remote and folks that just don’t. Really a lot of it was around productivity. Some people just can’t handle it, this, that. First of all, destroy that. Are there people that are just more suited to working remotely or thrive in remote? Or is it a systems and tools and communications and teaching, upskilling? Is there a personality? I guess, what I’m asking is there a personality that thrives in with remote or is that just a myth?

Betsy Bula: That is a great way to think about it. So on one hand, I want to argue with a little bit of bias probably that everyone can be successful in a remote environment with the right resources and with the right company. On the other hand, again, everyone has a different situation. So part of this, I mentioned investment in workspaces, you think about someone who just prefers to work outside of their home. A remote company like GitLab invests in a co-working space for people if they would prefer to work in that kind of setting.

So that’s just an example of ways that despite being fully remote, you can still find ways to make the experience work for different personalities and different learning styles, and different needs, but it takes a lot of intentionality, both on the part of the leaders of your organization and also the team member themselves.

But I will say there are definitely… There are certain skills that we look for in hiring that we will indicate that someone will be more successful in a remote environment. So looking for candidates with excellent communication skills, people that understand self-learning and self-service. Those are really important because we want people to really be able to be a manager of one and figure out on each day, what should my work day look like? How can I get my work done while still going to run my errands or going to pursue a hobby that I love and being able to embrace that autonomy?

So there certainly is a set of skills that will allow you to thrive more in a remote environment. But I would also argue that with the right training, the right upskilling, and the right equipment and support, really it can be done by anyone. So I think we’re going to see a lot of that happening as the year and the coming years go on, is people figuring out what that looks like for them, what that looks like for their team and how we can all embrace it.

William Tincup: I love it. You are a wonderful evangelist. Thank you so much for your time, Betsy.

Betsy Bula: Thank you, William. It’s so fun to talk about all this and I appreciate you having me.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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