The Remote Work Bible
GitLab is one of the world's first billion-dollar companies without an office. Here are 18 snippets from their public handbook that inspired Aula to take the leap to remote.
I’m a convert.
I started out sceptical about remote work. My fears were vague, like ‘you can’t build a strong company culture if you don’t see each other.’ Now, having built a remote company for two years, I’m unlikely to work from an office ever again.
In 2019, we sat between chairs at Aula with 30 employees: our commercial team was office-based in London, and our product team was remote across Europe and Asia. We hired remote because we couldn’t find specialised engineering talent in East London. But we ended up with two company cultures.
GitLab’s journey inspired our leap of faith to tear up our London office lease to embrace remote work.
GitLab is the world’s first billion-dollar company without an office. Their 10,400-page public company handbook is their Bible.
GitLab’s first commandment is that every process and policy goes in their public handbook. I mean everything: their sales process, their compensation calculator, and the personal flaws of the CEO. If it’s not in the handbook, it doesn’t exist.
Their handbook-first approach to communication captures the Holy Trinity of Remote work: Transparency by Default, Deliberateness and Asynchronous communication.
Below are the 18 most interesting pages of the de facto Remote Work Bible that inspired Aula to create our own public handbook.
Transparency by default:
I’m happy I don’t work in Legal at GitLab: everything at GitLab is publicly available by default.
Their transparency surfaces bad news fast and empowers team members to get work done on their own. GitLab has proven radical transparency can work even at 1,000+ employees.
Here are some examples where radical transparency that stretched how far I thought a company could go:
CEOs personal flaws, like “I look serious all the time”, doesn’t undermine confidence in the CEO.
Their company goals don’t make it easier for competitors to beat them.
How their sales process works doesn't make customers feel manipulated.
The CEO giving feedback on marketing in a regular meeting gives a real sense of what it’s like to work at Gitlab, without polish.
Their scorecard for how they expect their team to be transparent shows how to bake transparency into the fabric of an organisation.
The biggest company risks, including how they want to beat their biggest competitor, GitHub.
A summary of security incidents shows GitLab don’t hide when things go wrong.
Sharing everything publicly - even the bad stuff - builds trust in the company.
Remote working is like gardening in a greenhouse: Everything has to be deliberately designed.
GitLab is extremely deliberate. The handbook describes how to do almost everything at GitLab. They have committed that everyone should either follow the handbook or - if you disagree - propose a change to the handbook.
Here are some of the most extreme examples of deliberateness:
Their handbook is a Single Source of Truth of how things should be done at GitLab.
All communication in Slack disappears after 90 days to force team members to communicate via their handbook for important stuff.
Advice on when to do meetings and when not to gets pretty specific, like using meetings when “two people go back-and-forth more than three times on the exact same topic”.
Guide to communicating effectively in writing in a ‘low-context’ environment with team members around the world who are not familiar with business jargon focused on American sports metaphors.
Guide to parenting as a remote worker, such as how to embrace a ‘non-linear’ working day in a remote setting.
Conventions don’t emerge in remote companies like they do in offices. But explicitly defining conventions creates a whole new level of thoughtfulness around how to work together compared to office-based companies.
GitLab team members work across all time zones. They work in a way that means team members rarely need to be in the same place at the same time, physically or virtually. They call that asynchronous work.
Meetings are often replaced with recorded video updates, documented answers to all questions, and written proposals. This creates room for undisturbed, creative work.
The most interesting ideas and examples of asynchronous working:
Team members self-serve information rather than tapping their colleagues on their virtual shoulders.
Examples of asynchronous work that most other companies do in meetings, such as quarterly recaps.
Specific language suggestions for politely declining meetings, like "I’d be happy to give you feedback on that! Before we schedule a meeting, could I review it in a shared doc?"
What they struggle to do asynchronously, such as interviewing job candidates.
In 2019, I read these examples as pedantic and almost human interaction-phobic. Since going remote, I have experienced how fewer meetings enable more inclusive workplaces and deeper thinking.
How to get your company started with remote work, if you’re early on the journey
GitLab is a wonderful and weird company. Don’t adopt their practices (dare I say, rituals) wholesale. The journey to becoming a convert starts with experimentation. Here’s a good place to start your journey:
You’re also welcome to read Aula’s public handbook.