Gitlab and remote teams

Posted by on March 25, 2020 · 2 mins read

Due to COVID-19’s quarantine measures, many companies forced their teams to work in a 100% remote setting. Gitlab was the first $1b+ company founded using a fully remote discipline and recently published their notes and values.

One value in the presentation stood out for me:

“Document everything” - meetings are optional. Gitlab takes documentation so seriously, they make meetings optional. Think about that. If meetings are optional, then you can work for a company where it’s possible to never talk to anyone once you get hired. It’s probably never happened where a Gitlab employee doesn’t attend ANY meetings, but following these values strictly would imply that this is OK with them.

What does this policy imply?

  1. If you’re a terrible reader or writer, you’re not set up for success.
  2. “Reading between the lines” is difficult so employee writing likely needs standardization and training.
  3. Writing needs to be default unemotional. Some employees judge a colleague’s intent cynically, causing miscommunication in unintentional written language.

Varying writing styles makes 2 and 3 difficult to scale.

Let’s say a colleague leaves a comment in a document: “I don’t think this works.” Taken explicitly, the writer could become more productive, or, taken emotionally, the writer could feel attacked. Given that there could be multiple readers of this comment within a given team, colleagues who need a similar understanding of material could end up with widely different interpretations.

Is it possible for workers read unemotionally? In an asynchronous environment, mis-interpretations in writing/emotional style can lead to delays in delivering company objectives. I’d imagine training a workforce to assume nothing emotional takes a large amount of time. Gitlab likely has an interview process that filters for candidates who have a good chance of success.

In other words, if your team decides to blindly accept these Gitlab strategies, it’s unlikely you will succeed. Make sure to understand your team’s skills and cultural first principles before making any changes.