GitLab: Leaning into remote work pre- and post-pandemic

A chat with Betsy Church Bula, Talent Brand Manager, Gitlab.

Laptop sitting on table

Betsy’s passion for remote work was evident from my very first question. Her journey to remote work is relatable. After a spouse’s job landed them in a new city, Betsy asked her company if she could go remote and they said yes! It was not until a couple years later and a new job as the Talent Brand Manager at GitLab when Betsy realized just how good remote could be.

She went from one of the few working remotely, feeling isolated socially from peers in an HQ, to part of a fully distributed team spanning over 65 countries and a number of Slack channels full of travel and puppy pictures.

“I can’t tell you how different, how freeing, it is to be part of a team that encourages that much autonomy and flexibility. It’s been such a great experience.“ —Betsy, on her two year experience at GitLab
Gitlab Betsy Church Bula Senior Talent Brand Manager

Much of this she attributes to their company values. When discussing company culture, I knew our conversation was going to be great after Betsy shared an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with, “it’s so important,” she said of developing a strong foundation, “to take that intentional approach and not lean on the things that were just kind of like serendipitous as you were in the office together.”

With so much of the inner-workings of GitLab culture made public, via their online Handbook, it is clear why GitLab earns our title of a “Well-Distributed” company. Throughout my conversation with Betsy this became even more apparent as I learned about their remote hiring approach, employee resource groups, and what this radical approach to transparency means for them.

On remote hiring

Nearing 1,300 team members across multiple time-zones, GitLab is truly a distributed company. Their approach to hiring is near and dear to our heart as well, as Oyster envisions a world in which every talented person can have a fulfilling career—no matter where in the world they live.

GitLab is one of those companies that is making this happen, as Betsy explains, “We consider it part of our vision for remote work to be able to spread opportunities to locales across the world. And so, you know, not leaning on these traditional hubs for talent. So it’s been really cool to see how that goal kind of goes hand in hand with our goal of increasing the diversity of our team, because it’s such a natural outcome of hiring in so many different places, that you have such a diverse group of people coming together and sharing different experiences and bringing different things to the table.”

“We consider it part of our vision for remote work to be able to spread opportunities to locales across the world.”

When it comes to making this vision a reality, a lot of effort is taken by Betsy’s team in sharing the realities of the job throughout the interview process. First, each job posting relates to a job family, what they call the type of job, that has performance indicators attached to it. Candidates are also able to familiarize themselves with the role and the publicly available information about working at GitLab. The interview process, which strongly emphasizes behavioral questions, aims to get a sense of how successful the candidate will be at the work to be done. The interviews are designed to share past experiences of how candidates have handled certain situations at work and what their approach to being successful at work is like.

As more people have their own remote work experiences throughout the pandemic the focus on remote work in the interview process has also evolved, with candidates asking the questions. “A lot of people who either said, I would have never been able to work remotely. And now I love it. And I want to be part of your team”, or people who say, “I haven’t had the best experience this year… Hearing candidates come in and say, oh, like I’ve been remote, I’m a little hesitant, because I’ve been remote this year, and it’s not been the best experience, How are you different?” is a question that the GitLab team takes seriously: they attribute their differences to “doing it from the start” with a strong focus on structure and “super intentional” culture.

In the end a lot of effort is put into the process, as Betsy shares “we really do focus on trying to hire the best person for that role, whether you know, they’re in whatever city or town, it doesn’t it doesn’t matter as long as they’re able to connect with the team.”

Transparency and documentation

Hiring with such a dedicated approach to transparency is not the only area where information is king. Throughout our conversation, anytime I had a question for Betsy about life at GitLab she easily referred me to a public page where more details could be found for anyone interested in the inner workings of the company.

It is evident that transparency and documentation are two qualities that make a strong remote team but the level to which GitLab takes this philosophy is impressive!

An example of this is the approach to asynchronous work: “We really do depend on everyone in the company to be able to communicate well, and document well, so that that machine continues to work well. And part of that is being able to use the GitLab tools to get your work done, and document projects make updates to the public handbook and whatever it may be.” shares Betsy, “You’re moving your things forward and making sure the right people are looped in and that you’re getting feedback, and operating within our company values.”

“If I log off I on a project, at the end of the day, I should have documented it well enough so that someone in another time zone could log in while I’m asleep and be able to continue collaborating.” —Betsy on asynchronous work

The transparency at GitLab knows no limit, with this sharing of information going all the way up to the CEO as part of the CEO shadow program, a program whereby employees get to join the CEO in an immersive experience in San Francisco and now remotely. This opportunity provides employees with a transparent view into every aspect of the company that they might not have exposure to in the day-to-day.

Company culture

Like many remote companies during the pandemic, GitLab had to take all their in-person meetups online, something Betsy said the team had to be creative about. Creative, might be an understatement as the GitLab Informal Communication document outlines some of the ways they keep the culture strong and people connected from DJ Zoom Rooms to Scavenger Hunts.

As we know during these times, it is not always fun and games when it comes to remote work and company culture. “I think one of the things that Git lab did really well at the beginning {of the pandemic} was acknowledging everyone’s situation is different. Our leaders immediately came out and said:  ‘Look, yes, we’re remote. Yes, we know how to do this. But this is a different bear. So we can all you know, be taking care of our friends and family first, and figuring out what our needs are.’”

With this focus on people, it was two-specific Slack channels that stand out: Juice-Box Chats which is a group for employee’s kids and families to have the opportunity to meet over Zoom. Described in their handbook as a “bring your kid to work day” the benefits of this program is to socialize internally, connect kids with similar interests or ages, and allow working parents a break from that unannounced meeting crasher. The other Mental Health Aware something Betsy considers to be a “breath of fresh air” to see how people can connect and support each other across the world. “Especially this year, where people are feeling a little more isolated and don’t have like their typical support systems that they might have outside of work.”

After an hour of talking with Betsy I knew we would barely scratch the surface of what makes GitLab so unique in terms of their remote work practices.

“I think what I would say is that we’ve seen more than ever this year, that remote work is the future. And it’s not even the future. It’s now. I hope that so many other teams will kind of start to adopt that too, and figure out what it looks like for them. It’s again, not a one size fits all. But there’s so many unique little things and anecdotes that will come out that help you sort of determine who you are as a company. So embrace that and figure out how it works for you.” —Betsy, on advice and best practices for other remote companies

To learn more about GitLab, check out:

About Oyster

Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches or the expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

Table of Contents

Text Link