Remote Work Demands a Supportive Company Culture

For many tech companies, remote work offers a lot of upside. With tech industry unemployment hitting record lows, it’s becoming harder and harder to source experienced talent within the nation’s largest tech hubs; being able to cast a net across the entire country (or even the whole world) can boost the chances that a hiring manager will land the person they need—even if they never meet that person in the flesh.

For tech pros, remote work offers some tantalizing benefits, including flexible hours, no commute, and the ability to work sans pants. However, working in a home office, hundreds or thousands of miles from the rest of your colleagues, can lead to feelings of isolation.

As an article in Inc. about GitLab’s remote culture points out, the issues multiply if remote workers are dispersed across multiple time zones. Nobody wants to wake up at 2 A.M. to attend a video conference, for example. But GitLab has managed to create a cohesive culture, despite having 350 employees spread across 45 countries. How did the company pull that off?

The answer is pretty simple: meetings and presentations are uploaded to YouTube (to avoid people having to attend in the middle of the night), and documents such as the employee handbook are posted online.

This gives GitLab’s remote workers the chance to get things done asynchronously. In exchange, the workers must possess a high degree of self-direction: they have to build time into their schedules to watch those meetings, and take the time to hunt down and read documents rather than ask colleagues.

In order to ensure that everything works as it should, GitLab has poured resources into a supportive culture. “When you have a leadership team that’s as committed to remote-only as they are, and as communicative and transparent as they are, and as insistent on documentation as they are, it can work.” Dave Munichiello, a general partner at GV, Google’s venture-capital arm and a GitLab investor, told Inc.

Late last year, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) surveyed 1,153 employees, roughly half of whom worked remotely at least some of the time, and found that the most successful managers pinged their remote reports frequently. However, many remote employees also complained of issues that never seemed to go away. “When remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more,” HBR added.

In other words, if you’re a remote worker, make sure a prospective employer offers a supportive culture, lest you end up feeling isolated and ignored by your in-office colleagues. It’s also vital for companies to make remote employees feel like part of the team, through frequent check-ins and opportunities to voice and resolve challenges.