‘The only way to define culture in a remote setting is to write it down’
With more than 1,200 employees distributed across over 65 countries and a valuation of nearly $3 billion, GitLab is one of the world’s most successful fully remote startups.
Describing it as a textbook example of a remote company would be redundant, because the company actually wrote a textbook about it.
I recently had a chance to talk to GitLab’s head of Remote, Darren Murph, who filled me in on how they get stuff done, his advice for all the companies that had to suddenly shift to remote work and why GitLab gets rid of all its Slack messages after 90 days. (Fun fact: Darren wrote for TechCrunch’s corporate cousin Engadget in a past life, where he earned a Guinness World Record for writing an absolutely ridiculous number of posts.)
Darren and I chatted for quite a while, so I’ve split the transcript into two parts for easier reading. Part two coming tomorrow!
TechCrunch: So your official title is “Head of Remote.” What does that entail?
Darren Murph: It’s three things.
It’s telling our remote story to the world, it’s making sure that people who join the company acclimate to working in an all-remote setting and it’s building out the educational piece. The “all-remote” section of our handbook has dozens of guides on how we do everything remotely, from async, to meetings, to hiring and compensation, and I’m the author of all of that.
We do that to better the world; we put it all out there, it’s open source. We want other companies to read it, implement it and use it. We never saw COVID coming, but I kind of knew that down the road [this handbook] would be necessary. Thankfully, I started working on it in advance. Now that the world needs it… it’s been crazy. We packaged up our best thinking in that remote playbook, and it’s just been off the charts with companies downloading it. It’s been wild.
Why did GitLab go remote in the first place?
It was remote by default. The first three people to join the company were in three different countries… so the only way to do it was through the internet.
The one brief moment in time where there was a co-located wrinkle to the company… they’d moved to California for Y Combinator. I think there was like nine or 10 people at the time. Of course, coming out of Y Combinator, at the time, you just get an office — it’s just what you did.
I think that lasted about three days. Then people just stopped showing up.
But work kept getting done! Because even in the office they were just communicating on… whatever it was at the time. It probably wasn’t Slack, I don’t think Slack existed.