With staff in more than 65 countries, open-core company GitLab has always been deliberately all-remote. Its North Carolina-based head of remote, Darren Murph – who is believed to be the first person in the world with that job title – shares how he and his colleagues make working from home work for them.
08:00 Most days I wake up at nine and avoid Zoom calls for two hours to give myself space to take control of the day before the rest of the world has a chance to colour that. But this was our Remote by GitLab summit day – our first-ever, all-remote, half-day symposium. So I woke up, had breakfast and got some energy out with the toddler. Maverick is a total bundle of fun, always destroying something.
09:00 Quick sync call with my staff responsible for coordinating and launching the event. We only need 15 minutes because all the choreography is happening in a shared Google Sheet. Everything at GitLab happens on a shared doc platform so everyone can contribute at times that make sense for them, asynchronously. It’s debatable if the call was even needed but it was nice to say, “hey, have fun”. We primarily use synchronous calls for relationship-building, not work. We’ll keep the Google Sheet open and use Slack to coordinate any pings back and forth.
09:15 Grab coffee and kiss the family goodbye. GitLab is explicit in its meeting protocols to say that family, friends and pets are always welcome. It’s a massive anxiety reduction technique. Maverick’s old enough to know that upstairs is “where Daddy works”. I’ve custom-built my workspace. It’s like NASA mission control.
10:00 My async pulse check. With each direct report, we have an ongoing shared Google Doc with history all the way back to our first meeting, which enables us to have a continual list of what’s important to us instead of having to wait for the weekly one-on-one sync. The doc is always live so if I think of something, I’ll go in and jot it down so we can talk about it at the one-on-one. I have a couple of daily dashboards, the general metrics that track our business impact, and I make notes on things I need to change or investigate. Then it’s time for my “mentions”. We use GitLab, the product, to collaborate across the entire company. It’s the single source of truth. I take a look if people have mentioned me in a Google Doc or a Google Sheet or tagged me in a GitLab issue or merge request. I call this my “unblocking time” to see if anyone needs input or budget approval.
10:30 The social media blitz. I have a list of topics to look at. I’m there for a reason and I deliberately have a bare-bones news diet because I find it makes me more mentally healthy. I leverage all available platforms to share that our conference is happening.
11:00 The event starts. Thousands of people are tuning in live. I’m in the Hopin platform, welcoming people to the main stage, engaging with our communities.
11:30 This is my moment to dig into those GitLab issues from earlier. The platform enables anyone in any function – design, legal – to contribute proposals to any other function. My role is to advise on these conversations through the remote lens.
13:00 I take a cardio break, the Insanity video program. Working from home, I’m easily able to pivot from a thoughtful response to a proposal to fitness in the course of five minutes. Normally I’ll listen to a podcast: Remote Talks by remote.com; How I Work by Amantha Imber; Supermanagers by Fellow.app; or My First Million by The Hustle. Today, I keep the event rolling.
14:30 Lunch. The two-year-old loves to make smoothies – lots of noise. If you work in an office you miss out on the small stuff. It adds up to the meaningful stuff.
15:00 I jump on a Head of Remote panel. What is this role? Why should organisations consider it? What do you do all day? I was brought into GitLab in July 2019, before COVID-19, but many companies hiring a dedicated leader are not coming from that place. Remote exposes that you have to convert all the unwritten rules, the tacit, to explicit.
16:00 I curate a wrap-up report to share with the company and we flip all the video recordings onto our GitLab YouTube channel. I go on another social media blitz – lots of virtual high fives. The keynotes of Kate Lister, from Global Workplace Analytics, and Laurel Farrer, from Distribute Consulting, were particularly impactful because they’ve been working for years to bring companies into what we now call the present. They know the success of distributed working in any organisation is going to hinge on how intentional the leaders are in making it work.
18:00 Maverick’s had dinner and my wife goes on a run. It’s train time then we clean up as best a toddler can. Adopting Maverick is one reason why I think the secondand third-order impacts of the remote transition are so significant. I believe a lot of people don’t lean into adopting and fostering because it doesn’t fit within the rigid confines of work. Tens of millions of people are going remote – when you put the power of time back in people’s hands and give them the opportunity to pour that into what they care about, you could unlock a lot of human potential. Your perspective changes when you look at everything through the lens of opportunity instead of the lens of fear.
21:00 I have a second burst of peak productivity late into my evening so once all is quiet, I pop back upstairs and do deep work – no calls – with Major League Baseball games in the background then ESPN’s SportsCenter program.
00:00 Before sleep, I read something statistical to ease the mind. I’ve had 15 years to experiment with my day and figure out what my productivity curves are. Remember, midnight in North Carolina is only 9pm in California and only 6pm in Hawaii. In a remote environment, the office is always open or always closed, depending on your perspective.
Darren Murph advises transitioning companies to use “very precious” synchronous time for relationship building. “It’s much easier to do work asynchronously and in disparate focus zones,” he says. Murph, in North Carolina, says back-to-back Zoom calls will exhaust any team you hope to connect socially. “The only methodical way to solve that is to systematically reduce synchronous work calls by implementing new tools and technologies,” he says. “Some un-learning goes into that.”
GitLab regards any one-on-one meeting to be the direct report’s meeting, not the manager’s. “It’s a safe space for them to surface issues and questions. The manager is expected to honour the communication preferences of the direct report.”