A conversation with Betsy Church Bula. All-Remote Evangelist at GitLab

“It’s so interesting because I think in the process of documenting things like asynchronous workflows and some of the really hot ticket items that you hear about remote work, we’ve gotten to pull out stories from different people’s lives and how that plays out. It’s really what kind of brings this work to life, because it shows you how something like being able to work a non-linear work day enables someone to spend more time with their kids, or pursue a hobby that they love, or just have time to rest during what would be an otherwise hectic work day. So I feel like you can have all the policies in the world and outline all the best practices and all of the things, but if you don’t have the actual stories around how that’s impacting people’s lives in a tangible way, then it doesn’t really matter to people. So I think that’s what feels so important about this work is that it’s not just helping the company tick, it’s helping people’s lives work better in the end. So it definitely is … it’s a big, important piece of the story.” –Betsy Church Bula

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Betsy Church Bula about how a deep interest in people and journalism led to her career as a Remote Work Evangelist.  She shares how storytelling has been such an important part of her career.  Later, Betsy explores the benefits of the nonlinear workday and the opportunities it opens up.  We then discuss productivity in and out of the office.   Listen in to learn how remote work is different after COVID.  

Show Highlights

[2:21] How Betsi Became A Remote Work Advocate.

[8:36] Creating A Single Source Of Truth.

[16:14] The Benefits Of A Nonlinear Workday.

[25:45] What Cracks Do We Trip Over?  

[35:17] How Remote Work Is Different Post Covid

Betsy on Linkedin

Betsy on Twitter

GitLab on LinkedIn

Betsy on Twitter

The Remote Playbook

About the Guest

As an All-Remote Evangelist at GitLab, Betsy focuses on sharing the company’s all-remote brand with the world, helping others embrace the future of work. Prior to joining the All-Remote Marketing team, she spent her career in employer branding and recruitment marketing for high-growth tech companies. When Betsy is not in her home office in Raleigh, NC, she loves spending time outdoors with her husband and their golden retriever.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of the meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes, while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators, and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com.

Today, I’m with Betsy Bula from GitLab, which is one of the world’s largest all-remote companies. Betsy’s a remote work strategist and spends her time sharing GitLab’s lessons learned and best practices with the world to help others embrace the future of work. Welcome to the show, Betsy.

Betsy: Awesome. Thanks, Douglas. I appreciate you having me.

Douglas: So great to have you. I’ve really been looking forward to this. As we really were leaning into our distributed work policies, which is kind of what … We always refer to it as distributed work, which I think aligns nicely with some of the stuff we were talking about in the pre-show. But we’ll get to that in a moment. Just a big GitLab fan, just that y’all documented and shared so broadly and so openly. So we definitely have been big fans for … even pre-pandemic. So thank y’all for that. Would love to get started here with just hearing a little bit about how you got your start. How did you become a remote work evangelist?

Betsy: Yeah. First of all, thank you. That’s our goal with everything that our team does at GitLab, is for other people to be able to benefit from it and really live into this new way of work and living. But yes, I am an all-remote evangelist, which I’ll explain what that means in a minute. But GitLab is actually one of the world’s largest all-remote companies.

For those who aren’t familiar with us, we’ve been remote since inception, so long before the pandemic began. Today, we have more than 1,300 team members across 65 plus countries. So very distributed, like you mentioned. My team, our job is really to share remote work with the world. So we’ve taken GitLab’s lessons learned and all the best practices that we’ve learned over the years of trial and error and iteration. Our goal is really to help other companies figure out how to embrace that by sharing what we’ve learned. We’ve documented all of this remote work knowledge in a very extensive collection of all-remote guides to act as a blueprint. They’re helpful whether you’re a hybrid company all-remote, only just starting to dip your toe in the water of remote work. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re strictly remote, like GitLab is, it’ll be helpful guidance for anyone along this journey.

I’ve been at GitLab for three years when I first joined the company, I actually started out on our talent brand team. Prior to that, I was always in talent brand, employer branding roles. I come from a journalism background and I think that storytelling piece is really what looped me in to talent brand work, but it was definitely not something I studied in school. I thought I would be a newspaper reporter. So, here we are, very different path. But the storytelling aspect is something that’s always kind of followed my career. It’s been a cool experience going from talent brand work, where you’re really telling the story of what it’s like to work for a company, to shifting over to more of the marketing side and experiencing that side of remote work. I also work most days from my home office here in Raleigh, North Carolina. Typically have a very needy golden retriever at my feet most days. And I’m expecting my first child in a few weeks. So lots of exciting things happening around here. But yeah, that’s how we got to today.

Douglas: So amazing. Congratulations on the first child.

Betsy: Thank you.

Douglas: Our guests couldn’t see you turn and look down at the golden retriever, but we could certainly hear you.

Betsy: Yes.

Douglas: That’s so good. The trustee friend by the side. I love it.

Betsy: She is never far. It’s definitely a big benefit to working from home.

Douglas: It’s funny, we were just updating our Glassdoor page. Which, it’s not something that was kind of top on my radar, but we were doing a little bit of hiring recently. I realized that they had added the ability to kind of add company culture and things to your company listing. One of them was a pet friendly workplace. I was like, “Yeah, of course, we’re a pet friendly workplace.”

Betsy: Right, you’re naturally pet friendly. You’re kid friendly. You’re everything home life friendly.

Douglas: 100%.

Betsy: It’s the best.

Douglas: Coming back to your point around being a journalist. It’s not that uncommon for guests on the show to be journalists. Because storytelling comes into the art of facilitation, it comes into the art of kind of culture building and change work that we’re so interested and focused on, so it’s very common. One thing that I notice with a lot of storytellers and journalists that find their way into this kind of work, they seem to be the type of journalists and writers that are really fascinated about people. In a way, it’s almost like the journalism degree was almost an anthropology degree in a way. I’m just curious if that resonates with you at all.

Betsy: That’s such a great point, and I totally agree. That’s something that has, again, been this common thread throughout every role that I’ve had. The parts of my roles that have excited me the most are the ones where I get to interview another person, get to know them as a human being and what makes them tick, and therefore, how they contribute to the company culture or why they decided to join the company, beyond just the superficial aspects of it. So, absolutely. I think for somebody that does like storytelling and likes talking to people, those two pieces are so crucial for me to be able to thrive in any role. It’s a cool thing to see how that applies in a business sense, because it can kind of feel like that’s not applicable to certain roles, but it’s really … it’s been something that’s been very valuable to me over the years.

Douglas: I’m curious how much the stories from individuals find their way into the remote work policies and best practices. Do you find that you’re kind of celebrating these stories or aspects of how employees are showing up in different ways?

Betsy: Absolutely. It’s so interesting because I think in the process of documenting things like asynchronous workflows and some of the really hot ticket items that you hear about remote work, we’ve gotten to pull out stories from different people’s lives and how that plays out. It’s really what kind of brings this work to life, because it shows you how something like being able to work a non-linear work day enables someone to spend more time with their kids, or pursue a hobby that they love, or just have time to rest during what would be an otherwise hectic work day. So I feel like you can have all the policies in the world and outline all the best practices and all of the things, but if you don’t have the actual stories around how that’s impacting people’s lives in a tangible way, then it doesn’t really matter to people. So I think that’s what feels so important about this work is that it’s not just helping the company tick, it’s helping people’s lives work better in the end. So it definitely is … it’s a big, important piece of the story.

Douglas: There’s a couple things that come up there for me. I know that GitLab is a big fan of documentation and this kind of search mentality. So let’s talk about that for a little bit, and then I’ll stitch it back to the other thing that was kind of coming up for me. But you were just talking about documenting these stories and the best practices. So I want to hear a little bit about that ethos and why you feel that’s so important.

Betsy: Yeah, absolutely. This all started when GitLab was originally growing as a remote team. It became very clear that documentation was the key foundational piece to that working well. When you think about it, if you even have people … they don’t have to be in different time zones even, people who are just not in the same physical space during a certain day, and are trying to accomplish something, that happens much more easily when you’ve documented what you’re working on, what’s coming next, what your goals are, who’s in charge of what. You can even apply that to personal life, like your household and making to-do lists and things like that. So I think that’s pretty intuitive for people, but if you think about it at scale, it becomes even more important. And then you throw in things like time zone differences and people being based all over the world where they may not even be awake at the same time, the documentation piece becomes … it’s just a non-negotiable.

So, for us, documentation not only helps the sort of project work move more smoothly, it also helps things like people’s just confidence and ability to get their work done, because they know that they have a single source of truth, a place where they can find all the information they need without having to depend on another person. That’s a big piece that requires a lot of learning in the beginning if you’ve not worked in a remote role. So it’s something that we really focus on in onboarding and try to help people kind of get acclimated to is this self-service mindset. Really, learning how to be a manager of one is what we call it. It’s a crucial remote skill to have. Then it also just pays dividends for the whole team because everyone’s better equipped to operate individually, and then work together and collaborate together better in the end, because they have access to all the transparent information that they might need. So, yes, the documentation … the high level of documentation is such a base level piece that your team needs to function and then thrive.

Douglas: I’m curious how you balance the idea of manager of one and a self-service with … even, you mentioned this desire to kind of celebrate the individual and share the stories of the people, like humanize the documentation and the work and the stories and this need for human connection we all seem to have. Because if everyone is … On one end of the spectrum, it’s purely 100% self-serve. We all just go in and we’re interacting with Notion, whatever tool it is, and there’s no human contact. On the other end of the spectrum, we’re waiting for synchronous meetings to get everything done. What have you found as kind of the sweet spot around creating this human connection, but also, really leaning into these tenants that you’ve found that are so important.

Betsy: There really is such a delicate balance there. It’s definitely not a black and white thing where just because we have a bias for asynchronous communication and documentation, that we never speak to each other or anything like that, because that would be very unhealthy and unproductive. But we really look at it as kind of optimizing for different pieces and different types of work. So if you think about the things that you can self-serve, like, “I am trying to update my information in XYZ system. I know I can go to the handbook and find out how to do that without having to ping someone else and interrupt their day and ask them how this process works.” So there’s some of the logistical things like that that just work better if you’re able to have that self-service mindset.

But we’re also human beings. We need the connection to people. We need to build rapport with other people in order for the work to go smoothly. So informal communication is really important piece of this too, and helps us really build that comradery on the team, and also just get our minds off of work for a bit. So we believe that that is something that’s on … the onus is on leadership to be able to provide moments for people to connect. It really has to be more than just, “Let’s do a Zoom happy hour.” We want to meet people where they are, let them choose the moments of connection that work best for them, their personality, their work day structure, whatever it may be. So on some days it may be that I want to connect with somebody via Slack. We have lots of different special interest Slack channels at GitLab.

For example, one of them is for dogs. So I might have a really cute picture of my dog from that day and want to share it with people. It starts a discussion. You get that human connection, even if it’s not synchronous. And then other days I might really want to have a face-to-face video chat with a coworker. So I’ll set up a coffee chat for 30 minutes and just kind of get my brain off of work and get to know somebody. So being able to build those moments and create this non-judgmental culture that allows people to reach out on their own volition, and encouraging them to do it in a way that like works best for them, I think is a really healthy way to balance some of the natural inclination to just go all digital first and documentation first that can come with a remote team. But yes, that balance is very important. It takes a while to learn. It’s something that, again, differs person to person.

Douglas: Yeah. One of the things that we’ve been strong believers of for a long time, and it’s really served us in this moment of the pandemic and just leaning into more distributed work, is this idea of prototypes. It’s completely different to bring a group together and say, “Hey, what do we think we should do?” Versus, “Hey, what do you think about this thing I built?”

Betsy: Yep.

Douglas: And then you start to realize, once you start adopting those practices, then you can start to realize like, “Well, oftentimes I could probably get somebody’s feedback without bringing everyone together in real time.” I always encourage people to think about the evolutions of these things.

Betsy: Yeah. It allows for people to … It allows you to meet people where they are. Not everyone is an immediate reaction type of person, like, they might need the time to digest something that they’re seeing or learning and come back to you in two hours or two days. So kind of incorporating that inclusive aspect of the fact that people learn and think and work differently is also … It’s really important, because you’re going to get the better outcome out of a situation if you’ve met people where they are, and allow them to work and function in the way that they do best. So yeah, that’s definitely an important piece.

Douglas: I love that because it’s kind of leading into the neurodiversity and just how we really create belonging.

Betsy: Yes.

Douglas: Even going beyond what even might seem like good belonging practices, but how are we really kind of creating lots of variety for folks to show up and be the best they can be?

Betsy: Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re seeing that a lot in even things like how people build their workspaces. There’s this assumption that people can all be productive and tick for eight hours or nine hours a day sitting at a desk in a corporate office. That’s just not realistic when you think about the differences in human beings and what they need during the day, and how they think and operate. So I think we’re seeing it play out in a number of ways with this worldwide remote work experiment over the past two and a half years.

Douglas: Yeah. It’s interesting, you mentioned the non-linear work day. I think that conjures up some things for me, but I’m sure y’all have some interesting ways to define that. I know some of our listeners might be scratching their heads, like, “What are you talking about there?” So I’m curious to hear you maybe expound on that a little bit.

Betsy: Yes. The non-linear work day, the whole idea is that if you have this clear level of documentation, and therefore, you can allow your team to work better asynchronously, meaning you don’t have to have a meeting for every single thing to get decided or talked about, that means you’re freeing up your work day to be non-linear. If you’re really ticking along well in an asynchronous nature, and you have a block of four hours during the day where you don’t need to be on a synchronous call or what have you, you can repurpose that time in whatever way makes most sense for your life and then log in later.

For some people that might look like something really cool, like pursuing a hobby. We have a actual example in our handbook where one of my coworkers went skiing for a day, and was able to then spend that four hours with his family and really enjoy that experience. And then after his kids were asleep, he logged in and did a few hours of work. That served his life better on that particular day. That doesn’t mean that happens every day or that that’s how his weeks will always look, but it just allows that autonomy and that flexibility.

And then there are people … I feel like most of my non-linear work days are super boring. It’s like I go run errands for a couple hours during the day when there’s not a bunch of traffic and other people. So some of it may just look like you have more flexibility in your day to make it a more well-balanced and healthy, both physically and mentally, work day for you. There’s a lot of different pieces to that kind of spectrum, but it’s all about the autonomy and the flexibility that you allow for your people.

Douglas: That reminds me, I have this similar conversation when we’re onboarding new employees. It’s part of my user manual, which is, you might notice that stuff gets done at strange hours. I want to make it very clear that it doesn’t mean I’m working like 18 hours that day. Probably took off four hours during the middle of the day and I’m just going to … that’s the time where I’m feeling the inspiration, I get some things done. As a leader, I like to schedule emails so that people don’t get bombarded or don’t get distracted with the notifications. But it’s still very clear, if they see four emails from me at eight in the morning, they know that something … and there’s a lot of work that got done, they know something happened. Right? So I think it’s important to communicate that when they’re noticing these things. This is not just a benefit that I have, anyone in the organization can do that.

Betsy: Right. You make a great point about the kind of modeling and how important that is for managers and leaders. That comes back to transparency. I have a similar … my manager often will say, “I’m logging off for the afternoon to go be outside with my kid. You’ll probably see some things come through later this evening.” Knowing that not only helps us understand how to communicate with him, but it also gives me the freedom to really feel like, “This is not just something that’s written in our handbook, it’s not just something that you’re saying, you actually mean this and you’re modeling it and expect us to live this way too.” So it goes back to the sort of “practice what you preach” mentality. That it is important to not just, as leaders, say, “Here’s what we expect,” but actually, really demonstrate it in everything that you’re doing too.

Douglas: I love that. It reminds me too, my sister was recently changing jobs. She was telling me that because they are distributed company, they have offices all over. There are some expectations of some late night evenings, because she’s east coast and a lot of people are San Francisco and in Philippines, et cetera. I said, “Well, yeah, that might have an impact on dinner time. So that’s something to consider, but what does that free up during your day? Really think about what that opens up as far … and then weigh those benefits.” Right?

Betsy: Right.

Douglas: Rather than just looking at it as like, “Oh, I’m going to have to do this thing,” that doesn’t mean it has to be extra. It’s like, “What kind of opportunity does that create if I make that shift?”

Betsy: Reallocate the day, yeah. That, again, takes some practice, because it’s kind of unlearning some old habits that we’ve all had of, “I start work at eight, I end it at five,” kind of robotic lifestyle. It requires you to think about, like, “What are my peak productivity hours?” For me, for example, when I really started getting into the groove with remote work, I would really try to schedule my meetings during certain blocks of the day, and then my focused work hours during certain blocks of the day, based on how I function best in a typical day. Obviously, like you said, there’s going to be days where that fluctuates based on a need to have a synchronous meeting with somebody in a different time zone or what have you, but having that sort of like base knowledge of how you want your week to look and your work day to look, and then setting those boundaries, is crucial to help you live your best work life in a remote setting.

Douglas: Absolutely. I find those exercises really quite helpful because sometimes when we set these boundaries, there may be a … we might have to make exceptions, but we don’t just norm into those exceptions. It doesn’t become a default that like, “Wait a second, we’re just like … these behaviors are just driving out these outcomes I don’t love.” I found that even though these things I don’t … an ideal day, I’m not doing them. But gosh, if you set the boundaries, you find that like, “Oh, wow. Maybe I’ll only end up doing that once a week. Gosh, instead every day.”

Betsy: Exactly. You made a good point, that we often talk about, is like, yes, there are going to be times where there is a period of overwork or a deadline that has to get met that is going to require an extra push from the team. Those things are expected and okay, if they don’t become the norm, and it doesn’t raise the bar of expectation to, “Okay, now this is your new status quo.” So recognizing that those weeks are going to happen and that then you can kind of shift back to whatever your norm was. Really, communicating about those things, I think is important, both for leaders and individual contributors or members of the team. Because oftentimes, it can kind of get missed and that expectation and bar of work continues to push, push, push slowly until there’s burnout and issues with the team’s overall wellness. So having that conversation and that level of transparency and willingness to not make those topics taboo is going to go a long way.

Douglas: Yeah. Often like to use those moments as a data point of how we might improve. Like, “How do we get to this point? Was any of it in our control or were there outside forces? How can we put in practices or even antenna that might detect those outside forces before they impact us? This is a sign we need to hire, or is this a sign we need to have different sales conversations or set different expectations in our customers?” Rather than just, again, being victims. It’s the same boundaries we’re setting for ourselves, where we’re setting them for the team, for the company.

Betsy: Absolutely. Yeah. I think the kind of focus on how you look back at how work got done and who was involved, and having those conversations and not just expecting that it be about the work, but about the impact of the work on the people is another layer that will help your team function better in the future, and collaborate better and build trust. Because you’re not just focused on, “Okay, let’s have a retrospective of whether we churned out these certain metrics, but let’s look at what that did to the team in this certain period of time, as they were working on that.” So I love that focus too.

Douglas: Yeah. It’s when retrospectives can be aimed at the culture, and at the feelings and the emotions, not just the technical levers.

Betsy: Right.

Douglas: Especially when you got software organizations that … where retrospectives kind of came up from the world of agile. A lot of times it’s really focused on, “Well, do we need to change how we’re constructing our commit messages?” Or whatever these very, kind of like operational logistical things are. So we can kind of have more strategic, kind of cultural conversations, wow, that starts to open up a lot of possibility.

Betsy: Well, and it really … it’s important in a setting, too, where you’re focused on results, because for GitLab, it’s an all-remote team. Because we have no interest in the hours put in, we’re focused on the output and the results that you achieve from your work. If you lean too far into that without asking the people how it’s impacting them and how the team is functioning, then you can kind of lose sight of how mentally healthy people are. So I think, yes, it’s super important and liberating to not have a focus on how many hours you sat at your desk in any given day. That level of transparency is important to kind of keep the whole thing operating well.

Douglas: This is a nice segue into something you mentioned in the pre-show chat, which was your focus on the how, not the where. It seems like these retrospectives, these moments of kind of reflection, really, are centered on the how we think about the work, or how you think about the work. I’m just really fascinated about this reframing of things, because I think the world spends a lot of time thinking about where.

Betsy: Yes. It’s interesting, we’ve seen so many companies tackle remote work and do it really overnight in the last two and a half years. Like, when the pandemic started, there was very little wiggle room to figure out things like processes and your culture and the impact of it, because everyone was just in emergency mode and trying to figure out how to send their people home suddenly overnight. So in the beginning there was sort of a need to just function as is and keep things moving, and try to be as productive as possible when the world has this unprecedented situation going on. And now, two and a half years in, we’re at a point where the where really doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. We’ve seen that work can get done, that people can be even more productive, that their lives can be better balanced when they’re given this type of autonomy, and that businesses can still thrive and even thrive in a better sense if they allow their team to do that.

So I think we’re now at a point where the conversation should not be about this back and forth, like, “Okay, what date on the calendar are we going to reopen the office? And what’s that going to look like?” It’s now the time to focus on the how of work and looking at things like your processes and your norms and your tools. That’s a really important one, what tools you’re using. All of those logistical pieces that impact how you work together, but also your culture. You can’t just copy paste the culture you had in an office in 2019 into 2022, in a hybrid or remote setting, and expect it to tick and give people a good employee experience. So that’s what we mean when we say focus on the how and instill practices and norms and a culture that will function no matter where someone’s opening their laptop on any given day. That’s how you get to this remote distributed team at scale, that really is a thriving place to work.

Douglas: To me, it’s always been about the interactions. Like, what is that point of connection and how do we foster situations where people can do their best? It seems like the low-hanging fruit is one of those things that people are tripping over. You know?

Betsy: Mm-hmm.

Douglas: It’s like, “If there’s a giant crack in the sidewalk, maybe we should go repair that crack.”

Betsy: Right.

Douglas: Oftentimes, people get focused on these big kind of visions. Like, “Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could do …” And they’re not even looking at what’s … “If I just look in the backyard, what do I notice?”

Betsy: Exactly. Yeah. It makes me think of one really kind of crucial part of figuring all of that out is asking your people. I think that’s something that teams for years have done. Things like pulse surveys and asking people for their opinion on certain things. But if you really listen to your people and what they’re seeing as the cracks in the sidewalk, and the holes that you have, especially now that you’ve shifted to whatever remote structure it may be. Your people are the ones that are experiencing it every day and are going to be able to call out those things, and then help you focus on how to solve them in a way that’s going to work for everyone, and not some sort of like top down, “This is what this one leader in this one office thinks that should happen for everybody across the world.”

So really, surveying, talking to, having conversations with your people, and then actually acting on those things, not just putting it in a feedback survey and then never listening to it is going to go a long way in that employee experience and in building a culture for the future, that’s going to actually work for a diverse team.

Douglas: What we’ve noticed with the pulse surveys, et cetera, is there’s often a lack of deep curiosity in those things. A lot of times that leads to confirmation bias.

Betsy: Right.

Douglas: For instance, if we ask people, “What days of the week do you want to come to the office?”

Betsy: Yeah, that insinuates they have to come to the office. Exactly. Yeah.

Douglas: Right. So how much are we really going to learn? We’re just kind of confirming something we already thought to be true. And we’re kind of locally maximizing that thing we already thought was true versus finding this giant opportunity nearby.

Betsy: Exactly. I think the companies that end up kind of falling into those traps and not listening to people, they’re already probably experiencing a lot of attrition and their team members moving on. Some of that’s natural as more and more companies offer different remote or distributed work setups. Some are doing it in a better way than others. You want to be able to attract and retain that top talent and really build a team that functions well together. That requires the leadership listening to the people, and everyone also being able to communicate and listen to each other. So very, very crucial piece there.

Douglas: So what do you think about … Well, I’m going to kind of bring up a current event here, but Elon making the announcement that everyone is required to be 40 hours in the office. As an all-remote company, I’m curious, because I know it must have come up in Slack and the conversations of like … because it’s so shockingly counter to what y’all believe. I’m just kind of curious, what emerged from that? I’m sure there was a lot of laughter and, like, “That’s ridiculous.” But were there any insightful things that kind of came out of that, just any observations there?

Betsy: I think when any of these … We’ve seen a lot of examples of this kind of thing come up lately in the news. That’s a natural thing is a lot of these companies make decisions, and those decisions have downstream effects on whether people stay or go. So it’s definitely … it always comes up in Slack or somewhere in a company meeting or a coffee chat, when we see, especially big companies, say things like that. For us, I think it just reconfirms that it shouldn’t matter how many hours you’re sitting in a chair. When was that ever actually a measure of productivity before? It wasn’t. You could have somebody sitting in a chair and you can see them in an office, and you don’t actually know how much they’re actually producing that day towards their work. You don’t know what else is going on in the background, in their mind and their personal lives. There was never a true measure of productivity in the office. So why would we think that that applies today?

It kind of reiterates for us how important it is that we do have this level of autonomy, and that we have leaders that can see that that’s what creates a well functioning, healthy team. Ultimately, I think all of that’s going to kind of work itself out, in that a lot of these large companies are going to realize that to be able to have good retention and a culture that functions well together, they’re going to have to start to listen to people and give that at least bare bones level of flexibility. We hope to see them really lean into the full autonomy piece, but it’s all going to reveal itself when people move around and make decisions. The reigns are in the hands of the job seekers these days. So I think we’ll see a lot more companies shifting to figuring out what people are looking for, and actually giving that instead of trying to make these big statements and force people into a box.

Douglas: Yeah. So the curt answer is, “We’re hiring.”

Betsy: Exactly. Exactly. Come join GitLab.

Douglas: I find it so fascinating. If companies would’ve directed any of their site maintenance and site logistics expenditures, or even shut down some offices and spend that money on really intentionally designing for the culture and the tools and the norms, and to your point, to be curious and engage, I think they’d find that it’d be very clear that people are able to perform in ways that are just mind boggling.

Betsy: Absolutely.

Douglas: Versus, there is some beauty when people come together.

Betsy: Yes.

Douglas: It depends on the task. I was recording some videos yesterday. I was like, “Oh gosh, it would be so great to have someone here telling me to move over an inch, or telling me, ‘Oh, I can see glare in your glasses.'” But at the end of the day, I was doing that calculus in my head, where it was still cheaper for me just to take a little bit longer, sit down and look at it, and go, “Okay, I need to move a little bit.” And then finally got it. Whereas if I’d have organized someone to be there, the opportunity cost to them being there and doing it. Even though it was annoying for me and less convenient for me, at the end of the day, economically, it still made sense for me just to go do it by myself.

Betsy: Right. There’s so many examples of that. And then you mentioned connection. We’ve talked about sort of the informal communication piece and how to do that digitally, even as an all-remote team, GitLab still is very intentional about finding times for people to connect in person as well, to build relationships and to get to know each other as human beings, beyond just the transactional work interactions. So that is obviously made much more complicated by different COVID surges and people being in so many different countries. So we hope to have a little bit more normalcy of that sometime in the coming months or years or whatever it may be. But in a typical time, we would get together as a team, either at conferences or we have a regular company summit. We so value that time because you’re able to sit down with a person, learn about their lives, and get to a new level of understanding of each other, that then helps the digital asynchronous work run more smoothly when you’re back on your laptops, in different countries.

Douglas: You mentioned going to be looking into the future and thinking about when some of these issues from the pandemic start to wane even more. We’ve seen a little bit of relief and hopefully there’s more to come. The thing that I’ve said for two years now is that we’re in this experiment and people’s eyes have been opened up to being part of a all-hands meeting while everyone’s in a big room and you’re piped in through some crappy Polycom connection, those days are unacceptable now because people have seen the other side. So now they have a taste for it, but they got a taste for it when they were kind of locked up in the house with their kids. It was harder to travel and it was more difficult to bring the team together for an all-hands or a trip to Hawaii, or whatever it is.

Betsy: Yes.

Douglas: So I’m really excited about these companies that have … these startups that have been forced to be all-remote from the get-go, companies like yourself. Some of your policies have probably been stifled a little bit. As things begin to open up more, we’re going to see more of some of those additional positive sides that we can lean into.

Betsy: I love that you brought that up because I think that … It’s something that I talk about a lot with work, but also just in my personal life. Because I’ll have friends come to me and they’re like, “You’ve been doing this for years. How did you stay sane working from home all the time?” This was sort of in the beginning of COVID when everybody was truly stuck at home, and not sure how long this was going to last and all of that. It was a very eye opening thing to realize that what people have been experiencing and what they’ve been calling remote work has not been true, full functioning remote work. It’s been forced work-from-home during a global pandemic, which is not normal for anyone, even those of us who have done it for years.

So that piece I’m also looking forward to is people getting to experience more than just not having a commute. They’re actually be able to experience what it’s like to go get together with people at a local meetup or a co-working space. And then the next day work fully remotely and get to work with those same people, but in a different way. Just all of the different kind of agility that gives your lifestyle and your team and your work, I think it’s just a whole new world. That I hope people will give it a shot and not just assume that what we’ve experienced in this very tumultuous couple of years is the norm of remote work, because it’s simply not. So no matter what type of team you’re on, hang on, because there’s so much goodness that can come out of it.

Douglas: No doubt. It’s going to be really interesting to watch it all unfold and see what more there is to offer. Because at the end of the day, I think all ships rise with the tide. The more companies that lean in and do these things, the more vibrant the ideas will become and we’ll find even … You guys are blazing the path. Who else comes in and says, “Oh, that’s really cool, what they did. We should do this too”? And then it’s just that cross pollination that I think’s really powerful, and the community can continue to grow and thrive. So super excited to see where things come. So with that, I want to just acknowledge the fact that we’re kind of hitting time here, and just want to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.

Betsy: Sure. Well, we’ve talked about a lot of the different practices that GitLab has instilled and learned over the years. I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in learning more about that to check out our Remote Playbook. The playbook really takes all of our remote work guides, which is a very extensive list, and condenses them all into this one easy-to-digest resource that will help you as a remote worker, you as a manager. Wherever you are, there’s something in there for you. It’s a free download. I’d encourage you to go check it out. Douglas is going to put that in the show notes as well, so you’ll be able to access it. But the GitLab Remote Playbook is just an excellent blueprint to start from, and we encourage everyone to contribute to it as well. So let me know if you have feedback or things that you’d add or tweak, and we’d love to continue the conversation from there.

Douglas: Excellent. I highly encourage everyone to check that out. Follow some of the advice and get in the conversation because we need more people doing this work.

Betsy: Exactly.

Douglas: Betsy, so glad you’re working on these things and sharing them with the world. Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today.

Betsy: Yeah. It’s awesome to talk through. I could do this for hours. So thank you for having me and I’ll look forward to continuing the conversation asynchronously.Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health, and working better, voltagecontrol.com.