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David DeSantos knows a thing or two about operating a successful remote-first model.

GitLab has been operating as a completely remote company since 2011. Today, the company has an 1800-strong team spread all over the world that has managed to amass 100,000 customers, without ever requiring their employees to work behind a desk.

GitLab published a best practice guide for sustaining and scaling a remote workforce in May of this year.
DeSantos believes that almost any company can be all-remote if they invest in the key pillars of asynchronous working, communication, culture, and management, and focus on inclusion above all else. He tells ZDNet that you need to be intentional about what you’re doing.

“Inclusion is a simple word, but it’s really that decision that you’re going to do your work transparent, collaborative, and asynchronously, and not rely on Zoom as the only way you talk to someone.”

The unmoored workplace.

According to data from Owl Labs, 16% of companies worldwide are now fully remote. More than one in 10 companies have no physical presence at all, be it an office, headquarters or any other form of workspace.

Cost incentives are the most obvious reason why a business might want to unmoor itself from a physical location, as it can cut overheads by not having to pay rent, upkeep, energy and staffing costs.

Effective remote working is more than closing the office and sending everyone home with a laptop. To make a success of a fully-remote model, employers need to treat it with all the deliberation and planning of any other strategic investment designed to reap rewards over the long-term.

DeSantos stresses the importance of moving to “asynchronous communication” so that employees working in different time zones aren’t excluded from important meetings or updates.

The future of work is about how everything has changed.

“If you’re going to be all-remote, the assumption that someone can go into the office and read something that someone posted on the billboard in the kitchen doesn’t really work,” says DeSantos. You need to make everyone feel included even if they can’t make the call.

Asynchronous communications can include recording a meeting, making it available for employees afterwards, and sending out important company updates via email. Everything happening at the company is kept in the employees’ loop.

DeSantos says that finding ways to communicate asynchronously and limit synch meetings was something they learned early on.

It allows employees to be better connected to the company and feel included.

It’s important to document everything.

When it comes to documentation, remote companies have to be on top of it. DeSantos encourages taking notes in meetings and providing transcripts of calls, but also documenting the organizational process, culture and solutions.

DeSantos encourages the creation of company handbooks that allow employees to have access to the most critical company information when they need it, regardless of location or time zone. In order to increase transparency within the company,cooler conversations and ad hoc chats should be recorded.

Companies that are all-remote need to be more intentional in creating opportunities for connection because social interactions tend to be harder in a remote environment.

GitLab arranges virtual coffee chats where anyone can invite a colleague or peer for an informal, 25-minute conversation. DeSantos says that it’s allowed everyone to feel more engaged in the environment.

In person connections are important. All-remote companies should organize local company events so that employees can still meet, interact and socialize in person, according to DeSantos, who knows the pitfalls of work relationships built entirely through computer screens. Some employees may wish to work from co-working spaces a few days a week.

It is time for a head of remote.
What does it take to lead a fully-remote workforce? Those used to having direct oversight of their reports might struggle to grasp the nuances of managing a team from afar, because management means different things to different leaders.

DeSantos suggests hiring a Head ofRemote to act as a steward for the company’s remote working strategy, operations and employee experience. He explains that the Head of Remote is constantly looking out for the pitfalls of remote work.

A head of remote allows the company to have that person who is looking out for the company as a whole, and more importantly the employees of the company, making sure that they are getting what they need.”

Six ways to make smart tech decisions.

According to DeSantos, a Head of Remote should have a strong background. Having a people-first mentality and the ability to think outside the box are more important than the tech background of the leader.

DeSantos recommends putting employee needs first and leading by example for fully-remote employers. He suggests looking at the organization and asking yourself if you can be more transparent with your team members.

Some companies will say they’re going to do hybrid or remote, and then the leadership will still be in the office. The expectation is that they need to be in the office.

I’m more transparent as a leader here than in my career. I want everyone, regardless of where they are, to be aware of what I’m doing.

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