Episode 348: Building the Future of Work Remotely With Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab

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Episode 348: Building the Future of Work Remotely With Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab

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Table of Contents

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 348: Building the Future of Work Remotely With Darren Murph (@DarrenMurph), Head of Remote at GitLab


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:29.48] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by WorkologyCouncil.com. Now I haven’t talked a lot about remote work or hybrid return to office here on this podcast because it’s been a lot of starts, a lot of stops, a lot of starts again and everything in between. In fact, I feel like everybody’s talking about this. But imagine for me, picture this you’re an organization who decided to go remote-first or remote-only. In fact, my organization, we at Workology, we are a remote-only company. But I wondered, how does remote-only work when you’re a large organization? How do you get started with remote? Well, that is exactly what we’re going to be talking about today. Everything with remote-first, how do you make the transition? What’s involved? What kind of resources and tools and processes do you need in order to be successful? So today I’m joined by Darren Murph. He’s the Head of Remote at GitLab. As Head of Remote, Darren works at the intersection of culture operations, people, talent branding, marketing and communications. All my favorite things. He holds a Guinness World Record in publishing and authored GitLab’s Remote Playbook and “Living the Remote Dream.” GitLab is the world’s largest all-remote company, with over 1,500 team members in 67+ countries with no company-owned offices. Darren, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Darren Murph: [00:01:58.37] It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Jessica.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:00.77] What is the Guinness World Record in? In publishing?

Darren Murph: [00:02:03.83] I am the world’s most prolific professional blogger. So I was managing editor at a consumer tech pub called Engadget for almost eight years. And during that time, I composed over 17,000 articles in four years, which breaks down to an article published every 2 hours, 24 seven, 365, for 4 consecutive years. It makes me a bit tired just mentioning it, but that’s the record and it still stands today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:34.76] And this is just you that did all this content. You didn’t have a team.

Darren Murph: [00:02:37.46] Well, it was me writing it. We had an amazing globally distributed team that created Epic Systems for me to write really fast and publish really fast. But yes.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:47.33] Wow. Okay, well, that’s not what this podcast interview is about. That is another conversation for another time. But I am extremely impressed. I want to start off with some background. How did your career trajectory lead you to the Head of Remote role?

Darren Murph: [00:03:04.52] I designed my life for the lifestyle that I thought would be most fulfilling and most beneficial to my family and community. And then I found career paths that would manifest that into reality. Most people take the opposite approach. They determine what they want to do in life, and then they allow their employer to determine where and how they spend 50 to 80% of their entire life. And that always felt like a catastrophic misalignment to me. And so I chose what was at the time, the more difficult, the more stubborn path of flexibility. Remember, 15, 18 years ago, it wasn’t exactly easy to find a workplace that would empower you to work remotely. But once I had a taste of it, I felt like it was life’s greatest cheat code. And that put me on a path that led me to GitLab.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:58.61] I love it. And you’re full of, like, really great cheat codes. And before we hit record, I was learning all kinds of things. I want to link to some resources in our show notes, but I wanted you to talk a little bit about the proliferation of new leadership roles like the Head of Remote.

Darren Murph: [00:04:17.60] Yeah, so we pioneered the Head of Remote role at GitLab. I joined in mid 2019. We were around 700 people at the time. We have now scaled to over 1500 and became a publicly-traded company in October of 2021. And what you’re seeing happen in the broader space is that COVID has forced many companies into a position that GitLab chose to be in from inception. And many progressive companies are realizing that to truly lead their teams into a new future, mind you, the future of work isn’t something that will happen to you. It’s something you build. So who’s going to build that? It has to be a leader. I actually want to mention some research we did on this last year in the Remote Work Report. We surveyed around 4000 people globally and this was in the middle of the pandemic. And one of the takeaways was if remote work was no longer an option, one in three said they would leave their job. Fast forward to today, you’re seeing the great attrition, the great resignation. All of that is playing out as then the people weren’t lying. And now that companies are grappling with the reality that this is the greatest transfer of institutional power that we’ve seen in our lifetimes, they realize that there’s going to need to be a leader, someone that understands the intersection of strategic communications and behavioral change and upskilling, building digital infrastructure. This is a massive re-architecting and the most progressive companies are leaning into it and they’re hiring talented people to steward this as soon as possible.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:56.15] So you and I have both been working remote for some time. And so it didn’t this didn’t really impact me, the pandemic, and it didn’t impact my team. But what I did realize and what you’re saying is that people like remote for a number of different reasons, but it’s also a lot harder to lead remotely and to be a good leader and to, to sustain high levels of productivity when you’re working remotely than it is when you’re all in a cubicle farm together. And there’s a manager who is walking by your computer desk every, you know, 5 to 10 minutes.

Darren Murph: [00:06:34.67] The office is a crutch. The office makes up for a lot of the voids that companies should have put intentionality on for many years, but got away with not doing it. And I want to click into one of the elements that you said, which is remote management is hard. I don’t disagree with that, but I’ll say it’s even harder if you’re trying to manage with vestiges of the office first landscape still an integral part of your culture. And that is where I think most of the organizations do who have been forced into remote are struggling the most. They are working with people who opted into an office first culture with office first tools and now they’re being asked to do something dramatically different. It is going to be difficult. It will require iteration and it will require time to get this right.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:26.41] Agreed. And I agreed with your statement. I just, I see, I’m seeing a lot of managers struggling right now. And, and really, it is about what you were saying earlier, systems and processes and thinking with a remote-first mindset. I’ll give you a simple example for, for my team. So we use Slack primarily for instant message communication, which I love, but our team works all over the world. We have global team members everywhere. So sometimes it’s hard with the, you know, maybe 30 new Slack messages that I might get when I wake up in the morning to prioritize what is most important, what is the biggest priority. And certainly my team has felt this way. So we have created a system where we use a hashtag to let people know it’s either urgent or not urgent or semi-urgent. We kind of have a whole series of hashtags to let that person know, is this a priority when you wake up in the morning or before you finish your day, or is it something that can wait for a day or two? It helps my ADD brain who wants to do all the things, organize and set some things aside for later.

Darren Murph: [00:08:34.82] Absolutely. And systems and processes are critical. I’ve never seen a great remote team that wasn’t great at writing and documenting and adding taxonomy and context. In an office, you get these implicit vibes of what matters and what’s important, but in a remote setting, you have to convert everything which was implicit or implied to explicit, and it can feel awkward documenting some of these things around communication mediums. Like, do we really need to have hashtags on urgency? Actually, you do. And I would argue that even if you go into a hybrid mode or all back in the office, these signals are really, really useful. They add clarity, they reduce ambiguity. And on the whole, that’s a big benefit. And we have documented this in the Remote Playbook. You kind of mentioned this at the top of the call. We, we have shared this freely and publicly with the world. This is a blueprint of how you can architect your own transition. It’s at AllRemote.info. If you want to check it out, it’s free to read. We’ve had over 150,000 leaders around the world digest this over the past two and a half years. And we’re hopeful that more will, will latch on to this and share. Gitlab thrives in transparency, and we want to share as much as we can with the world to make it a better place for all.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:54.35] And I absolutely love that about you and about GitLab, because the resource that you have with the Remote Playbook, which we’re going to have in the show notes over on Workology.com too, or you can probably just Google GitLab Remote Playbook if you don’t remember the domain name and you’ll be able to get there. But it’s helping that thousands or 100 thousands of leaders understand this fundamental shift and how they can set their teams up for success. Because in my mind, that’s really what it’s all about as a leader, like,  what can I do? How can I think about systems and processes and training that is going to ensure that my team feels good about their work and then does the things that, that I’ve asked them to do in, in the right amount of time. And we meet our deadlines and customer expectations.

Darren Murph: [00:10:45.30] Absolutely. And when you empower people to do that on their own terms, living their best life, you end up getting the best out of them. It’s very much a positive flywheel.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:55.29] Agreed. Agreed. Well, I want to talk a little bit more about your job title because Head of Remote sounds awesome. Let’s talk about how your very intersectional role works in practice. Walk us through what the head of remote does and what should we expect if we’re going to be hiring ahead of remote?

Darren Murph: [00:11:15.53] It helps to think of this role as the Chief of Staff for the entire company, or perhaps Grand Central Station for the entire company. Your legal team and your engineering team and your comms team will all speak slightly different languages, but the common thread that will connect all of them is that they’re all remote and they’re all distributed. And so you need someone, if not an entire team devoted to making sure that the right dots are being connected, that you’re laying proper groundwork and infrastructure for how we communicate, how work gets done, where goals and objectives are shared, enhancing visibility and transparency so that people feel a sense of team belonging, even if they aren’t in the same physical space. And so it works mostly in, in the, in the middle of all of that. It’s operationalizing how we work and then structuring documentation such that people can find it and add to it. It’s a very cross-functional role. It touches all parts of the business. It’s very dynamic and I have seen organizations place this in terms of reporting lines all over the org. It depends on the, the size and the scale of the company.

Darren Murph: [00:12:30.17] For some companies, it reports directly to the CEO. For some, it reports into finance if there’s a lot of corporate real estate to manage. For others, it reports into people operations, and for others, it reports into communications and marketing. Remember, this is all about storytelling. You are stewarding change. If you just lay out a bunch of policies, people will see that as a mandate. You can’t galvanize people with that. It has to be purpose-driven. So a lot of organizations are focusing on the storytelling aspect of that, acting as the Chief Imagination Officer, if you will, defining how life can look if you implement remote. Going remote and then just keeping the 9 to 5, it’s not really leveraging remote. There’s elements like the non-linear workday, stopping and starting based on your family priorities, or when your peak productivity hours are. These are very interesting, very new, very innovative elements of how to work differently. And it’s really useful to have someone in charge of stewarding that change and opening people’s eyes and minds to it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:33.11] I love that. And I was going to ask you, who are you reporting to? Because when I first heard about kind of a Head of Remote role, I think I was talking to Zoe. She’s the Chief People Officer at Upwork, and I will link to my podcast interview. And she was mentioning that, you know, we’re going to stay remote and even after the pandemic is over and we’re going to bring somebody in who is going to kind of help make sense. And like, as you were saying, being a steward of, of everything related to being a remote team member, I feel like, in a way, you’re kind of like the scrum master of remote.

Darren Murph: [00:14:10.65] That’s an accurate way to put it. It’s, right now, especially, when companies are transitioning everything is in flux and so put the person where they’re needed the most, don’t worry about the specifics of it. Just get someone in that can embrace behavioral change, that can embrace documenting and architecting operations, and can work collaboratively because a lot of things will be changing all at once. And laying out a roadmap of what that change looks like will be critical to getting people involved and galvanized and wrapping their heads around this massive change.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:46.05] This is so interesting. So I want to go back to talking about before the global pandemic. Because, as you were saying that GitLab is really a pioneer in remote-first work or remote-only work. So talk to us a little bit more about how this came to be and kind of what you and, and the rest of the team have put together in terms of not just your position, but maybe some more about the infrastructure.

Darren Murph: [00:15:13.71] The first three people to work at GitLab were in three different countries, and they didn’t exactly want to relocate to each other’s country. So in some ways it happened by default. Gitlab was all remote from inception and I credit our CEO and co-founder, Sid Sijbrandij, with having amazing conviction over ten years ago that remote work was not an obstacle to overcome and it wasn’t a perk that you would just share with the most talented employees. It was a strategic advantage that could create massive leverage when you were scaling a hypergrowth company. And ten years ago, 11 years ago, this was radical and that faith in doing something differently, in leaning into a new way of working, that has made it so much easier for GitLab to scale because we were all remote from inception. It’s not like we’re having to retrofit this in a top of a co-located culture. So starting that way made it a lot easier. And what you’ll find is that executive sponsorship in the midst of this change is critical for companies who want their future to look different than their past.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:30.51] I love that you mention executive sponsorship because that is incredibly important. Because the ability to, to be a remote-first organization is, is a cultural shift. And you really need executive buy-in. Like you said, it’s not just one person working remotely or the best employee or the person that moves to Rhode Island when the offices are in Austin, Texas, which is how I in HR early on had experience remote. It was a high-performing employee that had to relocate and we don’t want to lose them, so let’s just set them up. But it was kind of a one-off thing. It wasn’t an entire organization or a majority of people working remotely.

Darren Murph: [00:17:13.08] Yeah, and I think this is a great opportunity to focus in on what is the key point or the core element of remote work. The global narrative right now is fixated on where people work. But the actual point is how people work. It is amazing to me how much wind is used in talking about return to office plans, as if the only focus is where someone works. It’s actually about the how. If you change how people work and you use tools and technology and processes and build a culture that people can get work done from wherever they are most fulfilled, where they actually work on any given day becomes largely irrelevant. But most companies are focusing most of their effort on the where instead of the how, and GitLab chose to focus on the how. Very early on, we have a lot of people who don’t work from home, and this really shocks people like how could you have an office-less company and people don’t work at home or the office? And it’s because GitLab chose early on to have a very inclusive stance on this, we’ll reimburse if you want to go work at a co-working space or a WeWork, someone, somewhere other than a company office or your own home, we call this the third space. So these are the types of innovations that once companies have their eyes open to it, you realize that you have a lot more options than you may have thought in the past.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:41.57] I love it. And I also own a co-working space, so I am definitely, I like being able to go to the office. I’m here now recording the podcast and my team will come in, you know, if they’re local here in Austin and I’ll see them. But I’m not, I don’t have to be in a space, but sometimes it’s nice to have a change of scenery and a place that I’m familiar with. It isn’t a crazy coffee shop or, or my house where my husband and my daughter are also doing remote things. My daughter goes to virtual school, she is in seventh grade and my husband, he has worked remotely for, I don’t know, over ten years. So sometimes you just need to get out and have some separation. And the co-working space is a nice place. Sometimes it’s the best place and the preferred location for, for someone to get things done. But it’s really a personal choice on where and how they choose to work.

Darren Murph: [00:19:37.43] Indeed. And working on top of a mountain or on a beach or on a boat, that’s a good choice as well when the situation allows.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:45.77] Yes. And you say that. So I was talking to a friend of mine, Katie, and she is an instructor for neurolinguistic programming, which I’m going through the master’s program with her. And we were talking about the ability to choose when and how you work. And, you know, I was in Mexico last week and I had a great time and it was a sun vacation. But how I worked, like, my schedule and whatever shifted and we didn’t miss a beat. And so Katie was talking about how she was walking in the mountains in Colorado and there was just all this beauty around her. And then she came across this path and there was a man who had his laptop out and he was sitting on a stool or a bench and he was, you know, looking out into this beautiful forest. And he was working and she was thinking like, hey, that’s, that’s the wrong way to do it. And, and now we were talking about that’s the right way to do it, the ability to choose and have the freedom for it to work. However and whenever that you want work to work for you.

Darren Murph: [00:20:52.82] Yeah. And there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You think about how recruiting used to work. Companies would ask an employee to uproot their family, move to somewhere else in the world that may have no actual meaning to them. Like, Hey, okay. Welcome to work. We just asked you to change everything about your life for us. Compare that with allowing someone to stay at a place or move to a place that’s meaningful to them. You don’t have to uproot, uproot from a place of worship or a community center or your family or your tribe. It’s a win-win. If an employer will set a person up to live a better, healthier, more fulfilling life, inevitably that positivity, that joy, that appreciation pours back into the work. It just requires trust and psychological safety and great infrastructure on the employer’s part. And I am hopeful that in the next few years, the most progressive employers will recognize that and put a lot more intentionality into making that a reality.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:55.73] So let’s, let’s talk about that a little bit. I want to talk a little about how we unlearn these traditional roles or expectations as an employee or as a leader because productivity is really the name of the game when it comes to the workplace. So how do we unlearn these things when we are looking at being a remote organization?

Darren Murph: [00:22:20.30] Unlearning or deprogramming, whatever you call it, is really critical. So shout out to the learning and development teams around the world. This is your moment. You need to make sure that when you’re onboarding new employees into a remote space, that you explicitly tell them what is different about where they are probably coming from. Remember, people come in with all sorts of baggage and expectations from past career moves. But now is an opportunity to tell them what work looks like at your place. And I’m going to click in here on values. At GitLab, if you look at our values page, it’s public to the world. If you Google GitLab values, you’ll find it. We have six core values, but what you should pay attention to are the sub-values beneath each of those. Our values are not just words that we aspire to. They are literal operating principles. One of them is short toes. It explicitly says that people are expected to collaborate with short toes. Anyone can contribute feedback or input or ideas in anyone else’s domain, and you’re expected to receive that input with short toes. You can’t step on anyone’s toes. This is an explicit activity. This explicitly defines an element of how we collaborate. And so when you put emphasis and effort into the values and you read through all of these, you get a really firm understanding of what it’s like to work in a given place. And by seeing that, it helps you unlearn, for example, if you were scared of stepping on toes at your prior org, well, now we’re helping you unlearn that. And we’re helping you learn what short toes looks like. So for remote companies making the transition, if you haven’t taken a look at your values lately, now is an amazing time to do that. They will be integral in helping folks unlearn the old ways and learn the new ways.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:17.87] That is so important, and we probably haven’t taken a look at our core values in a while. But if and I hope that those who are listening are considering going remote, at least hybrid, I mean, Google is this is, I think the first full week that the Google as we’re recording is Google employees have went back to work. I think that.

Darren Murph: [00:24:42.35] Back to the office.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:43.49] Back to the office, sorry.

Darren Murph: [00:24:44.63] There we go.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:45.23] Yeah, wow, ok. They’ve had vacation for the last two years. That is not what that has been. It’s funny how you can have a Freudian slip like like that, but a lot of people think that remote work is not working, which is is definitely not, not the case. So I want to transition and talk a little bit about more about the Playbook. As I mentioned, we’re going to link to this in the show notes, the Remote Playbook for Organizations. How did you all begin this project? And then what were, what was the expectation with this?

Darren Murph: [00:25:16.79] When I joined the company, my first objective was to rigorously document how we worked remotely. So to give you context, there were around five pages in the 2000-page GitLab handbook devoted to remote work. So over the course of nine or ten months, that was taken from five to almost 50. So I personally added over 100,000 words to the GitLab handbook, explicitly defining how we worked at the company. And then COVID hit. And it became very clear to all of us that GitLab had more of this documented than any other organization in the world. And our open core philosophy essentially placed a burden of responsibility on us to distill this down and amplify it and get it out to as many people as possible. And that’s how the Remote Playbook was born. We took those 100,000 words, almost 50 separate guides, everything from how we do meetings to how we look at asynchronous communication, to what should parents do in a remote setting, the full gamut. And we distilled it down into 30 or 40 pages and a beautifully illustrated guide that essentially acted as a blueprint. So you could have no experience whatsoever with remote work. You could dig into this guide and you could start putting the pieces together and start architecting what your future would look like. And so that was early on in 2020. And as I mentioned, over 150,000 times this has been downloaded and I have so much anecdotal data, LinkedIn messages and Twitter DMS from people all over the world, from governments to hospitals, all sorts of organizations that have said, thank you so, so much for distilling this down, for putting it out there, for making it freely available. It’s really powerful. GitLab’s fingerprints on org design will be all over the world in this transition. It really, really an exciting time for us and I’m very honored to have had the platform to share that.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:20.25] Well, and I love that you have taken 100,000 words. Hats off to you. Number one, not surprised given your Guinness World Record, spot, but to make it really digestible and breaking that down into what the essentials are for someone, I think is, is incredibly important.

Break: [00:27:44.21] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you are listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by WorkologyCouncil.com. I’m talking with Darren Murph. He’s the Head of Remote at GitLab.

Break: [00:27:55.76] The Workology Council is a mastermind community for HR leaders. We are a group of HR professionals with a common goal to succeed by leveraging the influence, resources, and expertise of others on an annual basis. This will be the HR business tribe that you’ve wanted to be a part of for your entire career. Learn more and apply at WorkologyCouncil.com.

The Benefits of Shifting To Remote Work


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:22.48] I want to ask a really big question because. I would think that most maybe HR leaders who are listening to this podcast may be like, okay, this, all this sounds great, but what is the benefit, or an important benefit, or the important benefits of a shift to remote work? Because we do need to have that executive sponsorship and buy-in from the leadership team. So what are the benefits that you’ve seen at GitLab and then also from maybe those anecdotally or the research that you’ve done that you’ve heard from, what are the benefits to remote work organization?

Darren Murph: [00:29:01.35] It significantly de-risks your business and it gives you an incredible ability to make your organization more inclusive and diverse. So I’ll start with the first one. If you can uncouple or decouple the results that you drive from a specific piece of geography, you are now fundamentally more resilient as a company. And as we have seen in the past two or three years, you never know when a specific city or region of the world will come under attack or will be operating differently than it was the day before. And if your business is tied to that geography, then you are more at risk than a company which is remote or globally distributed, where business can, to a large degree, continue as usual no matter what’s happening in the world. The second element is you are able to hire the world’s best talent, and it is amazing to me how many people have tucked their heads in and they really haven’t put themselves out there for certain jobs in certain roles, in certain industries because they’ve been ashamed of their address. You’ve all heard of people who will change their names on a resume because they think that it will be a disadvantage if they share their real name in the recruiting function.

Darren Murph: [00:30:19.92] Well, I’ve never put my address in North Carolina on a resume for similar reasons. Who would apply for a job in San Francisco or New York with North Carolina on the resume? And this happens all over the world, but it’s rarely talked about. So when you open your recruiting funnel to everywhere in the world, or at least more regions than before, understand there are legal complexities to be worked through. You’re able to find people that you otherwise wouldn’t. These people have been ostracized from the workforce, military spouses, working parents, those with mobility challenges. They have largely been below the radar. Now is your opportunity to pull them into your workforce. I have the immense privilege to work with people in over 67 countries, the amount of diversity of thought and opinion, and perspective that you get with that, it is incredible. It’s like a PhD every day and it always challenges the bubble that I’m in. And I think more organizations are realizing that by looking globally, they can infuse some of that energy into their own company.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:24.39] These are all great reasons and I definitely think with what is going on in the world, particularly in the Ukraine, right? Being able to have a remote-only organization allows people very quickly, I mean, or to continue to have the flexibility to work, like you were saying, regardless of what is going on in the world or in their life. So there’s a lot of really great reasons for remote work, personally. And for me, you know, it’s the ability for my team to have a flexible schedule, to work whenever and however they want. And, and these are things that are such a great retention tool for me, with everyone having such high turnover right now, working in environments and with companies that they don’t really like the team or it’s just not a fit for them. I have not, and I’m going to knock on wood right now, I have not experienced any turnover on my team and I really credit that to our, the fact that we’re remote only.

Darren Murph: [00:32:28.14] It is a tremendous attraction and retention tool. And I would also be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the significance and importance of, importance of in-person interactions. I want to take this opportunity to remind folks that just because you’re a remote company doesn’t mean that you never get together. GitLab actually gets the entire company together annually for a summit, we call it GitLab Contribute. It is such a blast. People look forward to it. They mark it on their calendar. They planned family trips around it. It’s important to get people together. We can do a lot of things virtually, but there’s just no real substitute for breaking bread and building bonds, and building rapport together. The key here is you don’t need to see someone every day. You don’t need to commute 2 to 4 hours of your life every single day to get that. You can be strategic about when and how you get people together. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, and I look at it through the lens of opportunity, not the lens of fear. So if you’re moving remote, be sure to carve out some budget for getting people together. We’re humans, we’re relational beings. We like seeing each other every now and then.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:33:33.78] Absolutely. So I wanted to ask you about any advice maybe you can offer up to HR leaders on how to communicate the need for a position like yours ahead of remote role to the executive team or a board of directors.

Darren Murph: [00:33:47.76] So if you were expanding globally and you said, all right, we need to open seven new offices around the world, what are the chances that you would hire an architect, an office manager, a workplace-experience designer. At least one, maybe one for every site. It would almost go without saying this would just happen. So if your entire workforce is now moving into this office called the world, the universe. It probably will go a lot better if you have someone leading that change. It really begins with the understanding that this is not just a perk that you’re going to offer. This is a massive re architecting of all of your operational underpinnings. This calls into question your values. This is everything. This is how people are going to work, how they’re going to experience you as a company. It deserves a leader. This is way too big to leave at the whims of, oh, we’ll figure it out as we go. And I’ve seen some major success stories. Cimpress is a great one. Early on in the pandemic, their CEO sent an email to the entire company and said, We’re going to be remote-first. Now, full disclosure, we don’t know what that looks like. We’re building it as we go, but we are committing to this and it helped get everyone on board.

Darren Murph: [00:35:14.55] I touched on this earlier, but absolute executive sponsorship is critical to defining what the future looks like, and this company can’t have all of their employees working from home. They have a manufacturing arm where some people have to work on-site, and yet they are still moving as virtual-first, as remote-first as possible to create as much inclusivity, as much flexibility as possible. And if they’re moving toward a more documentation-focused company, this even helps those who do go on site. They have easier and better access to knowledge. They don’t have to wait for someone to wake up on the other side of the world to tap them on the virtual shoulder. It helps. It has massive, outsized benefits. And so for those who are thinking about it, I would encourage you to lean into it. The most progressive organizations in the world will put a leader in charge of this. And when you’re thinking about talent, they’re going to look for this. You’re going to get questions on what does workplace flexibility mean to you? Do you have someone in charge of this? Who can I ask about what flexibility looks like at your org? And being able to answer that is going to put you in a great position of power when you’re competing for the world’s best talent.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:27.63] Absolutely. Well, last question for you is metrics. So what metrics and forecasting do you feel like is maybe important or how has your approach changed to forecasts and metrics when it, when you are a remote-first organization?

Darren Murph: [00:36:45.00] At Gitlab, we’re all about boring solutions. This is again one of our sub-values. So try to find the most boring way to solve a problem and then celebrate that. So we’re all about boring solutions, not emphatic or glossy or polished solutions. I would say start small here. We’re really big on learning and certifications. So if you embed a remote or fundamentals course or module into your onboarding, make it a goal that 100% of new hires do this, but also 100% of existing hires go back and essentially re-board with this new mechanism, this new module, making sure that 100% of your workplace is 100% aligned and on board with what the future looks like. The other thing I would look at is surveys. Now, the question will be different for each organization, but you can ask things like, do I feel like my manager is supporting me in workplace flexibility? Do I have the right tools and technologies to do my role from anywhere? Do I feel that my organization is more or less equipped to handle the remote transition than six months ago? These are the kinds of things that will give you key insights on how you can design your organization to best suit your workforce. This is going to be critical for leaders who are shaping the transition because the people that are in the best position to advise you on what your specific org needs are, the people that already work there and so. Have conviction about what people need but also don’t be afraid to ask and then respond with what folks are lacking.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:38:23.31] And if you already have it in place survey, you can add some questions in or look for feedback in a different way. I feel like slicing and dicing your information and looking at the responses from your employee engagement survey remote versus onsite. It might also provide you with some really good resources or important points that you might have otherwise missed.

Darren Murph: [00:38:48.72] Indeed. And I do want to give one. Point of advice here on the thought of hybrid. I have found that a lot of leaders will come to the conclusion that hybrid remote is the best of both worlds. But without extreme intentionality, it winds up being the worst of both worlds because it invites a tier A team and a tier B team, and there’s very little equity in access to information and access to promotion. This is what we call proximity bias. It’s almost impossible to avoid in a hybrid setting. I actually go so far as to say there is no such thing as hybrid. You’re either going to be a virtual-first or a remote-first organization, or you’re going to be an office-first organization that allows some people to work outside of the office. And this goes back to looking at the how, not the where. If you audit all of your workflows, you need to make sure that all of them can be done as virtually as possible. This is what I mean by remote-first or virtual-first. In an office-first environment, you may still have physical whiteboards, for example, where people can collaborate in the room, but there’s no broadband connection. There’s no way for people outside of that room to contribute. Pay attention to this hybrid is really, really, really hard to get right. And so if you’re going down that path, you absolutely need a Head of Remote to try to equalize those two playing fields as best as you can.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:12.26] Well, I appreciate Darren, that particular point, because I do absolutely agree with you. Because it’s so hard to stream a presentation with a group of people like on a Zoom call or whatever, and having your remote people there and for them to feel like they’re contributing in the same way and being able to make suggestions and recommendations. So it will definitely be an interesting time over the next, I feel like, six months to five years, seeing how those organizations that did decide to move forward with hybrid have fared.

Darren Murph: [00:40:47.18] Yeah, we should do this again in five years. It’ll be fun to see what’s changed.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:40:50.90] Yeah, maybe we’ll be on a, maybe it’ll be a new VR experience on the Workology Podcast, where we’ll be able to, to have people in the room, who knows in terms of what’s next for us, it’s going to be like, but I really appreciate your, your time. Where can people go to learn more about you, GitLab, and the Remote Playbook?

Darren Murph: [00:41:11.69] You can learn more about me on Twitter. I’m @DarrenMurph. You can visit AllRemote.info to download the Remote Playbook as well as GitLab’s Remote Work Report. And by the way, we’re running a new survey on that right now for our Refreshed 2022 edition. I’m really excited to see what the data tells us.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:30.59] Wow, I can’t wait to, to see that new data. And please go ahead and connect with Darren, because as you have heard, he has so many great insights to help support your organization and your efforts to be a remote organization. So thank you so much.

Darren Murph: [00:41:48.56] Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Godspeed.

Closing: [00:41:52.11] I love this interview. I love everything about Darren. I love everything about GitLab and all the resources they are sharing, setting you and your organization up for success to be a remote-first or remote-only organization. I love being able to sit down with workplace leaders in brand new roles like Head of Remote. How cool is that? I think we’re going to see more of these leadership roles within HR, so I want to get you ready. What does this look like and introduce you to Darren. I appreciate Darren taking the time to talk with us, share his expertise and all the resources with us today. And I want to thank you for listening to the Workology Podcast, which is sponsored by WorkologyCouncil.com. This podcast, the Workology Podcast, is for the disruptive workplace leader who is tired of the status quo. You know it, I know it. That’s you. We are all ready to move forward to whatever the next stage of the workplace and the world will look like. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our episodes of the Workology Podcast.

Connect with Darren Murph.



– Darren Murph on LinkedIn

– Darren Murph on Twitter

– AllRemote.info | The Remote Playbook

– Head of Remote: how to hire, job postings, job description, courses, and certifications | GitLab 

– Episode 347: Facing Global Challenges With Good Intent With Nikki Salenetri, VP of People at Gympass

– Episode 341: The Future of the Office With Peter Cappelli

– Episode 296: How Remote Internships Can Bridge the Disability Employment Gap

– Episode 270: The Role of the CHRO Leading a Remote Workforce

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