In this episode, Sabine Ehm and Darren Murph discuss why Remote First is a crucial responsibility for companies looking not just to survive, but thrive in the modern era.
OUR REMOTE WORK EXPERT GUEST
Darren Murph is Head of Remote at GitLab, but stylizes himself as “Chief Evangelist” of the company with fifteen hundred employees in sixty-five countries and zero company-owned offices. He has an educational background in operations and supply chain management.
GitLab originated as a “remote only” company from inception, as opposed to a company with co-located roots that pivoted to remote during the pandemic. Darren proclaims that in order for a company to maintain remote first at scale, it “must have a devoted person or team devoted to remote first principles and dedicated to onboarding, learning and development, and manager upskilling and training.”
In the following clips, you’ll hear how Darren implements Remote First principles and why it’s so important to him.
HOW AND WHY REMOTE FIRST IS CRUCIAL TO ANY MODERN COMPANY
“[Remote First] is a huge fundamental rethinking of how people work and where they work, and all of the things that make work work. And if you just try to get through this change through one policy after another, it’s going to feel like a mandate, it’s going to be very difficult to get tailwinds…” – Darren Murph
Darren suggests reframing remote first as a vision of the future with “purpose and mission.” To do it with mediocrity is to confuse, demotivate, and alienate your workforce. On the other hand, if you do it with purpose, you excite people toward a different future.
WHO SHOULD HEAD UP A REMOTE FIRST POSITION?
“It can sit anywhere in the organization. The one thing that I advise is make sure that it’s senior enough to actually influence change. And make sure that you have someone who is very collaborative, because it will likely be the most cross-functional role in your entire company….” – Darren Murph
The truth is, it depends. It’s going to truly depend on the industry, company, and brand. For instance, Darren has seen the role set in finance or set in design. “Dropbox is a great example. Their VP of design oversees the remote transformation, because they see people design through the same lens as product design.”
“For people that are new to this, you may be inclined to spend the budget to get people together and then fill that time with work or strategy sessions – resist that urge. The truth is, the highest ROI of in person synchronous time is bonding, culture building rapport building, breaking bread with people. That is more difficult, if not impossible, to do virtually.” – Darren Murph
The biggest challenge for traditional companies in a new normal of zoom meetings is the morale of its workforce. It can be nearly impossible to reach new deals, according to a Harvard Business Review study, especially for Asian and Latin companies. That is to say, companies should prioritize non-billable activities and conversations.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
“So, almost three years ago, my wife and I adopted a newborn at birth. It’s been a transformational, amazing experience. [The] thing here is adopting and fostering a new journey. But it becomes much easier if you have flexibility in the workplace.” – Darren Murph
Darren fell in love with distributed and remote working very early on in his career. “There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle, he explains. “Once you’ve fully embraced flexibility, it’s going to be really difficult to convince someone to live their life around the rigidity of a daily commute…”
The most interesting thought experiment is to explore how people who are able to, can now work more flexibly. For example, how can they repurpose commute time toward a purpose that matters to them? Darren philosophizes that society could solve the orphan crisis in a matter of months. And best of all, it could be done with no additional funding or infrastructure at all, just by using repurposed commute times.
CONCLUSION FOR MAKING REMOTE WORK WORK
To sum up, Darren Murph lives and breathes the remote first work style. In fact, he believes it should be prioritized yesterday, “but today’s good as well.” It requires prioritization, intention, and transparency.
Just like the pandemic revealed weaknesses in company structure, Darren believes “remote work doesn’t kill culture, it reveals culture. Remote first simply puts a spotlight on the values of your company.
If your values aren’t written down, they’re unknown. They must be explicit.