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Who Needs An Office Anyway?


Perhaps a more serious question than ever, given the current pandemic still has many businesses considering whether they should have their employees work (fully) remote.

Because fact is, it definitely works.

Take for instance, the international software company Gitlab, with about 1300 employees in 69 countries. A recent valuation estimates the company is currently worth a wopping 6 billion dollars!

“Everybody here works from home, and that was before Covid.” Sid Sijbrandij, CEO and co-founder of GitLab (founded in 2011), says that “a mix of working remotely and at the office is probably not the best choice in the long term.”

“Do it all, or not at all.” – says Sid, when asked about working remote.

“Do it all, or not at all.”

Sid Sijbrandij, CEO & Co-founder at GitLab

And that’s understandable, because working from home and the office can cause other complications in the long-run. Colleagues can easily get the feeling that they’ve missed something – or feel left out of office/break room conversations.

The feeling or idea that important decisions are being taken while you aren’t allowed to visit the office – can cause a lot of frustration.

“Working transparently is key, when everybody is working on something different. So we share all documents and files, links and record everything that has been discussed for others. That did take some getting used to,” says Roos Takken. She started in September 2019 at GitLab, where she has 36 Dutch colleagues. “Whether you’re working from Japan or the Netherlands, everybody has the same experience on any given workday. That isn’t something you just happen to learn on one day or the other, we have a special onboarding program for that.”For example, every colleague gets a buddy and thirty days for “onboarding tasks” such as planning ten coffee-chats with people throughout the whole company.

“Working transparently is key, when everybody is working on something different. So we share all documents and files, links and record everything that has been discussed for others.”Roos Takken, People Business Partner at GitLab

Choice

One of the problems with working from home, according to them, is that many companies don’t make conscious choices about remote work. Takken says: “You can’t assume that everyone can motivate their self and work independently from home. So with new applicants we always ask if they’re a ‘manager-of-one’ – can you be independent enough to manage yourself?However, some companies have hundreds, if not thousands of employees still invested in the old culture. Now that they have to work from home, they’re thinking ‘this isn’t what I signed up for.’ There is a difference between temporarily working from home and doing so for the long-term, that last part doesn’t really fit well with everyone.”

“You can’t assume that everyone can motivate their self and work independently from home.” – Takken

Benefits

Takken quite likes working remotely, she finds the flexibility to be a nice outcome. “Work has adapted to my life, instead of the other way around. I can now plan my time much more flexibly. On top of that we work asynchronously, all in our own time zones. You start with part of the work and hand it over to your colleague. By the time you wake up, your work has progressed a lot and you can immediately continue. Before the corona crisis we could choose where we worked, that could be at home, a ‘co-working space’ or at a coffee place. After the pandemic that will also be the case again.”

Social

Working without an office doesn’t have to be lonely, says Murph. Colleagues all feel connected, even though we’re never in a Zoom meeting with 1300 people simultaneously. “Work was the last place where people could still have social interaction, but we can find ways around that. Many colleagues do volunteer work outside of work hours. Or get social energy out of dinners with friends or other activities with family. Then you also have a lot more to talk about when you see each other on screen!”

Five tips for successfully making the switch to working from home:

  1. The top of the company should also be prepared to let go of the office, according to Murph. “People feel closed out if they’re not allowed to come to the office, but colleagues are. They want to be there when the decisions are made.”
  2. If there are people working on site, do it in the same way as working from home. Everybody logs in from their own workspace, don’t share one computer in the meeting room. Murph: “This way everyone has the same amount of space. It might feel uneasy at first to sit together with a laptop right in front of your nose, but you get used to it pretty quickly.”
  3. Take a good look at the way in which you communicate with each other, and what digital methods you use for it. Were they temporary solutions, or did you consciously pick a solution? If one individual uses WhatsApp to communicate, but the other uses Slack, cooperation becomes a bit harder and less transparent.
  4. Working from home requires a new type of leadership. Managers should be able to trust their staff. Takken: “Focus on results, rather than the amount of hours worked.”
  5. Watch out! Not everybody is as skilled at working online. Some employees require some help to understand programs and make them their own. Takken: “In this, take your responsibility as employer.”

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