As 2020’s experiment with working from home turns into something more permanent, gitlab—the world’s largest all-remote company—offers a glimpse of what’s ahead, for better or worse.

A group of employees at the tech firm is debating the merits of an inflatable kayak over Zoom.
“It’s definitely [for] calm waters,” says engineer Lien Van Den Steen, 
as Thursday afternoon sun streams through a window in her Ghent, Belgium, home. 

From his home in Minnesota, Timm Ideker, a regional sales director, drops a link into the chat for  a kayak that breaks into pieces for easy transportation. “I have some concerns that this just means it’s going to leak in seven places,” says Simon Mansfield, a member of GitLab’s sales team, in Cardiff, Wales..

For most employees, this sort of conversation would be a brief sidebar from work, but discussing  kayaks—and weekend plans and favorite board games—is the entire point of this call. Employees from any GitLab team (or time zone) log on to these recurring 30-minute Company Calls to replicate the casual conversations that happen naturally when coworkers share the same office.

Artemus Note:  If you REALLY want to see a GREAT media-rich article about what GitLab’s doing on this front, click here!  You won’t be sorry!!

The company, which makes an application that enables developers to collaborate while writing and launching software, has no physical headquarters. Instead, it consists of more than 1,300 employees spread across 67 countries and nearly every time zone, all of them working either from home or (in nonpandemic times) in coworking spaces. Research shows that talking about non-work-related things with colleagues facilitates trust, helps break down silos among departments, and makes employees more productive. At GitLab, all of this needs to happen remotely.

The company takes these relaxed interactions so seriously that it has a specified protocol in its

employee handbook, which is publicly available online in its entirety. If printed, it would span more than 7,100 pages. The section on “Informal Communication in an All-Remote Environment” meticulously details more than three dozen ways coworkers can virtually connect beyond the basic Zoom call, from Donut Bot chats (where members of the #donut_be_strangers Slack channel are randomly paired) to Juice Box talks (for family members of employees to get to know one another). There are also international pizza parties, virtual scavenger hunts, and a shared “Team DJ Zoom Room.”

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