Travel and freedom in the new era of work

Darren Murph
The Head of Remote at the world’s largest all-remote company speaks about the impact of remote work on business travel and building company culture
An interview with
Head of Remote at GitLab

The pandemic has forced organisations to rethink the way they work. More precisely, where exactly their employees work from. As organisations around the world adjust to this new context, others such as GitLab have been practicing an all-remote culture since inception. Today, open-core software development company GitLab has 1,300 employees working remotely in more than 65 countries globally. 

In the first part of this interview, Darren Murph, the company’s head of remote, spoke about the nuances of remote working and the new future of work. In this second part, Mr Murph speaks about the changes we will see in business travel in this new era of work, hybrid-remote settings, and the option of flexibility at work without having to choose between personal and professional commitments.

Unravel: As more people increasingly work from home, what implications do you expect remote work to have on business travel?

Darren Murph: With more people working remotely, there is also an emerging challenge of when and how to return to business travel.

We can expect to see shorter trips – the days of burnt-out executives who fly halfway round the world for a two-hour meeting will be gone. 

The nature of remote employees will lead to more frequent meetings. Travel will become a core part of culture building for a distributed workforce and it will be important for smaller teams of people to get together for an offsite more frequently, to build strategy, bond or build relationships.

Unravel: Do you think we will see the emergence of a different kind of business travel as remote work becomes more popular?

Mr Murph: As a remote company, there is a need to put some thought intentionally behind everything, including your culture, norms, or workflows. For business travel, this means planning in-person interactions. But the next era of business travel is going to be a more thoughtful approach. More than ever, people will start looking at how they can intertwine personal travel with business travel. 

The next iteration of business travel will have people deliberating about what else they can get out of every trip, as hybrid remote settings may not mean a lot of opportunity to travel for some people.

Companies will need to bring people from different parts of the world together to foster that human connection, and they will need to be intentional about what they want to achieve from the experience.

Unravel: You’ve also written about the role of travel in building company culture and inculcating company values. Could you tell us more about it?

Mr Murph: I emphatically believe that remote culture enables work to fit into your life schedule, not the other way round. At scale, and over time, this creates happier, more productive people who are freer to think creatively.

The all-remote approach at GitLab encourages ultimate travel freedoms and flexibility, across different countries or time zones every month, every week. As all our work is done on collaboration tools, the approach supports fewer meetings and more asynchronous communication, allowing people to travel more and live this kind of lifestyle.

What’s really awesome about this atmosphere is that even though we’re all remote and we don’t have an office to go to, a lot of our people love to travel. We just want the power to travel in our hands, not dictated by the company that we work for.

The next era of business travel is going to be a more thoughtful approach. More than ever, people will start looking at how they can intertwine personal travel with business travel.

What we want for team members is ultimate freedom. There’s no office to commute to. You can fly on a Tuesday if you want. You can fly out on Saturday if you want. It doesn’t matter. We can go visit relatives. We can go care for aging parents. We have a lot of people that love to travel, but it’s on their plan, their schedule, not the employer’s.

This flexibility often means something different for different team members. We have team members who are completely location-independent and travel full time. There are others who join and travel the world with remote co-working and co-living organisations. Many of our team members appreciate the ability to still be able to work while visiting friends or family away from home.

Even for those who typically work in their home office, this flexibility means they can do things like run errands on a weekday, take their child to school, spend more time with family or walk their dog during the day.

Unravel: A lot is said about remote work enabling better work-life balance; but many talk about how remote working has actually made this worse. What do you think?

Mr Murph: It is important to be transparent about some of the drawbacks of remote for potential employees depending on their lifestyle and work preferences, as well as the organisation.

For some employees, it can be hard to separate your personal and work life. It’s important to encourage boundaries and make sure you don’t continue to work during your family time.

Preventing a culture of burnout starts at the top. In all-remote companies, it’s important to reinforce this from the interview process, to onboarding, to regular 1:1s. All-remote companies should consider implementing a Results value, where results (as opposed to hours) are measured. Fundamentally, this requires organisational trust – believing that colleagues will do the right thing rather than implementing rigid rules.

Unravel: What are “hybrid remote” settings? Are we starting to see companies actively promote this already?

Mr Murph: Hybrid-remote (which can be referred to as part-remote), is different than all-remote. In an all-remote company, there is no single headquarters, and each team member is free to live and work in any place they choose. Everyone, including executives, is remote, as there are no offices to go to.

Hybrid-remote is currently more common than all-remote, as it is easier for large, established companies to implement. In a hybrid-remote scenario, there is one or more offices where a subset of the company commutes to each day—working physically in the same space—paired with a subset of the company that works remotely.

A remote culture enables work to fit into your life schedule, not the other way round. At scale, and over time, this creates happier, more productive people who are freer to think creatively.

All-remote is the purest form of remote work, where every individual is treated as a first-class team member. All-remote organisations empower team members to work in settings that allow them to balance their personal and professional lives.

Unravel: For employees who may now find themselves shifting to remote or work-from-home arrangements, what is the hurdle to overcome?

Mr Murph: The biggest hurdle we find for employees new to remote work is the separation between work and life. Employees should have a dedicated conversation with family, helping them understand that just because they’re home, doesn’t mean they’re available.

A shortcut to boundary setting is this: “If it’s important enough that you’d commute to my usual office and come to my desk, then it’s important enough for you to visit my home workspace.” You may also consider a busy/ available indicator.

Where you work is as important as what you work on and who you work with. If you’re able to use a dedicated space or room purely for work, that is ideal. If not, even a simple curtain to block off a place of work may usher you into a place of focus. The execution of this will look different depending on your home, and who all is in the domicile during your working hours, but the key is to find a space that is purely for work.

For some employees, it can be hard to separate your personal and work life. It's important to encourage boundaries and make sure you don't continue to work during your family time.

When there’s no physical office to leave from, it’s tempting to work longer than is expected (or healthy). If useful, set reminders to begin and end work, and pre-plan activities to fill the void where a commute once stood. Proactively planning what you’ll do with your commute time is key to ramping into a workday and ramping off. This will look different for each individual, but leaving your home for a walk or a planned activity with friends/ community is a great way to create unmistakable separation.

The first part of this conversation delved into ways to build company culture in an all-remote context and preparing for the new future of work. It can be read here.

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Head of Remote at GitLab

Darren Murph is Head of Remote at GitLab. He works at the intersection of culture, process, hiring, employer branding, marketing and communication. He collaborates with all functions of the business to support GitLab clients and partners seeking guidance on mastering remote workflows and building culture. Darren works across the company to ensure that GitLab team members acclimatise well to remote, giving themselves permission to embrace GitLab’s values and operate with remote-first workflows, and share their learnings with those outside of the GitLab organisation.

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