Wendy Barnes Gitlab hero

Chief People Officer Wendy Barnes on Transparency and Culture

Chief People Officer Wendy Barnes will present at the i4cp 2023 Next Practices Now Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona (March 27-30, 2023) and will speak on transparency and the future of work. In advance of her conference session, she sits down with i4cp to reflect on her role at Gitlab and the culture they have built. 

You joined GitLab in November 2020—eight months into the pandemic. What were your pressing challenges when you joined the organization?

Because the pandemic created a new wave of remote workers, we had new team members joining us who were experiencing an all-remote culture for the first time. 

While we didn’t need to think about re-opening offices as an all-remote company, we needed to work through how we wanted to address things like business travel and in-person events. We also have team members in more than 60 countries around the world, each with a unique scenario, so making sure every team member felt supported during a time when we were still in the middle of the pandemic was a key focus.

GitLab is well known for being a remote-only company (even before 2020), so the organization presumably wasn’t heavily disrupted when most other organizations were scrambling to figure things out. But what did change over the last couple of years?

GitLab is one of the world's largest all-remote companies. We are 100% remote, with no company-owned offices anywhere on the planet, and have been since inception, we didn’t have to drastically change our practices over the last couple of years. That said, one of our values is Iteration and we continue to iterate on our practices as we grow. 

Many organizational leaders have cited concerns about building and maintaining a cohesive culture with a dispersed workforce. How does GitLab do it?

It takes intentionality to build a company culture in a company that has no offices. As a GitLab team member, you can work from anywhere with good internet access. But there's more to our all-remote culture than the daily flexibility it provides. By nature, having no offices or headquarters makes us more inclusive, more transparent, and more efficient in everything we do. With a team spread across over more than 60 countries around the globe, we invite diverse perspectives, we document everything, and we collaborate asynchronously while “dogfooding” our own product in the process.

Culture at GitLab is composed of three things:

GitLab Values - GitLab's six core values are Collaboration, Results, Efficiency, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Iteration, and Transparency, and together they spell the CREDIT we give each other by assuming good intent. Like the rest of our work, we continually adjust our values and strive to make them better. GitLab values are a living document. In many instances, they have been documented, refined, and revised based on lessons learned from everyday work and doing business.

Camaraderie (mutual trust and friendship) - This is created and maintained by informal communication. We also build trust by effectively collaborating with others.

Work style (how we work) - That's anything from working handbook-first to communication styles and being intentional about informal communication.

What does the GitLab workforce do differently, or at least better, that other organizations can learn from, especially as it relates to using virtual communication tools?

With GitLab team members across more than 60 countries, it's important for us to practice clear communication in ways that help us stay connected and work more efficiently.

To accomplish this, we use asynchronous communication as a starting point and stay as open and transparent as we can by communicating through public issues & merge requests in the GitLab product, as well as Slack channels. If we need more clarification on something, we’ll jump on a synchronous video call.

Using asynchronous communication allows us to move projects forward at an efficient pace while making our own schedules. This is key to making remote successful.

Burnout is a real issue, both for employees and within HR. How are you approaching this issue?

It’s easy when working remote to just log on and work all day without taking a break, so taking care of ourselves and our self care is so important. Sometimes team members need reminders to set and maintain boundaries to ensure they are getting time away from work to exercise, enjoy a hobby, and get sleep.  

We also encourage our managers to lead by example and model proper self-care so that  team members feel supported and that they too can practice self-care to avoid burnout. In addition to protecting personal time for exercise and hobbies, another great example is taking PTO – and not working while on PTO. Even our CEO, Sid, is vocal about his PTO to encourage others to take advantage of it.

It’s also important to be clear with expectations and deadlines and to frequently recognize team members - which we do through our #thanks Slack channel. However, we ask managers to be mindful of the behavior they praise so they don’t celebrate and inadvertently encourage all-nighters or 12-hour days.

GitLab also values transparency. What does that mean to you and the company, and what benefits have you seen that other organizations should take into account?

Transparency is one of our six core values at GitLab. Transparency creates awareness for GitLab, allows us to recruit people that care about our values, enables faster feedback from people outside the company, and makes it easier to collaborate with them. It is also about sharing great software, documentation, examples, lessons, and processes with the whole community and the world in the spirit of open source, which we believe creates more value than it captures.