With the COVID-19 global pandemic rolling across the globe, most organizations are having their employees work from home. IBM is urging its quarter of a million employees to work from home, if feasible. So is AT&T. Even the New York Stock Exchange has closed its trading floor and moved to all-electronic trading.
But as companies respond with “social distancing,” more attention is being paid to the quality of the teleworking experience. And in a stroke of good timing, earlier this month code repository giant GitLab had just released a survey of 3,000 people who are either working remotely or have the option to.
GitLab’s Head of Remote, Darren Murph, tells us its release was completely unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, with over 1,100 employees, the company has long touted the fact that it is the world’s largest all-remote company. “Our vision is to influence and proliferate the presence of remote-first and all-remote companies, and we commissioned this report to get a firmer understanding of the benefits and challenges facing remote workers globally,” he said.
“As leaders and team members grapple with going remote, this report provides insights on what matters to those who adopt this way of working, charting a path for building culture around autonomy and flexibility.”
The survey’s respondents cited all the usual benefits to working at home — including flexibility (53%), lack of a commute (38%), reduced stress (32%), and reduced office politics (18%). More interesting is that 87% of the respondents said they were satisfied with existing tools and processes for remote team communications. And 84% of respondents said they could accomplish all their tasks remotely right now.
GitLab conducted its survey from Jan. 30, 2020 to Feb. 10, 2020. The GitLab executive didn’t think people’s responses would be changed by our current response to the pandemic. “Those who responded already had the benefit of being acclimated to working remotely,” Murph said. “Contrast that with millions being thrust into an emergency work-from-home environment with no preparation, warning, or planning — that subset is certainly at a disadvantage.”
The top challenge — cited by 47% of the survey’s respondents — was managing distractions while working from home, followed by isolation and loneliness (35%) and difficulties with collaborating (also 35%). Other challenges were also reported — including motivation (29%) and taking time away from work or disconnecting/avoiding burnout (both 28%). 24% also reported another challenge: networking or fostering career development. But 90% would recommend remote working to a friend, and fewer than 10% said they felt alone. Although 5% reported they felt “misunderstood.”
And the top adjective, volunteered by nearly half the respondents, was “lucky.” Another 23% reported that they felt “special.”
Heard rowdy kids in the background on more than half my calls today. We're all BBC dad now.
— Ellen Sheng (@ellensheng) March 18, 2020
It’s obvious GitLab’s “2020 Global Remote Work Report” was from earlier in the year, with only 43% saying it was important to work for a company where all employees are remote. “It’s important to remember that anyone working remotely now because of COVID-19 is not in an optimal situation,” Murph points out. “Their world outside of work is being impacted in unprecedented ways, which may lead to here-and-now answers that are colored by a pandemic.”
GitLab offers a free online guide “for leaders who are suddenly managing work-from-home teams,” as well as a collection of “tactical, actionable steps” to start off with a strong signal of commitment. And there’s also a starter guide for newly-remote employees.
GitLab had focused its survey on professionals whose roles involve digital output. To assemble it the B2B Marketing Research service Savanta gathered responses in four different countries — the United States (53%), United Kingdom (27%), Canada (10%), and Australia (10%). Respondents were in “various” industries and roles, though 26% of them worked in IT networking security departments. And 29% of the respondents were managers. More than half of the U.S. respondents made over $100,000 a year, with 24% of making over $150,000.
But even back in early February, 86% of the respondents were agreeing that remote work was the future. More than half the respondents were younger than 38, while another 22% were over 55. 71% had been working remotely for at least three years already. 25% even had 5-9 years of remote work experience, with 10% more reporting 10-15 years of working remotely, and 4% spending more than 16 years.
And if remote working wasn’t an option at their current position, just 48% said they’d be willing to resume commuting.
Another 36% said they’d instead search for a new remote position. And 6% even said they’d just retire or quit working.
The Benefits of Working Asynchronously
GitLab is planning to do a follow-up survey in one year. But one 2017 Gallup poll found that 43% of American employees were already working remotely. And that may be driving a cultural shift. “The survey highlights the ever-increasing value employees and employers place on remote work as an alternative to traditional, in-office practices,” GitLab wrote in announcing the survey results. “In an era with increasing recognition and understanding that mental health and physical health directly impact employee performance, it’s undeniable that the future of work will be remote.”
In the survey announcement Sid Sijbrandij, CEO and co-founder of GitLab, argues that “For companies, there are unique operational efficiencies, huge cost savings on office space and a broader pool of job applicants. For employees, this structure enables off-peak lifestyles, family-friendly flexible schedules, and improved work/life harmony.
“We believe that a world with more all-remote companies will be a more prosperous one, with opportunity more equally distributed.”
In an interview in January with the website Silicon Angle, Murph even argued that all-remote work “is actually much better for your mental health and sanity than other settings, because it forces us to work asynchronously. When you have an entire company that embraces that, we’re all given a little more breathing room to do really good deep work that requires long periods of uninterrupted time.
“The truth is, all-remote forces you to do things that you should be doing anyway: transparency, documentation, iteration. … We just have to do them much more quickly and much more intentionally.”
“We are fortunate that GitLab was already an all-remote company, with remote-first practices implemented at our core,” Murph told us. “This is how we typically work, so there is no process shock. Our day-to-day operations continue as normal, leaning on a tool stack that includes Zoom, Google Suite, GitLab (the product), and Slack.”
“The most notable impact is on those with children who are now home from school. We’ve reiterated our sub-value of ‘family and friends first, work second,’ ensuring that anyone experiencing changes in their daily lives due to the pandemic is free to focus on that first and foremost, for as long as is needed.”
“To add levity and cultural exploration during this time, we’re encouraging parents to use their Zoom video call windows for kids around the world to connect… It’s been quite the ray of sunshine to see children from countries far and wide gathering virtually to learn and play while they’re at home.”
“We’ve dubbed this ‘Juicebox Chats,’ and we’d welcome other companies to encourage this as well. ”
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