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May 26th, 2019 at 11:01 pm

The Office of the Future Is No Office at All

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Everyone works remotely at software-development company GitLab, even its CEO

As collaboration tools improve, letting distant teammates work together seamlessly, some are questioning whether an office is necessary.

GitLab Inc. is extreme, even for Silicon Valley: It has no headquarters and everyone works remotely, even the CEO.

The software-development startup, which has more than 600 employees in 54 countries, plans to raise its headcount to about 1,000 by year-end. Its far-flung workers rely on internal tools and cloud-based services to collaborate, communicate and contribute to projects.

The idea is to remain headquarters-free even after GitLab’s initial public offering, planned for late 2020, giving it flexibility to cut costs and hire people world-wide as opposed to relying on expensive talent hubs and office space, said Sid Sijbrandij, the company’s chief executive and co-founder.

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“The message we send to investors is, ‘We are on the forefront of a revolution in working,’” Mr. Sijbrandij said, adding the point is to measure output, not the number of hours worked.

Maintaining a headquarters-free company can have downsides. Mr. Sijbrandij said he has encountered venture capitalists skeptical about operating without a central office. GitLab used to have a headquarters in San Francisco, but got rid of it because employees preferred to work remotely. Today, people who want to visit the company sometimes end up at the unofficial headquarters, Mr. Sijbrandij’s two-bedroom loft in the city’s trendy SoMa neighborhood, where the dining room doubles as a videoconferencing center.

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Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab’s CEO and co-founder

GitLab offers tools for software developers, with a platform built in the vein of collaborative tools like Google Docs that serves as a central place where teams can work together to manage software development, testing, packaging and deployment.

The company provides a free version of its platform, but earns money through subscriptions for additional services and features. It raised $165.5 million as of September 2018, valuing it at $1.1 billion.

GitLab said its platform is used by more than 100,000 organizations. Its 10,000 paying customers include 32 Fortune 100 companies, among them Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. Goldman Sachs also has invested $20 million in the company.

As collaboration tools improve, letting distant teammates work together seamlessly, some are questioning whether an office is even necessary.

“Geography is less important in an always-on, constantly connected world,” Jack Clare, chief information and strategy officer at Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., told CIO Journal. “For most digital and technology roles, our teams could be based on the moon and be just as effective.”

Workers are increasingly asking for flexibility and autonomy, and smart companies are responding by allowing them to work remotely a few days a week, said Andrew Challenger, vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement and career-transitions company.

“It does feel like that we’re at a tipping point. With technology tools, companies are forced to reckon with in-office policies,” Mr. Challenger said.

Gallup said in a 2016 report that 43% of U.S. employees worked remotely at least some of the time, up from 39% in 2012.

Many corporate leaders remain on the fence over such flexible arrangements. In 2017, International Business Machines Corp. , a pioneer in remote work, began to bring some employees back into offices, saying the move would improve collaboration and speed up projects.

GitLab wasn’t only born digital, it was born online. Mr. Sijbrandij, who was living in the Netherlands, met his GitLab co-founder, Ukraine-based Dmitriy Zaporozhets, via the internet in 2011.

They used Skype to communicate, although Mr. Zaporozhets was too shy to turn on his webcam, Mr. Sijbrandij recalled. To confirm his would-be partner was a real person, Mr. Sijbrandij requested his picture, and received an image of a face obscured by a hat and large sunglasses.

The company was incorporated in 2014, the same year the two co-founders met in person at a conference in Poland.

Today, GitLab employs people all over the world. More than half its workers are in the U.S. and about a fifth are in Europe.

Half of GitLab’s salaried employees update and support the application, while the rest work on sales, marketing and administration.

A YouTube video channel for employees called GitLab Unfiltered has more than 250 videos with presentations, meetings discussing strategy, programming tips and more. A 2,000-page handbook of operations, strategies and goals keeps remote employees up to date on processes—and seeks to calm worries about how to show their bosses they are being productive.

“Someone who took the afternoon off shouldn’t feel like they did something wrong. You don’t have to defend how you spend your day,” the handbook reads. “If you are working too long hours talk to your manager to discuss solutions.”

Via Wall Street Journal

 

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