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Remote work: How Finance, Legal, and IT made the shift to working from home

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GitHub has been a remote-first company for many years, but for some of our teams, working remotely is new. Like many of you, they’re creating new routines while adjusting to working from home.

As our remote work series continues, three Hubbers from our general and administrative (G&A) teams share how they’ve made the adjustment to working with first-time remote team members (and for a couple, it’s their first time being a remote worker).

  • Leithia Williams, a director on our Commercial Legal team, is an experienced technology licensing and compliance attorney balancing her family life at home.
  • Shannon Hines, who has been with GitHub for more than five years, is the senior manager of revenue managing our accounting team and also helps out her local San Francisco neighborhood in her spare time.
  • Adnan Alam, an IT support manager, shared what it’s like managing IT help desk support, onboarding new employees, and supporting company events, all while working from home (spoiler alert: it’s not easy).

How do you leverage remote practices within your respective functions?

Shannon: Leading up to the shelter in place orders going into effect in California, the GitHub finance organization was the only team based entirely in our San Francisco headquarters. Everyone was in the office nearly five days a week. As a result, our team faced a significant impact compared to other groups within GitHub, adjusting to new routines and work from home environments. From a more positive aspect, because we work for a predominantly remote-based company and interface daily with other remote employees, we were already comfortable and established with using remote tools as a way to interact with everyone across the company.

Leithia: I joined GitHub over four years ago as the first distributed team member of the Commercial Legal team based in a different state and timezone than my other teammates. In that time, our team has relied primarily on remote practices, especially asynchronous communication, to deliver quality legal services to our internal clients. One of the cool things about being in-house counsel at GitHub is that we use GitHub issues and repositories as part of our daily workflow, meeting internal clients where they are in their daily workflow. Although asynchronous tools and workflows are our default means of working, we also hold synchronous virtual team meetings together for updates, discussions, and celebrations, as well as a channel for quick check-ins and triaging.

Adnan: One big area for the IT organization when it comes to working remotely is how we approach helping our internal clients and making sure we ask the right questions to more easily identify the root cause of an issue and provide the best solution. I also make it a point to help them understand why I’m asking these questions.

What has changed with your team dynamics?

Leithia: Along with several teammates, I have to juggle work and kids at home. Whether you’ve worked from home before or this is your first time, having children and partners around while managing work responsibilities can be very overwhelming. And for those quarantining alone, the isolation has been challenging. I really appreciate that our team is more intentional about leading with empathy. For example, checking in with each other in the beginning of a meeting before we get into the work or being more transparent about our capacity on any given day. The level of empathy that I’ve experienced from my teammates has truly exceeded my expectations.

Shannon: It’s been interesting for the finance team that was used to being in the office and having that face-to-face interaction and also knowing that when we leave the office we’re done with work as a team. Our team was typically good about not working when we were out of the office or during time off, so the lockdown has been hard for us to distinguish between work and personal time at home. I’ve been very open with my direct reports about when I’m struggling and being honest to say, “I’m having a rough day,” or “I’m not feeling motivated today.” I try to be vocal and honest with my team so that hopefully they feel comfortable doing the same. With this in mind, we’ve implemented a daily 30-minute stand-up at the same time each day in the afternoon. We all get on the video conference, turn on our cameras (Internet or bandwidth permitting) and glean the face-to-face interaction that we’d normally get in the office. I use this time to provide business updates to my team and give them a space to ask questions, but we also spend time sharing anecdotes about our life at home, TV shows we’re enjoying, and how our families are doing.

Adnan: Likewise, IT was also used to being in an office environment and having that face-to-face interaction, not just with our team but with other GitHub employees looking for support. It’s been tough on everyone in different ways, such as increased IT requests (help desk ticket load), as well as working around family dynamics or living situations. We do our best to keep our scheduled meetings on track, running daily stand-up meetings to keep our distributed members in the loop, and just staying in touch with each other regularly. One thing that I’ve tried to stress with my team is making sure that when you sign off, you literally sign off. Just because you’re home and near your computer, does not mean you’re obligated to work past business hours. Having a healthy work and life balance right now is critical to our emotional well-being.

What are you doing now in terms of remote practices vs. before (pre-COVID 19)?

Adnan: Much like finance, most of IT was typically in a brick and mortar office, so we’ve been trying to learn from other teams more geared to remote working. We make it a point to ask people questions about how they do certain things, what type of tools they use. This is a complete shift for us since people typically come to us with questions and their needs and now we’re the ones asking for help. Honestly, with everything now being fully remote, it’s helped us better understand and expose the issues that have always been there before COVID-19, and now we’re at a point where we need to address them.

Leithia: Adding to Adnan’s point, prior to COVID-19 (with most of our team located in an office), we found ourselves leaning more on synchronous communication. Yet now, I’ve seen us refocus on asynchronous communication and workflows to be inclusive of team members and internal clients located in different time zones.

Shannon: As mentioned, finance was always in the office. For our February close, we were suddenly required to close the month from our respective homes. This new concept of doing month-end remotely was terrifying! We were deeply concerned about the risk of errors and failure since this was a new process of doing it all remotely. Now, we’ve come out the other side with two month-ends and a quarter close completed—all fully remote. Everyone  just assumed we had to be in the office to complete the month-end, and now we wonder why we would do a month-end close from the office ever again. Why spend hours commuting, coupled with the stress of closing a quarter, rather than create a process and do it from wherever you are? I imagine a lot of accountants are having this same thought process. This was a big shift for us.

What do you realize now that you can’t meet as a team?

Shannon: From a work perspective, I think we’ll be fine. We’ve had some month- and quarter-end closings and other processes to look at remotely and have successfully figured those out. But I think the social and the mental component will be the hardest part. When you commute every day, you’re used to getting up at the same time and having a fixed schedule when you get into the office and when you head home at the end of the day. I’ve struggled with how to be disciplined about my day and try to be patient with my new normal. At the same time, I see this as an ongoing issue that we need to figure out how to manage relative to the mental and emotional impact of all of this.

Leithia: Our team is used to getting together a couple times a year for planning, team activities, and celebrations. I hope at some point we’ll be able to get together in person again. As much optimization as we have accomplished working as a remote distributed team, nothing replaces that in-person connection. I miss them.

Adnan: I agree. The IT team consists of very social individuals who appreciate interacting and helping other people. I feel that the longer the stay in place continues, the harder this will be on all of us emotionally. I recently had to cancel my wedding and honeymoon, and move to a different apartment, since I was in a studio that doesn’t have a dedicated workspace. A couple of my team members had to move for similar reasons. With that said, I feel very fortunate to work for a company that’s supportive and can help us balance and prioritize our needs. I look at other industries, such as my mom who is a teacher and my dad who works in the airline industry, where things are much more difficult. We’re very fortunate at GitHub. This is an important thing to remember when we’re feeling down. We will get through this.


Want to learn more about best practices for working remotely? Check back next week as we continue our series to help you make the most of working in a remote environment from our next interview. And share these useful tips with others who may be new to working remotely.

Explore the remote work series