Remote work: Reshaping the workplace experience

Image of Laura Heisman

Have you heard how your company will approach office and remote work in the coming year? As different parts of the world start to ease restrictions and reopen communities, the GitHub Workplace Experience team has been working on a plan to optimize a remote-first workplace, with offices and co-working space available as needed. This includes continued investments in culture and technology that supports our remote workforce and securing resources to make sure we’re equipped to meet—and exceed—local government and health regulations when the time is right for office openings. While a majority of GitHub has always been remote, there are team members who are excited (and need) to get back to the office and other former “officemates” who will choose to work remotely moving forward.

In this latest edition of our remote work series, I chatted with Lara Owen who has been GitHub’s Director of Global Workplace Experience for the past six years. Lara and her team handle everything from physical security to real estate office build-outs to office operations, as well as coworking and remote operations. As you can imagine, Lara and the workplace team had to quickly shift their focus to support a fully remote workplace, and now are determining the best options for our future office and remote work. Lara offers a great perspective on what it’s like working fully remote and what the future holds for the workplace.

How does a Workplace Experience team adjust overnight because of  COVID-19?

Prior to COVID-19, the Workplace Experience team was focused on serving a remote-friendly workplace, but largely based in traditional brick and mortar offices as many of our roles were Office Managers, Security Managers, and included other physical responsibilities. When COVID-19 started, we had to transition quickly to be a fully remote team supporting a fully remote workforce. Many of our roles look different today. We leaned even further into GitHub’s culture of remote, asynchronous communication for our day-to-day work.

What are some of the new changes for your team?

Certainly, the biggest change has been refocusing our office managers to support a virtual culture. This involves changing the team’s mindset from a local focus to a global virtual perspective, which has been a dramatic shift for many of them but also a critical one.

On the fun side of things, our Workplace Experience team recently launched the Hubber Care series, which includes fun events, such as hosting asynchronous scavenger hunts, sharing DJ sets over Zoom, mindfulness and meditation sessions, workouts, and encouraging managers to host mini-Pictionary sessions with their teams before meetings. It’s really about adding a little fun into their day, as we all try to adjust to our new normal. This Hubber Care program offers other services, such as useful resources for students that working parents can leverage as they try to balance working from home with schools closed.

We’re also fully engaged in planning for the safest possible return to our offices, when we are ready. Recently, we conducted an employee survey that found that the main reason our employees wanted to come back to the office is because they miss their coworkers. We’re committed to a phased approach to ensure our essential on-site workers are kept safe, while also supporting the communities in which we work as they recover. And we’re simultaneously planning for a remote-first workplace.

What types of remote best practices have worked well for the Workplace Experience team?

For starters, the Workplace Experience team is full of extroverts who are used to being around a lot of people. Our batteries recharge when we’re around others and love being in offices, so this has been a big mental shift for many people. That said, we’re making mental health a priority and working to make sure that people take at least one day off a month. I constantly encourage people on my team to take vacation time. Even if we’re not able to go anywhere, it’s important to find a balance between work and personal life, since it’s very easy for work to creep into 12-hour days when working from home as we’re used to having a start and end time based on when you enter and leave the office.

We’re also recording all of our meetings, both as a way to accommodate people in different time zones and also for those who are not able to attend a meeting due to other priorities. We use our GitHub repository and Discussions as a way to document work and collaborate asynchronously, while also making it inclusive across our global team. Additionally, given this uncertain time and all of the changes that we’ve made with our team, we constantly remind the team to be flexible and be okay with failure if new ideas don’t always work out. For example, we recently offered a movie night for our employees and did not receive high attendance given other social activities that we’ve offered. We realized that perhaps people are getting a bit burnt out of video conferencing and having too many meetings on their calendars. Even if the meeting does not involve work, perhaps 90-120 minutes for a movie is a long time for a virtual social activity, so we adjusted our program accordingly.

Finally, it’s very important to celebrate the small things. One of my team members recently had a birthday, so I had a birthday cake delivered to her house. Being able to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, and the like are critical to keeping morale, as well as that human connection.

How do you envision the future of the workplace?

Remote work has to be built into the culture, and not viewed as a benefit, for it to be successful. For those with offices, employers should look for ways to give their employees autonomy and choice on whether they want to return to an office environment. In addition, GitHub is planning for a future where offices will be a place where socialization will be prioritized over productivity—one where we invest in virtual and in-person social gatherings in equal measure.


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