Top remote work tools for productivity, via GitHub, GitLab, FacebookOctober 12, 2020
- With remote work a long-term reality for many companies, tools to help employees work productively from home are critical.
- StackShare shared which tools are most popular on its platform, while execs from companies like Facebook, GitHub, Gitlab, and Atlassian also dished on their go-to products.
- It’s not just about the specific tools, though, it’s about how they’re used — including to keep company culture alive.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Because of the pandemic, remote work has become the new normal for many tech companies.
Firms like Facebook, Twitter, and Atlassian are allowing employees to work remotely permanently, if they wish — a practice already adopted by startups like GitLab — and adapting to new productivity products in the process. It’s not just about the tools a company uses though, but also how they use them.
StackShare, a website for companies to share what apps they use, has seen more traffic during the pandemic on its pages for remote work tools like Zoom and Google Meet.
“The most popular tools that we’ve seen on StackShare throughout this whole pandemic have been the ones that help keep culture — help you keep that alive,” Yonas Beshawred, founder and CEO of StackShare, told Business Insider.
Execs from GitLab, Facebook, GitHub, and more shared the tools that they’ve been using to help employees make remote work work:
Companies are turning to video conferencing tools like Zoom and even Discord
StackShare users often look up comparisons between Google Meet and Zoom, says Yonas Beshawred, founder and CEO of StackShare.
“Zoom is really popular of course, but people have all sorts of issues with it, whether it’s security or costs,” Beshawred told Business Insider. “The fact that it’s still being compared to alternatives means there’s still demand for better video chats or video conferencing tools.”
For example, 8×8’s open source video conferencing tool Jitsi has also risen in popularity during the pandemic, Beshawred says.
“Jitsi popped up because it’s basically the open source version of Zoom,” Beshawred said, adding that it often comes up “due to the security concerns around Zoom.”
Users have also showed interest in other video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams, Discord, and Cisco’s WebEx during the pandemic. While Discord has long been popular among gamers, Beshawred says he’s now seeing its rise as an enterprise video conferencing and chat tool.
“When the shift to remote happened, [companies] thought Discord was great, it scales really well, and it has crystal-clear video,” Beshawred said. “People started comparing it to Zoom.”
When doing video meetings, GitLab’s head of remote Darren Murph suggests having an agenda where participants can document what’s discussed in real time. For example, GitLab uses Zoom for its meetings, but it attaches a Google Doc to each meeting.
The practice can decrease “Zoom burnout” because it allows employees to sync up without having to have a meeting.
“It’s partly about tools and partly about the culture and mindset of how you use those tools,” Murph told Business Insider.
Companies are using code collaboration tools like GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket
Tools like Microsoft’s GitHub, GitLab, and Atlassian’s Bitbucket help employees collaborate on projects and code. Often StackShare sees companies using more than one tool, rather than just committing to one, according to Beshawred.
“The largest companies in the world are using more than one for code collaboration because there’s such massively distributed teams,” Beshawred said.
Employees not only share their code on GitHub, but also write down and document their processes.
GitHub encourages a “written culture,” says Dana Lawson, vice president of engineering at GitHub. This means that employees document what they do as a way to inform other colleagues — especially across various time zones — what they’ve been working on.
“When you’re working remotely, you’re challenged with time zones, information flow, trying to keep people aligned, especially in these unprecedented times,” Lawson told Business Insider. “People want to be informed not only on a day-to-day basis.”
Likewise, GitLab employees try to do as much work as possible on GitLab, Murph says. The firm’s Slack messages expire after 90 days, forcing workers to think about having long-term conversations on GitLab instead.
“It’s the heartbeat of all we use,” Murph said. “GitLab is a tool that enables asynchronous communication.”
Employees communicate with chat apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Discord
Slack is the most popular messaging app for users based on StackShare’s data, although companies may also use Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Discord as well, Beshawred says.
“Slack has been consistently dominating developer stacks,” Beshawred said.
Facebook, for its part, uses G Suite, Office 365, Okta, Bluejeans, Dropbox, and more. It also uses its own Workplace app, which allows employees to engage with their coworkers, share updates and documents, and work across time zones.
“We grew very fast, speaking different languages, different time zones, we have a history of reducing distance in the culture,” vice president of Facebook Workplace, Julien Codorniou, told Business Insider.
Similarly, Atlassian is incredibly deliberate about how it communicates with staff, in order to maintain company consistency and culture, says head of cloud engineering at Atlassian, Stephen Deasy.
“Written form, verbal form, no matter how many times you say it, folks have a lot going on,” Deasy told Business Insider. “Keeping it authentic is important.”
GitHub uses both Slack and Microsoft Teams, and it also uses a tool called Hubot to build chatbots that help employees get specific information quickly and easily.
“We utilize the most popular tool sets out there,” GitHub’s Lawson said. “We like to have agency on individual squads and teams. For the most part, most of our activities are occurring in the GitHub product portfolio in addition to Zoom, Slack, and Teams.”
For many companies, including GitLab, Slack is also an informal communication tool, where employees can chat about topics outside of work like cooking, gaming, surfing, parenting, and more.
Companies use Slack integrations to help them stay productive
Slack can connect with other applications like Zoom and Google Drive, allowing users to access those apps directly from the platform. Other frequently used Slack tools include Donut to randomly pair up employees as a way to encourage them to connect, Polly for sending polls, and MURAL for visually organizing and collaborating on ideas.
Read more: The top 4 best practices for managing engineering teams remotely, according to managers from productivity companies like Asana, GitHub, and Atlassian
GitLab has also set up Slackbots to encourage employees to speak with more inclusive terms. For example, it may suggest “hey team” instead of “hey guys,” and “ambitious” instead of “aggressive.” It also uses PTO Ninja, a Slack app that allows people to manage and submit their PTO. On the first working day of each month, the app will send employees a message to encourage them to take time off. Murph says this is a way to “destigmatize” taking time off and reinforce that it’s a good thing.
“We use technology to encourage our team to be transparent and vulnerable about taking time off,” Murph said. It’s more important than ever in a crisis where mental health is a serious concern. By leveraging a tool and technology in a special way, it reinforces our culture that family and friends do come first.”
In addition, GitLab uses a bot called Geekbot. At the beginning of each week, the bot asks employees what they did this past weekend, what their priorities are, and if they need help with anything. It allows employees to update their teams without having to hold a meeting, especially since they work across different time zones.
“Anytime we can use a Slackbot to have one less meeting and document the outcome,” Murph said, “We’re going to try to do that.”
Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at email@example.com, Signal at 646.376.6106, Telegram at @rosaliechan, or Twitter DM at @rosaliechan17. (PR pitches by email only, please.) Other types of secure messaging available upon request.