It is possible to work well remotely even outside the emergency. But we have to learn how to design communication and transparency

We used to call it teleworking. It was something of a dream, yet we already lived immersed in a totally connected world in which we could find partners, homes and clothes on smartphones. In the morning, however, we use to get up to go and occupy a desk in an office, and we worked at a fixed time. Pulling the strings of a project seemed possible only in presence, perhaps confronting a team. For most of us, this somewhat obsolescent era ended last March, when, whether we liked it or not, we switched to improvised remote working. A transition that was as quick as it was unexpected. Once the step was taken, all that remained was to understand how to work, and do it well, remotely. And it is, as usual, a design issue.

Giuliana Lucchesi is 28, Italian origin, living in Chicago. She is the People Business Partner of GitLab, a software company with 1300 employees in 66 different countries. GitLab is the largest totally remote company in the world. However, it is not the only one: there are a few dozen, with excellent examples. Like Automattic, who invented WordpPress.

Almost all of them are building and sharing knowledge’ based on their pioneering experience, and GitLab is no exception. On its site you can find playbooks, conferences, chats, manuals.

For us mere mortals, Giuliana Lucchesi is like an insider of a still mysterious world. Even if when we talk to her she begins with a concept that is now clear to everyone: “Working remotely is a very personal choice, not a panacea. I do believe that remote work is the future and I do think that many companies will (and are) making the move to remote working options. However "all remote" (100% remote with no offices) may not work for everyone”. Nor is it easy to make it work.

The core of remote working is the circulation of information. “Keeping track of conversations and communications, of design processes, of formal and informal exchanges is essential”, continues Lucchesi. “We use technological tools designed to facilitate flows and make all information accessible. The aim is to allow people to work independently and to avoid that continuous exchange of private communications (which are also bad for working in the presence)”. How sad. It's the end of water cooler chats. The occasional and spontaneous conversation which, for us Italians, is the humus of things done well together. Yet things work just the same. In a rapidly changing environment, in fact, accessibility to information and transparency in exchanges are the necessary background for growth. The other key element is the renunciation of the fragmentation of knowledge.


It seems a barely humane modus operandi for us Italians, accustomed to something else. But according to Giuliana Lucchesi it is the opposite: “It may take more time to feel connected, but there is great attention, completely human, to people, to their ideas, to what they do and think. Both when they are working on a project or when they want to share passions or have a chat. It is a goal of the company that everyone feels comfortable and can be themselves”. The reason is clear: on a ground of trust and authenticity, a secure basis is created to freely express one’s ideas, triggering the process that leads to the creation of something new or the solution of a problem.

Communication therefore plays a key role in remote companies. It is carefully designed, with many channels, formal and informal, and leaves nothing to chance. “The company provides digital platforms suitable for managing processes. Our way of working is made transparent by constant updating. If I decide to change something, even just a detail, I have the tools to inform other people immediately. A public trace remains accessible to all”. Close to a click there is the digital coffee room, the thematic group, the chat between colleagues. The relationship is also the result of a project that is built on experience and on the basis of an advanced and very sophisticated HR management (read here... LINK A OPINIONE).

There are two fragile themes in remote work. Time and space, categories to which the human person refers in order not to lose the compass between work and private life. “I have a physical space for work at home. I walk in and out of a room as if I were going to the office. It's a fundamental switch”, explains Lucchesi. Time is marked in a personal way, taking charge of one's well-being and giving it a precise value, both private and professional. “We set ourselves limits for meetings, as well as record them. We have three possibilities to solve a theme in an asynchronous communication, otherwise we organize a call. We do not dwell on infinite conversations, it is not very functional and unnerving”. After working hours, you return to real life, without fake backgrounds and out of the flow of information. It is a return to the physical self, to a different dimension. But there are those who are ready and have the maps to come and go between the worlds and live “on life”, in the words of Luciano Floridi.



Cover image and some in the text: Vitra e-paper ‘New dynamics in the home’; creative direction Studio AKFB; illustrations by Max Guther

The 22 and 23 October 2020 is scheduled on line Vitra Summit (read here).