How GitLab uses a bot to help its remote team bond

"My teams work remotely. And most of them have never met each other. Despite my experience, the setup was creating unique challenges that I found hard to overcome. Thankfully, Geekbot rescued me."

Jean du Plessis, Engineering manager

GitLab is a remote-first company that bases most of its processes and tools on asynchronous communication. GitLab’s Remote Playbook is the ultimate guide for all aspiring and existing remote teams and companies. We thank them for their contribution to the community ?

Jean manages several remote engineers in his team. The team members are dispersed across the world, from Sydney to the West Coast. And most team members have never actually seen each other in person. While he was used to managing remotely before COVID-19, Jean became more acutely aware of a couple of challenges, unique to this particular kind of management:

  • When teammates don’t see each other in person, it’s tough to maintain or strengthen internal team bonds. People start to feel isolated and, consequently, their motivation can wane (even more so during a pandemic).
  • It’s hard for managers to keep a pulse on their team’s wellbeing in a remote setting. If someone is experiencing a personal issue that’s affecting their work, it can easily go unnoticed. And managers can’t step in and help if they aren’t aware there’s an issue.

Geekbot helps strengthen team bonds

To address these problems, Jean configured Geekbot to send several check-in questions to teammates at the start of each week via Slack. One question Geekbot asked was:

“Anything interesting/fun happen over the weekend?” 

…to which one engineer once answered, “I built a video game!” Jean and the rest of the team didn’t know this particular teammate was a gamer. And so, through Geekbot it was uncovered a different side to a colleague whom no-one had ever met in-person.

Naturally, when armed with more personal knowledge, teammates can reach out to each other to begin a conversation in Slack and use shared interests as a starting point: in this case, video games.

These types of interactions strengthen team bonds, making for a more enjoyable work environment. While check-in questions, like those used by Jean, help personalize virtual work settings — simulating the ‘water cooler moments’ that would otherwise build such connections.

Identifying if someone is feeling the strain through Geekbot

Jean also asked Geekbot to send out a second check-in question at the start of each week,

“What’s your RAG status? (Red, Amber, Green). Feel free to share some more context with the team”.

RAG status is similar to a traffic light: green is positive, red is negative, with amber somewhere in between. And Jean could quickly scan the colors to see if a teammate was feeling the strain or close to hitting their limits.

He now uses this information to take action whenever needed, jumping in to help before a situation gets worse. Jean’s team loves this check-in question as it lets them express their feelings, knowing their manager is there to offer support.

A human is on the other end, reading each answer, and ready to respond: it only takes a few words of encouragement to turn someone’s day around or energize a team.

Personal check-ins improve work-life for all

Jean couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Just a few simple questions have turned his remote colleagues into a close-knit team, with focused conversations interspersed with more personal interaction, all in Slack.

Every team member feels heard — while Jean feels confident he can support his team, even when conditions are particularly challenging.

Key Takeaways:

  • Anyone can build a close-knit remote team with the right tools and techniques
  • Weekly check-in questions help build relationships and rapport
  • Techniques like RAG status updates highlight areas needing focus
  • Finding common ground turns remote colleagues into teammates and friends