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Docker: Here's how we made the switch to remote-first working

Container tech-maker Docker will keep its offices shut for now and is embracing a remote-first approach for its employees.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on

Docker, the firm behind its eponymous container technology, has explained how it moved from an office-centric approach to a 'remote-first' approach over the past few years, including closing 1,600 private Slack channels and urging employees to use public Slack channels to improve remote-working collaboration between engineers. 

Mowing down Slack channels was part of Docker's effort to foster open collaboration in a largely remote-working environment before the pandemic struck, according to Jean-Laurent de Morlhon, Docker's VP of software engineering. 

Docker allowed only a few dozen Slack channels to exist, but encouraged employees to use public Slack channels by default and limit private channels to necessary private communications. 

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The company also introduced "wormholes" into its office environments that help remote engineers feel more connected to those working at the office. 

"Wormholes are pretty low-tech, they are a monitor, a camera, and speakers open in the offices all day," wrote de Morlhon in a blogpost

"Remote engineers connect to it, have a view of the offices, and can feel the ambiance and hear general conversations. They can also slack someone to come close to the wormhole for "direct" communication. They were pretty popular until we left our offices to start working from home." 

Despite having a well-functioning remote work culture already, the COVID-19 pandemic still created new challenges for the company: some employees had cramped apartments, young kids or were living alone. In other words, life was really tough for some employees due to lockdowns, and that was despite working for a company that had already invested in remote-working processes. 

"Not being able to see each other in the office or family and relatives for such a long time has taken a toll on everybody," said de Morlhon. 

"This also highlighted inequality that we didn't realize before: people with small apartments, young kids, or living alone were hit harder than those living with relatives and enjoying a large house."

These hard-learned lessons have changed how Docker is shaping the future of work, said de Morlhon: "Giving employees help to set up their home office, helping them move from one city to another, and generally spending enough time and energy making sure everybody is comfortable as we transition to this exciting new future of work."

SEE: When the return to the office happens, don't leave remote workers out in the cold

Docker appears to be taking a different tack to Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook, which are moving towards various points on the hybrid work spectrum. 

Docker is, of course, much smaller, with only a few hundred employees worldwide, but its take on hybrid is "remote-first" – and that means, for now, it has no plans to re-open its offices until the pandemic eases. 

"While other companies are pushing their employees to get back to offices, we decided that there is no turning back for Docker Inc. and that we will stay remote-first. All of our offices are closed and will remain so," wrote de Morlhon.  

"When COVID releases its pressure on the world, we will offer employees who live near to each other support to meet up and continue to collaborate and drive our culture, while we will look for chances to do this as a whole company both remote and in-person as things return to normal in the future."

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