Many employers who are delaying return to work plans or setting up a hybrid work plan on a permanent basis are hiring for a new position, Head of Remote.
Tech companies like GitLab and Upwork are leading the way with Director or Head of Remote positions, especially for large enterprise companies or growing global startups to help attract talent to their organization to fill current roles and to keep their employees safe and engaged. This isn’t just a “hot new job title” that cropped up during the pandemic; as more companies prepare for a return to physical workspaces, many are taking what they learned from leadership during a global health crisis and applying it to hybrid and remote-only workers.
So what exactly is a Head of Remote Work? Also called Director of Remote Work, VP of Remote Work, Chief Remote Officer, or a variety of alternatives, this cross-functional role is focused on strategizing, designing, and communicating processes to ensure remote teams run smoothly.
Companies like Facebook, Quora, Zapier, Cleveland Clinic, Twitter, Zillow, Dropbox and many more are hiring (or have hired) for roles like this one, but Gitlab stands out as a pioneer in this organizational chart addition. Gitlab (an all-remote technology company) isn’t just a leader in the remote work space, but has also created a free online resource called The Remote Playbook that is incredibly helpful for organizations setting up their own remote infrastructure.
In an April 2022 podcast on Workology with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab (and the “oracle of remote work” according to CNBC), Murph offered some insight into what this leadership role involves. Murph joined the company in 2019 at around 700 employees, his role predating the pandemic. Gitlab now has over 1,500 employees and became a publicly-traded company in October of 2021. Murph said, “what you’re seeing happen in the broader space is that COVID has forced many companies into a position that GitLab chose to be in from inception,” adding that “many progressive companies are realizing that to truly lead their teams into a new future…the future of work isn’t something that will happen to you. It’s something you build. So who’s going to build that? It has to be a leader.”
According to Gitlab: “As more organizations embrace remote-work variations, they are realizing that remote and remote-hybrid workforces run the risk of creating two opposing cultures and workflow defaults. For the organization to thrive, charting a harmonious path forward must be someone’s job. Not just a part of their job, but the whole job.”
In the early days of the pandemic, many workforce leaders had to become familiar with how remote work impacts productivity, culture, communication – every facet of the traditional office work environment was turned upside down. Most had no experience working remotely or understood how to manage a remote team in a way that supported team members and achieved organizational goals.
The Head of Remote role isn’t intended to replace Chief People Officer or VP of HR. There are specific skills that remote workplace leaders must have, from ensuring that remote employees have healthy, ergonomic and functional workspaces at home to documenting processes to setting up channels of communication that facilitate a culture of success and belonging. Hiring remote employees (as well as screening, onboarding and training) is not the same as hiring someone to work in a physical office. For example, background checks for remote employees may be handled in a different way than for local hybrid employees – geographic location matters when verifying and screening a candidate.
As far as what to look for in a Head of Remote candidate, Murph says that “It’s important to define the biggest gaps and hire a senior leader with a history of working remotely and leading teams. There are far more companies who need this expertise than there are leaders with this particular combination of skills and experience.”
Smaller companies can handle this by hiring remote work consultants to train their managers and workplace leaders; but larger organizations need a dedicated leadership role to manage all the facets of remote or hybrid work in order to be competitive.
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