With technology advancing at such a rapid rate, particularly in how we communicate with each other, it’s perhaps not very surprising that increasingly more companies are embracing remote work. However, since 2020 the timeline of the implementation of remote work policies has been fast-tracked. While some companies, those that are more tied to the traditional work environment and are perhaps less agile, have been hesitant to adopt remote work and only did so because of government regulations. These companies were very happy to return to the traditional in-person working environment. This could be for various reasons, though. As it’s much easier to transition to remote work for some industries than others.
For some companies, though, they took advantage of the government suggested (or mandated) remote working policies and used them to make the switch. The extent to which companies shift from a traditional to a remote-oriented structure can vary greatly. The shift can be more extreme, and a company can move to be fully remote. Or it can be less so and a firm may merely implement a hybrid model that combines both working from the office and remote working.
How successful a company makes this transition can depend on many things. Each industry can present unique challenges. Also, the size and scope of the firm can make it more difficult. Small organizations are generally more agile and such a switch can be much easier. Lastly, the willingness to change can also have a big impact. If a firm only begrudgingly shifts from a traditional model to a remote-oriented model, then the results may be mixed at best, if not a complete disaster.
If the transition is a permanent one, then the addition of the senior position of Head of Remote Work can help the new remote-oriented structure succeed.
If a company has previously only seldomly allowed for remote working, if at all, then they are likely to not be prepared for such a significant shift. If only a couple of employees occasionally take a day to work remotely, then very little changes. But, if there are more people working remotely, then it can become a serious problem. While it may seem like a trivial change, it’s actually a fundamental change to the organizational structure.
As more employees choose to work remotely, or a company decides to make the shift entirely, there will be significant changes. In particular, communication is likely to be most affected. Communication will need to be streamlined. Project management will need to be adjusted to prevent delays. And management techniques will have to adapt to prevent lost productivity, fatigue, and employee isolation. A Head of Remote Work can help to address these issues.
What does the Head of Remote Work do?
The position of Head of Remote Work first originated at GitLab, which has been an all-remote company since 201. And it has been pioneered and championed by Darren Murph, who is considered to be the spiritual founder of the Head of Remote Work position, and has held the title at GitHub since 2019. And as the “oracle of remote work,” he has detailed his role as the Head of Remote. While ultimately the aim is to create a seamless work experience regarding remote work, he names five points that summarize what a Head of Remote aims to achieve.
- Conduct a comprehensive audit of the organization that includes but is not limited to existing workflows, company culture, and general policies to ensure that they are adapted to a remote working system.
- Reconstruct the office norms and adapt the workflows and culture to something suitable for a virtual work environment.
- Transform operations and general thinking to suit the modern reality of workplace expectations.
- Advise executives, who are accustomed to traditional office environments, on proven remote work practices and lead a systematic relearning process, replacing old habits. This includes defaulting to a meeting, working in silos vs. working transparently, forgoing documentation, etc. And replace these old habits with more progressive ones that are conducive to a remote working environment.
- Serve as an advisor and navigator to workflows regarding the decentralized team, making sure the organization is inclusive of geographies and time zones. This allows for the work being achieved regardless of the physical location of the employees or team.
While the scope and scale in which a Head of Remote Work operates will vary greatly and is generally more important the larger the company is. And if the company is large enough may even require more than a single person, but rather a team.
So, when looking at the five broad aims, there are many specific tasks that we can derive. These tasks include:
- Advising in the hiring process,
- Devising a framework for communication within the organization,
- Training managers on how to work with remote employees,
- Supporting employees with they have remote work issues,
- Providing education on the best practices of remote working,
- Conduct ongoing assessments of remote workers and the remote infrastructure.
You’ll notice that some of the tasks of the Head of Remote position are similar to tasks normally conducted by HR, IT, or managers. Or, maybe the task or role wasn’t filled by anyone, which can be the case all too often as it may fall between positions and nobody takes responsibility for it. This underlines the importance of having a designated role that works comprehensively with the remote components of the organization.
What are the benefits of hiring a Head of Remote Work?
Between 2005 and 2021, the number of people who work from home has increased by 140%. This number is likely to continue to increase. This is particularly due to younger and more technologically savvy workforces, as well as improved technological infrastructure, and more jobs requiring less physical presence. As this trend will likely continue, the importance of hiring a Head of Remote Work will also increase. To that end, there are many benefits of hiring a Head of Remote.
Since one of the main duties of a Head of Remote is to evolve the organizational structure, a result of this is streamlined operations. They ensure that all the tools and processes in place are supportive of the entire workforce. By fostering synergy between remote employees in a completely decentralized, or between remote workers and in-person employees in the case of a hybrid structure, the Head of Remote allows for lean operations and reduced spending. Refining and centralizing remote operations allow the organization to cut through the noise and prevent unnecessary bloat.
Without the necessary guidance, remote teams will likely struggle to successfully communicate with both their team and other departments and offices as well. A Head of Remote can improve the workflow and communication between team members and different teams as well. This can be done through workshops, team-building activities (physical or virtual), virtual coworking schedules, and other ways, which can ensure that everyone knows how to work together and understands each other.
It’s no surprise that in general, happy workers are more productive workers – 13% more productive to be exact. And while remote working itself can help to reduce stress, other factors that contribute to reduced stress are supportive work environments, effective teams, and streamlined/efficient workflows. A Head of Remote can implement policies and an organizational structure that provides such factors. Additionally, while happy employees are more productive, they also usually provide higher quality work and stay at the organization longer, meaning less turnover.
A firm that employs a Head of Remote Work will have a distinct advantage over other organizations that do not. As a dedicated position that exists to support employees, improve operations, and reduce costs, your organization will prosper with the addition of a Head of Remote.
There are many documented benefits of remote working but there are some drawbacks too, like zoom fatigue, isolation, and poor communication between remote workers. These threats to your employee’s mental health and productivity are addressed by the Head of Remote. They understand how to prevent and resolve these issues that can impact productivity.
The Signs that you Might Need a Head of Remote
Unfortunately, many companies are usually far too reluctant to embrace change and to implement a new position or policy. Because it suggests that something may be wrong, or they may wonder if such a change is really necessary. This is particularly true when it comes to adding an extra leadership role. There are a number of signals to look out for that may suggest you need to hire a Head of Remote Work. Here are just a few of them.
Unmotivated & Exhausted Employees
While it may be somewhat difficult to pinpoint this when your team is remote, you can most likely notice it in the reduced quality of their work. More content and happy employees will produce higher quality work.
Trouble Maintaining a Remote Culture
The longer a company goes with a poor remote culture, the more damage it can do and the more difficult it can be to change. However, it may be that attempts at change were made but they couldn’t be maintained. Without having an individual responsible for maintaining the remote work culture, it can be a very difficult task. Particularly if the responsibility falls on someone like IT, HR, or a manager that doesn’t work remotely, or doesn’t have any experience with doing so.
Micromanaging of Remote Employees
Micromanaging, whether it’s towards in-person or remote employees, it’s almost a surefire way to reduce productivity and increase stress. If a manager or team leader is constantly messaging the team members or trying to control their work too much, the morale and work quality of the team can suffer greatly. This can be difficult for a traditional manager to trust employees he can’t see. This usually results in an increase in message load, and/or meetings and it can harm company morale and negatively impact the quality of work.
Decrease in Work Transparency
Decentralization without the proper tools or policy that track the output of each employee can make it difficult to see who did what and when. Thus, accurately evaluating the work of each individual becomes very difficult. And this, in turn, makes it more likely that a manager or team leader will resort to micromanaging techniques to try to judge the performance of individuals.
No Oversight or Representation of Your Remote Workers
Unfortunately, for organizations that have a hybrid policy, there is normally some level of discrepancy in the treatment of in-person and remote workers. Where in-person workers are usually treated better by both HR and the likelihood of career advancement. Since they are “out of sight” there is not the interpersonal connection that comes along with in-person interaction. So, it’s important that there is an advocate or at least someone that can represent them in a fair manner.
Little to No Support of Home Office Setup
By not providing employees with the proper tools, it inhibits their ability to work effectively and succeed. This is a dead giveaway that the organization doesn’t take the remote workers seriously.
Characteristics of a Good Head of Remote
Every organization will likely utilize the Head of Remote Work in a unique manner. This is because every firm has its own unique needs and goals. This means that the specific characteristics of the Head of Remote Work will vary from business to business. However, below are some of the skills that a successful Head of Remote Work will have.
- Ability to communicate with low context and high precision.
- High emotional intelligence and deep empathy that allow them to relate to various challenges from team members around the world.
- Tendency to form and nurture interdepartmental relationships.
- Appreciation for self-learning and self-service.
- Ability to work asynchronously and teach/coach others how to also do so.
- Ability to garner influence so that they can positively impact the working lives of the team members.
- Visionary and problem solver that seeks to understand outside perspectives and looks for tools and improvements to workflows that allow the organization to continuously evolve.