Why Companies Are Hiring a Head of Remote Work (and Why You Should, Too)

We spoke with Darren Murph, Head of Remote Work at GitLab, about some defining skills that should be in this unique job description.

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Looking to hire a Head of Remote Work? These companies have

With the likelihood that 30% of the workforce may be remote by the end of 2021, a comprehensive remote strategy should be at the top of your agenda.

While employees are happier and business leaders are satisfied with the numerous benefits of remote work, there are challenges, too. As more employees choose to work from home, companies will need to streamline communication and project management to prevent delays, lost productivity, fatigue, and employee isolation.

The solution? A point person to keep on top of remote work trends, office strategies, employee recruitment, training, and general support. And those are just a few of the main tasks for the newly minted position, the Head of Remote Work.

Some of the most creative companies have already invested in hiring a Head of Remote Work — among them, GitLab, Facebook, Quora, Zapier, Cleveland Clinic, Gong.io, Okta, and more. In fact, between August and November 2020, leadership roles for remote jumped from 2% to 12%.

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What is a Head of Remote Work?

As a cross-functional position, the Head of Remote Work communicates and strategizes with all of your departments to ensure remote operations run smoothly.
Sometimes called Director of Remote Work, Head of Dynamic Work, or Chief Remote Officer, the Head of Remote Work position has become a necessity in an era now dominated by working from home.

Like the CEO, COO, and other c-suite decision-makers, the Head of Remote Work role aims to streamline remote operations to facilitate success. As a cross-functional position, the Head of Remote Work communicates and strategizes with all of your departments to ensure remote operations run smoothly.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote Work at GitLab and the “oracle of remote work” according to CNBC, gives more insight into the trajectory of this role.

“The role will closely follow the prior trajectory of the Chief Diversity Officer. At one point, diversity was simply a line item on the job description of a Chief People Officer,” Murph said. “It became clear that a dedicated leader would create greater intentionality and acceleration, and now that role is mainstream.”

What does a Head of Remote Work Do?

When the aim is to create a seamless work experience between remote and in-house workers, micro-managing and supervision are not on the list. The Head of Remote Work needs to juggle several different tasks, including:

  • Training managers on how to work with remote employees
  • Add input into the hiring process
  • Audit remote work infrastructure to ensure employees are properly supported
  • Devise a framework for collaboration
  • Continue ongoing assessments of remote workers and the remote infrastructure
  • Adapt company initiatives for remote workers
  • Advise other executives and decision makers to ensure inclusivity

Companies that have hired a Head of Remote Work

As we’ve mentioned before, several companies have hired in a leadership role regarding remote work. Some examples include:

  • GitLab.  As far as remote working goes, GitLab and their Head of Remote Work, Darren Murph, is a pioneer in the field. With their handbook and All-Remote Certification, GitLab isn’t just a prime example of a remote workforce but should be a primary source when setting up your own remote infrastructure.
  • Facebook. While Facebook already had an extensive remote workforce, they have recently filled 2 positions: Director of Remote Work and Head of Remote Learning.
  • Stripe. In May 2019, Stripe launched its fully remote engineering hub. As they’ve grown their remote team, Stripe has also hired a Remote Hub Site Lead to ensure operations continue to run smoothly.
  • Okta. While nearly all of their recent positions have been open to remote work, Okta has taken their organization a step farther through hiring a Head of Dynamic Work (aka, Remote Work).

Will this role be relevant post-pandemic?

3 in 10 organizations expect more than 70% of their employees to work remotely in the next 2 to 3 years.
Most likely, yes! Many workers who have now tasted the work from home life find that they like it. In fact, according to a recent Capgemini report, 3 in 10 organizations expect more than 70% of their employees to work remotely in the next 2 to 3 years.

And while employees are happier with a greater degree of flexibility, their employers are reaping the benefits, too. Lower costs on real estate and materials, a higher level of productivity, and streamlined company communication makes it easier than ever for the work to get while optimizing budgets.

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The benefits of hiring a Head of Remote Work

Even before the pandemic hit, remote workers had begun to take over the workforce. In fact, the number of people working from home has increased by 140% since 2005! And while allowing workers to complete their tasks outside the office has had a generally positive impact on businesses and employees alike, keeping everything straight can be a challenge.

Chief People Officers and individuals can easily become overwhelmed as the workplace becomes abstract and communication more complex. To that end, hiring a Head of Remote Work offers numerous benefits:

1. Streamlined operations

First off, a Head of Remote Work ensures that all tools and processes in regards to remote employees and operations are sound and supportive to the entire workforce. In this regard, this position helps companies cut through the noise regarding remote services and products effectively and quickly, while preventing unnecessary bloat. Through refining and centralizing remote operations, your Head of Remote Work can also save you money in the long run.

2. Boosted productivity

Zoom fatigue, isolation, and a lack of communication between remote teams are all real threats to your employees’ mental health and productivity. A Head of Remote Work understands how to prevent and resolve common issues that can impact office productivity.

Thorough and transparent work from home strategies can really positively impact the office. For example, being allowed to work from home can boost performance by at least 22%. In fact, even if employees only work remotely once a month, their satisfaction and productivity boosts to 24%. A Head of Remote Work can ensure that employees are able to create an optimal balance between working from home and at the office.

Being allowed to work from home can boost performance by at least 22%. In fact, even if employees only work remotely once a month, their satisfaction and productivity boosts to 24%.

3. Stronger collaboration

The fact is, remote teams shouldn’t just be interacting with their central team. More likely than not, they’ll also need to work with different departments and with in-office employees. Hiring a Director of Remote Work can iron out the kinks in the workflow and ensure that everyone knows each other and understands how to work together. They may come up with innovative team-building activities that can be done online, virtual coworking schedules, and other remote ways of building connections between team members.

4. Happier employees

A streamlined, effective, and supportive remote environment fosters happy and productive employees. Not only will this lower turnover for companies, but it can ensure that the employee’s positive experience filters into their work and to the end-product or service. In a recent study, FlexJobs found that 86% of employees feel that working remotely reduces stress.

5. Competitive edge

Finally, the expertise and strategy offered by your Head of Remote Work lend a competitive edge. Since this is a dedicated position that exists to support employees, improve operations, and reduce costs where possible, your employees are bound to be better brand advocates.

And with the ability to scale your workforce depending on a situational basis due to your solid remote infrastructure, you will be able to move quicker and more efficiently than competitors without the same support.

In addition, employees with the option to work from home stay longer — thus reducing your retention costs. Companies that offer remote work options typically have a 25% lower turnover rate.

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What to look for when hiring a Head of Remote Work

Now that we know why you should be looking to hire a Head of Remote Work, what does the job itself look like? With so much variation in remote workflows and tools, how can you begin to draft a job description that makes sense?

Rather than focus on specific tools or task proficiencies, you may want to focus your efforts on defining key skills that will lead to success.

We spoke with Darren Murph from GitLab to highlight some defining skills that should be in your job description:

  1. The ability to communicate with low context assumptions, precision, and empathy
  2. Understanding of the challenges of multiple departments
  3. Capability for innovating and defining solutions from feedback
  4. Expert storytelling skills to ensure organizational buy-in for significant changes
  5. A deep understanding of traditional and remote operational infrastructure
  6. A problem solver open to working with outside perspectives, tools, and workflows
  7. A default to working transparently and with a low level of shame is vital given the extreme cross-functional nature of the role
  8. Advisory skills to guide executive decisions through a global and inclusive lens
  9. Appreciation for self-learning and self-service, documentation
  10. Proven ability to work asynchronously

It’s important to remember that the Head of Remote Work will have a lot on their plate. After all, this role typically deals with not only remote employees but also collaborating with other decision makers and C-suite executives.

Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “How do I make remote reviews work?”

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