Does your company need a Head of Remote Work?

June 9, 2021

Author: Staples Business Advantage Canada

As companies big and small shifted to a Work from Anywhere reality, many things became glaringly apparent — keeping your employees connected increases productivity, providing employees with the tools they need to do their jobs no matter where they are, and hiring an individual to fill the role of Head of Remote work is a game-changer.

Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter, along with other notable companies including Quora, Dropbox and Okta ran the race to fill the position, which can also go by titles like Director of Remote Work, VP of Remote Work, Chief Remote Officer and are well on their way to preparing for a future where work isn’t always a physical space.

A Statistics Canada survey found that 80 percent of new teleworkers expressed a preference to continue working remotely for at least half of each workweek, even after the pandemic. “Companies have come to the realization that not only do they need someone to be the voice of the employee in virtual or hybrid situations, but they need a set up that says, ‘this is how we work, this is how we do things,’” says Melissa Smith, a remote work consultant and founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants.

With more organizations looking to hire for roles that could remain remote, it becomes clear that in order for new workforce to be successful, a designated leader is needed.

What is the Head of Remote Work and what do they do?

While details of the job description vary from company to company, the Head of Remote wears many hats. Often at a director or executive level, they are the ones who are in charge of overseeing and streamlining remote work processes and policies, as well as implementing best practices and evolving the existing company culture.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, is viewed as the pioneer of the role. On any given day, his tasks can range from writing guidelines on topics like reducing meetings and planning online events, to increase employee engagement, working with legal teams on tax issues for employee moves, or even leading an end-to-end tools audit.

How companies can benefit from a Head of Remote Work or similar position?

Since the start of the pandemic, companies have come to realize the benefits of remote work, which includes lowering overhead with less real estate costs and the ability to hire the best candidate from literally anywhere. But in order to progress steadily, having a dedicated leader of remote is key to streamlining what is to come. A study by T3 that surveyed 95 tech companies in August 2020 found that only 2 percent had a remote work leader. By November 2020, it had increased to 12 percent. “Individual departments like IT or HR can’t take on the remote logistics on top of everything else they already have going on,” says Smith. “The Head of Remote sees things from a bird’s-eye view and can help companies get perspective on how things look like now, how they will look like in the future and how they will scale.”

Over the past year, Smith has helped companies transition to remote through establishing communication processes (such as the platforms that are used to communicate and what the expectations are) and virtual hiring. “There’s been a really big learning curve for companies within the past year, even for companies that were already hybrid because some of the tried-and-true rulebooks didn’t apply. Companies weren’t just going remote — they were going remote during a pandemic,” says Smith.

More than anything, Smith says having a Head of Remote is about futureproofing and ensuring that there is equity within the workplace so that both remote and office workers feel that they are heard and valued. As well, this position can help build employee engagement, connecting them to one another via virtual events and future offsites.

Whether or not the Head of Remote Work position has longevity is yet to be seen, but to protect a company’s best asset (the people that work there) in the new world of work, a remote leader can help build a team to last. “Moving forward, some companies might have no defining title for Head of Remote Work. Instead, it could take the form of more training and development,” says Smith. “The question to ask is: how are we taking care of people so they are getting re-skilled to match the company of our future so we can retain them?”