Why You Need to Hire a Head of Remote Work — and What That Job Entails

August 25, 2020

The smartest, most transparent, and most progressive companies transitioning to remote will hire an executive to lead their journey in the next one to two years. This hire (or the lack thereof) will be a litmus test to job seekers who expect remote work to be supported, not merely allowed.

GitLab, GitHub, Facebook, Quora, and Twitter (and others!) are all hiring for, or already employ, a person or team whose full-time job is to ensure that remote work, works. 

Let’s start with why this role/team is needed

Transitioning to remote work is not a binary switch that is flipped. While many organizations were thrust into their homes overnight, that is only the first of many steps. Remote is a journey of iteration — a tireless, evolving trek that demands a leader, or else your firm risks falling back into conventional habits or creating a fractured culture where no one is clear on what is expected.

The larger your organization is, or the more deeply it is entrenched in colocated tradition, the more significant the challenge and compensation expectations. This role will be far more complex in a hybrid-remote setting compared to an all-remote setting, as you’re answering every question twice. 

  1. Who will be responsible for ensuring that newly-remote workers have healthy, ergonomic workspaces at home?
  2. Who will sit down and audit every single perk and benefit offered globally, and ensure that remote workers have equivalent benefits to those who choose to work onsite? 
  3. Who will lead an end-to-end tools audit, ensuring that tools which do not support asynchronous workflows are deprecated or replaced, and ensuring that existing tools are used in remote-first ways?
  4. Who will create, establish, and champion your firm’s documentation strategy, hiring the right team to ensure that communication voids are closed? 
  5. Who will coach your executives on the nuanced benefits of one or more being remote by default, sending clear signals that praise and promotion are not tied to a physical building?
  6. Who will be the voice of the distributed worker, ensuring equality and belonging for those who may never step foot in a corporate office? 
  7. Who will ensure that learning and development principles address the challenges of remote hiring, remote interviewing, remote onboarding, remote management, remote promotions, and beyond? 
  8. Who will conduct an end-to-end process audit and provide structured replacements for remote-last workflows, such as a reliance on synchronous meetings for consensus gathering and collaboration? 
  9. Who will lead the reevaluation of company values, and subsequent editing and bolstering such that everyone understands how to treat others without the need for routine in-person contact?
  10. Who will put a travel strategy in place such that in-person engagements become a core part of building company culture?
  11. Who will revise your company’s talent acquisition strategy, creating a clear and concise answer to “What’s your stance on workplace flexibility?” 
  12. Who will build a visible talent brand demonstrating how remote workers are supported and included? (This will create significant sway in your Glassdoor reviews.)
  13. Who will lead existing executives in transforming their expectations and ways of working, coaching them to model the unlearning of old habits and embracing new ones in transparent fashion?
  14. Who will ensure that teams have the tools, direction, and coaching they need to become documentarians?
  15. Who will outline a multi-year remote transformation strategy with quarterly milestones and objectives, coaching a team through iterative change and celebrating small wins along the way?
  16. Who will champion your culture and values, not only to galvanize teams through a pandemic, but excite them by building a more disciplined, cohesive, asynchronous, inclusive, and diverse future?
  17. Who will understand the nuances of remote work and the myriad business implications beyond just today?

Is your existing leadership team capable of tackling that? 

With few exceptions, most firms are on one of two tracks:

The “We’ll figure it out” track

Firms in this track are playing an elaborate game of whack-a-mole, attempting to hurriedly solve issues that appear in a remote transition by viewing each in a vacuum and assigning them to their closest logical executive(s). They are largely unable to forecast, and as such, likely do not grasp the full magnitude of the sea change. Despite the great remote migration triggering a complete rearchitecting of how digital firms hire, retain, and perform, firms in this track are largely looking for a collection of one-off answers as opposed to knitting together a succinct reenvisioning of who it is in the post-COVID landscape.

Here are a few common examples. The issue of location-impacted compensation falls between the Chief Legal Officer and Chief People Officer; the issue of implementing asynchronous tooling and workflows falls between the Chief Business Officer and Chief Operations Officer; the issue of cultural development falls in front of the entire executive team. Because it’s no one’s complete job, diligent effort cannot reasonably be expected. 

Existing executives do not have space to carve out a third or more of their time to solve these issues. Moreover, these challenges are not one-and-done. Diversity and inclusion isn’t a one-time problem to solve; neither is real estate strategy, or pricing, or endpoint management, or benefits realignment. Yet, many organizations see the remote work transition as something they can hammer out in a few months and then proceed to work as they always have. 

This is why you see thousands upon thousands of people lamenting “Zoom fatigue” with no tactical solutions. (Hint: It’s not about schedule hacking. It’s about fundamentally upending how you work so your entire firm has a bias towards asynchronous workflows, allowing people to manage their own time, and making it culturally OK to look away. You need a leader on your team who understands what that sentence means to have any shot at implementing it at scale.)

The “Let’s iterate on the job description as we go” track

Firms in this track are attempting to write a job description that has not existed in traditional education or organizational development. They realize they need leadership in a multifaceted, cross-functional capacity that is so nuanced and deeply embedded in every element of the organization, that the mere act of articulating the job description is a challenge. This is heartening. These firms realize that significant change is unavoidable. They would rather embrace this now as a means to bolster their operational strategy, even if they are not entirely clear on the depth and breadth of change that awaits. 

I am immensely grateful to work with a team of 1,300+ remote colleagues at GitLab. While we’re leaning on each other more than ever during the pandemic, our commitment to values, our understanding of asynchronous workflows, and our leadership’s unwavering support of remote work provides the space to contribute our learnings to the community. 

For leaders working on their remote transition strategy, I hope this article serves as a blueprint for the task at hand.

Darren Murph is GitLab’s Head of Remote and has spent his career shaping remote teams and charting remote transformations.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

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