You’re probably already aware that work will never look the same again. Here’s another thing that’s going to change. As an increasing number of companies move to allow permanent remote working arrangements, many are adding a new role at the top of their organizational charts: chief remote officer.
Facebook, which previously announced plans to make remote work a permanent option for many employees, caught work trend watchers’ eyes recently with a posting for the company’s first-ever director of remote work.
The now-expired Facebook job listing says that the move towards more flexible work arrangements as a long-term strategy requires a “thoughtful and measured approach,” with a leader responsible for identifying and implementing the strategies and processes that will best support employees working remotely.
Remote work is here to stay
Facebook is far from the only company with plans to add this new role to their corporate structure. The open-source software lab GitLab, whose workforce has already been remote for a decade, hired its first head of remote work in 2019. Okta, another tech company that announced a move to permanent remote work in 2020, also recently filled a similar position.
The long-term move to allow remote work isn’t for tech companies only. While organizations such as Microsoft, Twitter, and Zillow also plan to allow some employees to work from home even once COVID-19 is over, only a meager 5% of companies across sectors expect a full return to the office once the pandemic is over. For the vast majority, full-time remote work or flexible, hybrid arrangements involving some work from home will be the new reality.
These new work models will require new thinking, new ways to promote working together, and new tools and initiatives to help remote workers achieve peak performance—wherever they are.
What is a chief remote officer?
So what will new chief remote work officers do? Ultimately, they’ll be responsible for developing strategies, processes, and tools to support successful remote work, ensuring that the needs of both the organization and remote employees are met.
Their mandates will likely include things like:
- Training managers in how to support, coach, and evaluate remote workers
- Refining hiring processes, benefits packages, employee evaluations, and other programs
- End-to-end tool audits to ensure workers have everything they need to seamlessly and securely work from anywhere
- Setting up frameworks for team and cross-functional collaboration
- Defining plans for the ongoing assessment and evaluation of remote work
- Adapting learning and development initiatives for remote workers
Everything from defining the rules of engagement for teamwork to helping employees set up ergonomic home offices may be fair game for these emerging positions. The full spectrum of the employee experience—recruitment, career development, compensation, and corporate culture—will all likely fall under a head of remote work’s purview.
Do companies really need a head of remote work?
After the grand work-from-home experiment that was 2020, you may be wondering whether businesses really need an executive to lead remote work initiatives. After all, last year most companies had to adapt to remote work models practically overnight—and to a large extent, these on-the-fly transitions were quite successful.
Instead of taking a hit on productivity—a risk that had long held many companies back from permitting widespread WFH—the majority of employees and managers said people were the same, if not more productive, working remotely during the pandemic than they had been at the office.
But while overall satisfaction with work-from-home arrangements was high, things were far from perfect: in many cases, employees report a lack of access to the right tools, challenges connecting and collaborating with colleagues, and feelings of disconnection from their organizations, among other challenges.
For companies of all sizes planning to continue to allow remote work moving forward, taking a proactive and strategic look at how to ease pain points, improve communication, and support distributed workforces is important for long-term success.
Though smaller organizations may not need to add a full-time head of remote work to their organizational structures, larger organizations will likely reap critical benefits. Big companies that rely on cross-functional teamwork and interactions, in particular, will need someone to connect the dots and ensure that processes and solutions can be scaled across their organization.
The times they are a-changing
Many have predicted the rise of remote work for years—but it took a global pandemic to force many companies to rethink traditional office arrangements and make the jump to more flexible working policies. Now that those businesses have experienced some of the benefits of enabling employees to do their best work from anywhere, many are not going back to the office full-time—possibly forever.
While the role of chief remote officer isn’t mainstream yet, assigning leadership to the task of optimizing, measuring, and improving remote work simply makes sense. Remote work can be productive and engaging and save companies money. But for it to truly be successful and sustainable, it requires intentional, proactive planning and management—including possibly a new remote work boss to lead the charge.
Originally published Jan 14, 2021, updated Jan 18, 2023