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Here’s Why You Need a Head of Remote
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Here’s Why You Need a Head of Remote

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written on December 2020 by Magda Sowierszenko

A solid remote setup in a company can often feel like a difficult dream. It’s not just something that can be done overnight. Making the switch requires every company to redefine the way they work, adopt new protocols and habits, and take long-term action.

An effective remote work setup takes effort, know-how, and practice. But it is a journey with many steps to take and even traps to navigate. Unfortunately, it’s not just about recreating the office in an online fashion. Nevertheless, this is the position we find a lot of companies already. Moving on from this and learning to fully adapt to working virtually and online needs a proper path and guidance.

We’ve noticed however that all of this usually falls on some person or department that doesn’t have any direct experience in this transformation. They then have to take on the task of organizing remote work within a company, often without the right experience needed. Usually, it’s a side job for someone in the organization. 

In the long run, pushing these responsibilities onto either the HR department or managers won’t help implement effective change. It results in policies that only exist on paper, and teams that are working in complete misalignment.

To implement and execute an effective remote setup, someone is needed who can dedicate all their time to the subject. That’s why we’re now seeing a significant increase in the number of companies hiring their own Head of Remote to tackle the task head on. 

In this article we will cover:

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What Exactly Does a Head of Remote Do?

A Head of Remote fulfills all the tasks related to remote setup that might currently be managed by another part of the company. Protocols and standards relating to hiring, management, and processes can then all be created by someone with the whole remote picture in mind. 

They are essentially either taking on roles that might have been previously filled in by managers, HR, or IT. Or perhaps by no one at all! Typically a Head of Remote should take care of:

  • Documentation
  • Advisising on, implementing, and evaluating new tools and policies
  • Educating employees on best remote practices
  • Analyzing the overall effects of each remote change across the company
  • Acting as a remote ambassador and example
  • Supporting employees with their remote work issues

It’s not just all processes either. There are also legal requirements to think about, as well as a new remote aspect of company culture. This is just as important as the technical side to make sure that the whole team is happy with the new place that remote work has in the company. 

What Are the Signs You Might Need a Head of Remote?

The issue with any new role or position in a company is the question as to whether it is actually needed. If you have managed to cope so far without a Head of Remote, then why hire one all of a sudden? Unfortunately, this is an all too common trap. 

The potential for remote working conditions to shine really is high, and without having someone dedicating their time to it you’re almost certainly not getting the best out of remote work. There are a number of signs that you should be on the lookout for when thinking about hiring someone to take care of all your remote needs.

  • You can’t maintain your remote culture. It could be that you already have a cultural base to build on, or you may even not have one at all. Getting everyone motivated and on board with something that has always been quite controversial is tricky to do. A lot of the time, your leadership team can be the most reluctant converts too. 
  • Remote employees are exhausted and unmotivated. This one might be more difficult to pick up on when you’re not physically with your team. However, you can probably just take a look at your own situation. Remote work should (in theory!) help you better plan your time and give you the opportunity for a better work-life balance. If it’s doing the opposite, you need some help!
  • There are no documentation protocols for remote work. This goes for your emails and meetings, as well as the work you do. When we work remotely, we have to communicate and document our work in different ways. Ideally, this should all be laid out clearly in a remote work policy. This also must be documented too… showing how important the process of documentation is!
  • Employees are being micromanaged. It’s difficult for managers to build up trust that people are working at the level expected of them. Team members might have to constantly report their status or take part in regular meetings that interrupt their flow. This ultimately leads to less productive and more stressed remote employees.  
  • There’s no clear “remote-transformation” strategy. Remote doesn’t just happen. It’s not simply just working from outside the office. It’s a whole set of processes, skills, and even a culture… which needs a strategy and leader to implement. If you don’t have one in place, then it’s a good sign you need to think about hiring leadership that can prepare a remote strategy.  
  • The transparency of work has decreased. When employees aren’t located physically together, it can be difficult to see exactly who has produced and contributed what. This in turn makes it difficult to accurately evaluate everyone’s performance. This difficulty then has to be overcome without micromanaging, make it a real catch 22.
  • There’s no learning and development around remote work. It’s a skill, like any other, that has to be practiced and nurtured. The best teacher is someone already familiar with how to work from home, but this can take precious time away from other experienced employees. A Head of Remote can either educate the workforce themselves, or suggest educational tools and platforms like our own Remote-how Academy.
  • You don’t have someone to represent your remote workers. When we have issues at work, it’s not unusual to bring it up in a structured way with your manager or HR department. But when it comes to remote work problems, who do you go to? Whoever you choose, they will end up with extra responsibility they might not have time for. Remote workers need someone who will listen to their issues and represent them in a fair and structured manner.
  • Your toolstack is a mess! No one is checking whether the tools you’re using support best remote practices. If your company has only gone remote since COVID-19, then there’s a good chance your tool stack might not have changed at all. A proper audit needs to take place, but who should be the one to do it? 
  • You’re not supporting employees with their home office setups. This is one of the clearest giveaways that a company isn’t taking remote work seriously. Just like a work laptop which is standard now, your chair and desk at home is being used to help you produce good quality work for your job. We don’t use our personal laptop for work, so why should we be using our kitchen table and uncomfortable chair? Someone is needed to implement and take seriously the use of equipment in the home office. 

What Should You Put in a Head of Remote Job Listing?

If you’ve noticed that a lot of the above applies to you, then it’s time to think about getting your own Head of Remote. What you include in the job description must consider your current needs and how experienced your company is with remote work. 

The points we gave at the beginning provide a good framework for you to decide what it exactly is that you need help with. It’s also completely possible that you need support with almost everything. It’s important to think about how big a job you have, and whether it’s a full-time role, part-time role, or even temporary position.

Nothing is written in stone here. If you find that you aren’t managing to get the applicants you’re looking for, then you can always iterate. The description you supply in the listing can be built on and tweaked over time as you understand more about what you need.

Depending on your specific needs, you should explore some of the verticals of the position. If you are struggling particularly with building up your remote culture, then consider targeting the problem and hiring for a Head of Remote Culture. Sometimes it’s your HR department that needs the most support, making a Head of Remote People Ops the perfect pick for you.

Once you’ve decided exactly on what you want to hire for, it’s time to actually put up your advert. Here’s a few great examples to take a look at:

Quora – Like most people currently searching for a Head of Remote, Quora is experiencing a big shift in their remote work policy. Their responsibilities are split into 5 main points which make a great framework for anyone to use: lead, consult, help, promote, document.

Hopin  The team at Hopin have outlined the Tools & Processes that make up the key work that a Head of Remote will likely end up doing. It should be an essential part of any job posting. You need a Head of Remote to evaluate, propose, and implement tools exactly like they ask for. The Head of Remote needs to identify best practices and partner with correct departments to share their knowledge. This is a great way to describe the core aspects of the role.

Okta – If you’re looking to emphasize the cross-departmental aspect of a Head of Remote, then this advert from Okta is a great place to look. Each part of their responsibilities sections covers practically all the different departments that a Head of Remote will have to interact with and their goals. Okta have also refined their role to Head of Dynamic Work. Much like we mentioned exploring your specific needs more and the possible job verticals, Okta have done exactly this to create a more tailored role.

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Which Companies Already Have a Head of Remote? 

While Head of Remote is a fairly new role for most companies, there are some large names out there that have already been experimenting with the role since before COVID-19. GitLab, which has been operating remotely since its founding in 2014, hired their own Head of Remote last year. Darren Murph has a lengthy 15 years of experience when it comes to remote work, and now takes charge of GitLab’s remote policies and practices. In his own words, Darren lays out the significance of remote work change:

 “[It] has a cascading ripple effect through the entire organization […] The head of remote is the most cross-functional role in the company; it ensures that pivotal re-architecting decisions aren’t happening in a vacuum. It is the visionary for driving change, improving inclusiveness and efficiency, and creating cultural cohesion.”

Darren has picked up on a key reason why GitLab needs a Head of Remote for their 1200 remote employees. Remote work affects all parts of a company, from hiring through to budgets. Each individual change in one team has a butterfly effect on all other departments. The only way to get a bird’s eye view and keep track of this is with someone taking control of the whole process.

AngelList, a community for startups, investors, and job-seekers, also hired their first Head of Remote last year, Andreas Klinger. During his time in the role, Andrew covered most of what we have already discussed when it comes to processes, 

“Helping [to] establish rituals around meetings that are useful for people calling in, developing practices that work across time zones, etc.”

Importantly, both these companies have something in common: an already established focus on remote work. GitLab already has a completely remote workforce, and AngelList runs their own remote job work board. It’s a good sign that those who know the most about flexible working conditions already have a Head of Remote in place. For everyone now who is having to catch up, it’s a great example to follow.

Facebook have also recently hired their own Director of Remote Work, Annie Dean. In August of this year, the company announced that they would allow their staff to work remotely until August 2021. Facebook also is embracing remote work as a more permanent option in the future. Annie Dean already has great experience in championing work flexibility for women with her previous company Werk, making her a top choice for leading this digital change.

While facebook didn’t already have an obvious remote work focus before COVID-19, they’ve now realised that if the topic is to be taken seriously, a Head of Remote is definitely needed. This is the path that most companies are already on, making the hiring of this new role simply a matter of time as the need becomes greater.

It’s Only a Matter of Time

Whether you need a Head of Remote or not can really be boiled down to how serious your company takes remote work. Not every company is planning to keep flexible working conditions in place after the pandemic. But these are in the minority, now that everyone has had some experience with the benefits of working outside of the office.

The future of work looks inevitably to be more remote, so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of this unexpected switch and strike while the iron is hot. We’re all learning a lot in a small amount of time. We all have a unique opportunity to make a good start to remote work in our companies.

However, at some point on this journey external support is needed to really get to grips with a solid remote work setup. As the signs increase that you probably need a Head of Remote, the greater the need becomes. We only need to see the recent buzz around the role to know that it’s become much more in demand. Take stock, audit your remote work situation, and create your own tailored Head of Remote role to fit your company’s needs.

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