Does Your Company Need a Head of Remote?

An image of a person working from home

Originally published in Forbes by Laurel Farrer

If you “can’t manage what you don’t measure,” who is responsible for managing and measuring the impact of workplace flexibility in your organization? To navigate the growing trend of remote work, many organizations are turning to a new role called “Head of Remote” to serve as the in-house expert on all things distributed.

Although distributed organizations around the world are taking notice and are getting in on the conversation, Head of Remote, isn’t a completely new concept. Remote, which offers international payroll, benefits, taxes, and compliance for businesses, recently released a white paper to help organizations learn about Head of Remote and evaluate if they need one.  There’s nuance to the responsibilities of the role, who would be a good fit for it, and how your organization could benefit from having a Head of Remote. As the world of remote continues to evolve, it’s important to keep your organization’s objectives at the forefront, building a workplace model with the necessary support to keep your business at the top of its game. 

First things first, let’s define what a Head of Remote is responsible for and how they fit into an organization that is adopting workplace flexibility long-term. It may feel safe in assuming that this role oversees the virtual portion of a workforce (as the title would suggest). However, the objectives are a bit more complex than that. Typically, Heads of Remote fall into two categories: 

1. Internal Advocate

The internal advocate’s primary responsibility is the common assumption of this role’s purpose — to ensure an equal experience for the entire workforce, whether they work on-site, off-site, or a blend of the two. This scope of work is most closely aligned with Human Resources and Operations functions, or “People Operations.” 

Having a dedicated advocate for remote workers is uniquely important for hybrid organizations, especially those where remote team members make up the minority of the workforce or you have a global distributed workforce. This liaison can continually represent the needs of virtual workers in leadership decision making to ensure that their employee experience is as equal to their in-office counterparts as possible. Remote’s CEO Job van der Voort explains that, “The Head of Remote is not just responsible for creating a good experience for people working from home in one country. Instead, the Head of Remote must account for all the permutations of remote work, which can include people in multiple time zones and people with different lifestyles. For example, the needs of a remote worker operating from her home in Germany will be dramatically different from the needs of a worker traveling from one country to another as a digital nomad.”

2. External Advocate

When you’re operating on a remote-first flexibility model, the need for workforce representation is minimized because all staff members should be operating in the same location-irrelevant mindset. So the need for a Head of Remote in organizations with a majority of remote workers shifts from internal representation to external promotion, to help the company position itself in the remote work industry to sell products or promote the brand as a future of work innovator. 

The external advocate is primarily responsible for sharing the story of flexible work with the world, leveraging the company’s remote practices and or products to advance business objectives. This role is most closely aligned with Marketing, Sales, and Human Resources, helping to attract top talent and clients. External advocates are most commonly found in remote-first organizations or those with an offering that solves problems unique to hybrid and remote workforces. GitLab’s Head of Remote, Darren Murph shares important facets of his role: “The Head of Remote role is intrinsically cross-functional. I work at the intersection of culture, operations, people, talent branding, marketing, and communication. My most critical responsibilities are to ensure that GitLab team members acclimate well to remote, give themselves permission to embrace our values and operate with remote-first workflows, and are equipped to share our learnings with those outside of the GitLab organization.”

While it is important to define what a Head of Remote is, it is also important to define what a Head of Remote is not. A common misconception is that the Head of Remote is responsible for an organization’s entire process of adopting remote work, from building the foundations, setting the policy terms, constructing a digital infrastructure, and maintaining the remote workforce and operations. Understandably, many companies find themselves overwhelmed by this extensive change management process and struggle to find a Head of Remote qualified enough to manage it in such a small talent pool of experienced experts. This is where it’s critical to understand the difference between constructing a remote work program and maintaining a remote work program — the former requires extensive experience in virtual organizational development, but the latter can be fulfilled by anyone with a passion for workplace flexibility. If you’re looking to hire a Head of Remote for the construction of remote work in your organization, be prepared to pay a premium for the rarity of the necessary skillset, or consider contracting with a niche consulting firm that specializes in remote work. 

Not sure if you’re in the construction phase or maintenance phase of remote work adoption? Bringing a Head of Remote in too early can be detrimental to your organization’s success or can lead you to look for the wrong skillset and professional qualifications in a candidate, so consider the following criteria to help you determine your change management status: 

Signs your company is constructing a remote work program:

  • Leadership isn’t fully bought into remote or you haven’t decided your permanent work model. Will you be hybrid or fully remote?

  • Employee handbooks and policies haven’t been updated to include remote work

  • Processes and performance expectations are the same as they were when working from the office

Signs your company is maintaining a remote work program:

  • Learning and Development programs have been updated to increase skills vital to remote success

  • Culture has been converted to be location-irrelevant, team members feel connected, engaged, and valued wherever they work

  • The entire employee lifecycle prioritizes strategic talent acquisition and virtual support, from recruiting to engagement and performance management

The ultimate question is: does your organization need a Head of Remote to steer your operations to the future of work? The answer is, “it depends.” As you consider hiring a Head of Remote ensure that you have taken the necessary steps to evaluate what stage of virtual organizational development your business is in and consider the unique needs of your workplace model and business objectives. This small investment of time up front will save you a considerable amount of time, frustration and money in the long run, and who doesn’t want that?

Megan Dilley