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HR

Why you may need to hire a head of remote work

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

May 11, 2021    |     5-minute read (906 words)

As remote work transitions from a temporary solution to a fixed way of life for many employees, a corresponding trend in hiring has emerged: the director of remote work. More businesses are looking for specialized leaders to manage armies of employees now working remotely, sometimes in far-flung locations and across different time zones. A recent surge in permanent work-from-home roles will only increase the demand for the position.

Facebook, making a big push toward permanent remote work, has created a new director of remote work role, showing its commitment to offsite work as a long-term strategy. In its job description, Facebook called for applicants who are strategic thinkers, outstanding relationship builders and change agents and who understand distributed and virtual teams. It’s essentially a senior HR executive position for an individual with advanced skills at leading, mentoring and training cross-functional teams. Other large organizations to join the league and seek to hire a remote work head include GitLab, Twitter and Quora.

According to Adzuna, a London-based search engine for job advertisements, searches for remote work jobs have increased by 680% since the beginning of 2020. But the number of such jobs advertised increased by only 147% during the same period, pointing to a shortage in remote work positions. The data also showed most of the remote job postings were in IT or customer service.

Job functions of a director of remote work

A director of remote work is responsible for multiple business areas with institutional functions. These may include:

Recruitment: Talent acquisition and onboarding professional development procedures for existing and future remote employees. By hiring remote staff, employers can reach candidates who live outside of commuting distance from their business.

Team collaboration: Working with individual remote teams and committees in a collaborative manner to create priorities, business goals, milestones and action plans.

Diversity and inclusion: Building a diverse workforce by hiring employees across locations.

Communication: Creating channels and parameters for communication between teams and managers.

Company culture: Introducing virtual employee engagement activities and policies.

Workspace environment: Providing remote workers with a workspace environment that is conducive to performance.

Technology: Ensuring both remote workers and hybrid remote workers are provided with the right technology and with access to required tools, platforms, software and company equipment. The role will also emphasize cybersecurity.

Client conferences: Strategizing with teams that deal with clients to conduct meetings virtually or in-person when required.

Ways companies are tapping the role

Considering the wide spectrum of tasks allocated to a director of remote work, some specific responsibilities for this position will also depend on the employer. Even so, it's instructive to learn how the role has been helpful to a few companies.

In an interview with SHRM Online, GitLab Head of Remote Darren Murph emphasized the importance of the role, given the complexities that working from home entails. “Remote work isn't merely something one does; it is an intentional series of organizational motions that create a fundamentally unique environment,” Murph said. “A supportive remote atmosphere … requires a tremendous amount of focus,” he added.

Twitter, which announced in May 2020 that its staff would be able to operate from home indefinitely, was among the first companies to identify the rewards and pitfalls of the work-from-home model. Tracy Hawkins, Twitter’s head of remote experience operations, said in a Refinery29 article that it is important for offsite employees to know the company is aware of and strives to meet their needs. “You can’t exactly recreate everything that’s in the office because of the scale of it, but just so that they know that thought and intention has gone into their world, just like it has in an office,” she said.

Meanwhile at other businesses, HR leaders are taking on the responsibilities of a remote work director as part of an expanded role amid the pandemic. Becky Lauseng, human resources director at Minneapolis-based farm-management software company Conservis, said in a StarTribune interview that many of her HR counterparts at other firms are mulling the idea of downsizing office space and studying the potential tax implications of recruiting work-from-anywhere staff. “I think the pandemic has given HR professionals increased job security,” added Lauseng, who notes she has been acting as a link between remote workers and the organization during the pandemic.

Why should you consider this role?

Having a committed leader in charge of developing a long-term plan for being a "remote-first" business could make your workplace stand out to desirable candidates. HR experts say that companies that prioritize a remote-first model will be better positioned to compete for global talent, to be seen as an industry leader, to boost performance and develop more sustainable processes.

For small businesses, the transition to remote-first is relatively seamless as their size makes them more nimble. It also gives small business owners an opportunity to reimagine the company for the future. If you have recently launched a business, you have benefitted from the experience of working from home while recruiting a committed employee to fill in the gaps and create long-term processes.

Some say that in the long run, the director of remote work role will become obsolete. They project that most organizations will come to expect comprehensive remote work and that it will no longer be seen as unusual. But for now, many organizations are relying on the role to rapidly address the problems that come with extensive remote work, perhaps laying the groundwork for the rest.

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