The workplace is not done evolving; it will continue to change in the years to come. To navigate this, many organizations have created a new role called “Head of Remote” to act as the in-house expert and manage the changing workforce.
The post-pandemic workplace can be confusing for many leaders. While some companies try to recall workers back into the office, hoping to return their businesses to a more familiar environment, others have let workers stay remote. More commonly, we are seeing the rise of a hybrid environment – a workplace that attempts to straddle both on-site and off-site work to balance an employee’s need for more flexibility with the leader’s desire for more control. Whether remote or hybrid, the workplace in 2023 and beyond promises to provide new challenges for employees and leaders alike.
During the pandemic, several organisations created a new role to help manage the changing workforce. The Head of Remote or Chief Remote Officer became a necessary addition to the company leadership to ensure there was a dedicated focus on transforming the business. For example, prior to the pandemic, only 15% of the 1,200-person workforce at Cactus Communications worked remotely. During the pandemic, we discovered that 86% wanted more flexibility in terms of when they could work remotely. To flip from a predominately office-based culture to one that favoured flexibility required a substantial amount of effort. The company needed new policies, tools, processes, and training for its employees. Adding these tasks to the list of duties HR professionals were already responsible for or asking business leaders to manage these tasks part-time could be risky. The Head of Remote provided more accountability and attention, increasing the likelihood of success.
Prior to the pandemic, only 15% of the 1,200-person workforce at Cactus Communications worked remotely. During the pandemic, we discovered that 86% wanted more flexibility in terms of when they could work remotely.
Remote work challenges for CACTUS
The Head of Remote can also serve as a conduit between various teams within the business. One of the challenges Cactus Communications faced in its transition to becoming remote-first was collaborating at a distance. Given the company’s history of face-to-face interactions, many found virtual collaboration difficult. The number of meetings increased almost exponentially as employees tried to replicate their in-person interactions over Microsoft Teams. Because it was more difficult to duplicate impromptu and casual conversations that organically occurred in the office, employees felt compelled to schedule time with one another. This approach quickly filled one’s calendar with meetings and left little time to get individual work done. To solve this problem, the Head of Remote worked with the Learning and Development team to institute formal training on how to work asynchronously. Industry-wide best practices as well as ideas and tips crowdsourced from employees were published. While working with the IT team, various technology solutions were explored and procured. Data from Teams and Outlook helped identify individuals and teams that needed directional intervention. Through the combination of these efforts from various functions and teams, the Head of Remote could help facilitate the needed change.
Future of Head of Remote?
With the end of the pandemic and a potential return to the office, would an organisation still need a Head of Remote? The change experienced during the pandemic in terms of how and where people work was not a one-time event. Remote work and flexible work arrangements have been slowly gaining traction over the past decade. In the US, approximately one-third of workers were working remotely at least one day a week prior to 2019. The pandemic was a jolt in the direction the workplace was already headed. But the workplace is not done evolving; it will continue to change in the years to come. The question for organizational leaders is who will lead that change internally.
The role and responsibilities of the Head of Remote may evolve as the workplace evolves. For example, during and just after the pandemic, the focus was to help employees adjust to working remotely, communicate effectively, and be productive. Now that employees have adjusted and comfortably work in a virtual environment, the next phase is to learn how to build relationships, maintain connections across the organization, and preserve the company culture. Even in a hybrid environment where employees are frequenting the office, this can be a challenge. The employee experience may change daily depending on who is on-site and who is remote. The Head of Remote can help ensure a consistent experience, help employees bridge organizational silos, or be a custodian of the company culture.
The Head of Remote can also serve as a conduit between various teams within the business. One of the challenges Cactus Communications faced in its transition to becoming remote-first was collaborating at a distance and this role helped solve it.
The disruption companies experienced over the past couple of years should compel all leaders to reflect on how to handle such changes in the future. While most incremental changes may be absorbed by the business, large-scale work shifts can require dedicated leaders to navigate the uncertain territory. The workforce is continuing to change and offers plenty more challenges and opportunities in the years to come.
About the author: Jason Morwick has been associated with various industries in different roles. Before joining CACTUS, Jason co-founded FlexWork Global, a consulting company that helped organizations implement remote work programs.
Year of Incorporation: 2002
Number of employees: 1200+ employees
Name of the founders:
Abhishek Goel, Co-founder and CEO
Anurag Goel, Co-founder and Executive Chairman
Name of the key execs:
Abhishek Goel (CEO)
Dinesh Modi (CFO)
Yashmi Pujara (CHRO)
Nishchay Shah (CTO)
Vikas Narang (COO),
Shriram Poonja (Chief Growth Officer)
Business line: CACTUS, a science communication and technology company, specialises in AI products and solutions that improve how research is funded, published, communicated, and discovered.
Key HR differentiating factor: Remote-first, flexible work