Why You Need a Remote-Work Leader

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer September 11, 2020
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working from home

​The coronavirus pandemic has decidedly reshaped how and where work is done and has led to the creation of new HR responsibilities. One of those transformational roles—leading remote work—will be critical to an organization's ability to grow and compete for talent.

Darren Murph, head of remote at all-remote technology company GitLab in San Francisco, discussed Darren Murphwith SHRM Online the reasoning behind his role, the responsibilities of the function and how employers can create a remote-work leadership position at their own organization.

SHRM Online: Why should companies hire someone to lead and manage remote work?

Murph: Remote work isn't merely something one does; it is an intentional series of organizational motions that create a fundamentally unique environment. A supportive remote atmosphere is more flexible, more disciplined and more inclusive, but it requires a tremendous amount of focus.

Particularly for companies transitioning to remote, having a leader ensures that it is someone's job to push the entire organization toward remote-first practices. By default, humans will likely look to synchronicity to solve problems. They're likely to document sporadically, if at all, and will work in the medium that suits them best.

A leader of remote work ensures operational discipline around these critical areas, funneling work into asynchronous workflows, creating an atmosphere for informal communication, and ensuring that teams have the tools and training they need to thrive.

As remote work becomes more familiar, this leader is responsible for the overall workplace experience—regardless of where work happens.  

SHRM Online: What are some of the main responsibilities of the job?

Murph: It is a highly cross-functional role, straddling people operations, business operations and real estate, and internal communications.

These leaders continually improve the onboarding experience, create opportunities for new hires to develop as leaders, educate and train transitioning managers, and ensure that workers have the documented policies and workflows they need to act as [their own manager].

They're responsible for liaising with legal and people teams, collaborating to establish procedures for relocating, [establishing] compensation principles, and supporting a global workforce with equitable perks and benefits.

Messaging is essential. This leader must be an expert communicator, able to distill complex decisions to a global audience while acting on a perpetual stream of feedback. They must rally workers around shared iterations to create positive momentum on process improvements such as using new tools or embracing team-building events.

SHRM Online: How can employers get started in creating a role like this?

Murph: Some employers may already employ a head of workplace experience or have a leadership council that is responsible for jointly enabling strategies involving organizational change.

Others may create a job description and hire externally. Each organization will need a head of remote work with a slightly different focus—for example, change management, legal, marketing or people operations, defined by the most notable existing voids.

It's important to define the biggest gaps and hire a senior leader with a history of working remotely and leading teams. There are far more companies who need this expertise than there are leaders with this particular combination of skills and experience. Companies with strong cultures may find volunteers within their own ranks who would relish the opportunities to take on a leadership role and leverage prior remote-work experience to chart a path forward.

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