Remote work isn’t a new concept. But when COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020, many companies were forced to send their employees home and make the shift to 100% remote operations. And while some were concerned that the shift would cause issues (for example, challenges with productivity, company culture, or employee engagement), most found that their employees — and, as a result, their organizations — thrived while working remotely. In fact, according to the US Remote Work Survey from PwC, 83% of employers reported that the shift to remote work has been a successful one for their company.
“The pandemic presented a universal proof point that work is not location dependent in most cases,” said Karen Mangia, VP of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce (where she serves on the company’s work-from-home task force) and author of Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work For You. “What's happening now is a bureaucratic reconciliation of the policies that prevent personal choice in light of the universal understanding that work from anywhere is possible — and, in many cases, preferable.”
And, as many companies make the shift to remote work permanent, they’re hiring leaders to help facilitate that shift, often known as Heads of Remote.
Landing a job as Head of Remote can be a major step forward in your career. But because it’s such a new role, many people don’t understand exactly what a Head of Remote does, and whether it’s the right step forward for them.
In this installment of our Careers Spotlight series, we’ll take a closer look at the ins and outs of this relatively new and innovative role: what it is; what Heads of Remote are responsible for within an organization; and what kind of background, skills, and experience you need to land the position. This guide will give you a better understanding of the Head of Remote job and how to determine if it’s the right fit for you — and if it is, how to get started on your new career path.
What Is a Head of Remote?
A Head of Remote (who, depending on the company, may also hold the title “Chief Remote Officer,” “Director of Remote,” or some variation on one of these titles, like “Head of Remote Work” or “Director of Remote Operations”) is the person on an organization’s leadership team who’s responsible for all things remote within the company. Depending on the organization, this may include everything from managing remote operations, to partnering with IT to develop security measures for remote employees, to facilitating strong relationships between team members — even if they never get the opportunity to meet face to face.
What Does a Head of Remote Do?
Heads of Remote are in charge of managing all aspects of remote work within an organization, and that translates into a lot of responsibility. Some common projects, initiatives, and tasks Heads of Remote typically manage include:
1. Creating and Implementing Remote-Work Strategy
“A Head of Remote is responsible for developing, designing, and delivering a portfolio of personalized programs that result in every employee having equal opportunity to realize success from anywhere,” explained Mangia.
This can include responsibilities like researching, testing, and implementing tools that enable better collaboration between remote employees; crafting a strategy around remote sourcing and hiring; and developing a training and onboarding program that sets new hires up for success — no matter where they’re located.
2. Developing Onboarding, Training, and Learning and Development
Heads of Remote are responsible for setting remote teams up for success, and that means making sure they have the onboarding, training, and learning and development (L&D) opportunities they need to thrive in their roles.
Depending on the organization, a Head of Remote might create or facilitate these trainings themselves, or they may work with HR to ensure that the company’s training, onboarding, and L&D programs are in line with the company’s remote strategy and goals.
3. Contributing to Employee Experience and Company Culture
When employees are working remotely, it can be challenging to create the same kind of employee experience they would have in the office. Challenging — but not impossible. One of the Head of Remote’s most important jobs is creating a positive, consistent employee experience for their remote staff, and ensuring that the company culture is just as strong when employees are working remotely as it would be if they were working in an office. This can include things like ensuring every employee has a comfortable, functional remote workstation; planning team-building activities; and developing a presentation that educates new remote hires about the company’s mission and values.
If the organization has a hybrid work environment (meaning that some employees work remotely while others work in a shared location, like an office), a Head of Remote is also responsible for “normalizing [the idea] that success within the company's culture is not [dependent on] a location,” said Mangia.
In other words, it’s the Head of Remote’s job to ensure that employees have equal opportunities for success whether they’re working remotely or in the office — and that this concept of equal opportunity is clearly understood by all employees and a core part of the company’s culture.
4. Partnering With Other Departments to Ensure Remote Success
Heads of Remote lead the charge on remote strategy and operations. But they need to work with other leaders within the company to ensure that initiatives are implemented and managed successfully, which is why Heads of Remote spend a lot of time partnering with other departments.
Exactly how Heads of Remote work with other leaders and departments within the company will depend on the organization, but some examples of ways Heads of Remote may partner with other departments include:
- Working with the finance team to develop budgets to support remote work (for example, defining budgets for remote collaboration tools, or overhauling budgets to find money to supply remote employees with ergonomic chairs for their at-home workstations)
- Collaborating with HR to develop and implement remote onboarding and training programs
- Working with the recruiting team to develop remote sourcing, interviewing, and hiring procedures
- Partnering with IT to develop a secure remote work infrastructure
5. Measuring the Success of the Organization’s Remote Operations — and Optimizing As Needed
In order to ensure the organization’s continued success with remote work, Heads of Remote need to continually monitor and measure the success of their remote strategy and programs — and optimize and adjust as necessary.
This may include tasks like asking for employee feedback on new tools, policies, or procedures or measuring employee productivity, and then using those metrics to adjust strategy accordingly. For instance, this could mean tracking how much time employees spend using a specific tool and, if they’re not using it enough to justify the expense, either rolling out an initiative to retrain the team on how to use it in their workflow or replacing the tool entirely.
How To Become a Head of Remote
If the Head of Remote job description sounds appealing to you, you’re probably wondering how to get your foot in the door. The Head of Remote position is a fairly new one, and because it’s so new, there’s no clear educational or career path that will guarantee you a role in remote leadership. There are, however, things that will make you stand out among other candidates — and help you land this dynamic, exciting job.
Here are three of the top attributes you’ll need to launch a career as a Head of Remote.
Head of Remote is an extremely senior position. As such, in order to get the job, having experience with remote work is a must, but the requirements around how you acquired that experience will vary by company and position.
Some companies might want their Head of Remote to have extensive experience on the operational side of remote work (e.g. creating the framework that allowed a company to go remote at the beginning of the pandemic). Other companies may wish to focus on the HR side of remote work, and want candidates to have extensive experience building and managing remote teams and culture. Others may be more focused on the security challenges of shifting to remote work, and want their Head of Remote to have a solid amount of IT in their background. And still others will want a “jack of all trades” who has at least some experience in all areas of remote work.
Bottom line: To get hired as a Head of Remote, you’ll need extensive experience with remote work — but exactly what kind of experience will typically vary based on the specific job you’re applying for.
2. Leadership Skills
Head of Remote isn’t just a senior position — it’s a senior leadership position. So if you want to land a job as a Head of Remote, and thrive in the role, you need leadership skills.
Having strong leadership skills will help you in every aspect of your career as a Head of Remote, from making decisions about what the company’s remote culture should look like, to juggling various and evolving responsibilities, to rolling out remote initiatives — and getting your team on board with the changes.
While leadership skills, in general, are important, Mangia stressed that the ability to listen is one leadership skill that’s especially critical to success as a Head of Remote.
“Listen, listen, listen,” urged Mangia. “The three most powerful words in leadership are, ‘I hear you.’ Deep listening leads to deep understanding.” And deep understanding is crucial for comprehending what you need to do to build a successful remote culture at your company — and then going out and doing it.
Remote work is constantly changing, and if you want to build a long, successful, sustainable career as a Head of Remote, you need to be able to roll with these changes.
Adaptability is a must-have characteristic for Heads of Remote; by being flexible and adaptable, you’ll be able to keep up with the ever-changing technologies, demands, priorities, and best practices of remote work — and adjust your strategy, approach, and workflow as necessary to best support your organization.
“Be willing to experiment, learn, and adapt,” advised Mangia.
Remote work is quickly becoming the norm at a huge percentage of companies. And as remote work continues to grow in popularity, remote leaders — and, more specifically, Heads of Remote — will be increasingly in demand. If you’re already working in remote operations or HR, aiming for a role as Head of Remote (whether at your current company or another organization) could be a great next step in your career — one that gives you the opportunity to take charge, be on the leading edge, and affect real change on a company and its remote staff