Should you hire a “chief remote officer”?

Many employers are still finding their way with remote working, from solving IT issues to ensuring that remote staff don’t get left behind. Should they create a role to oversee this?

Illustration showing woman doing a virtual meeting on laptop

 

We’ve passed out of the Covid lockdowns of 2020-21, but many of the habits formed during that time are likely to stick around – especially in terms of where and how we work. 

Over four-fifths of people (84%) who had to work from home during the height of the pandemic plan to continue with some form of hybrid working, official data showed last year.  Mothers, for whom the ability to work from home is often vital, have also become more confident about requesting flexible working since the pandemic, workingmums.co.uk’s 2022 annual survey found. 

But many employers are still finding their way with remote working, from solving IT issues to ensuring that remote staff don’t get left behind. How this pans out will affect women’s careers in particular – several studies have shown that female employees are more likely to work from home than their male counterparts, often due to caring responsibilities.

So, do employers need to hire a specific person to oversee these experiments? Do they need a “Chief Remote Officer”?

Someone to lead the transition

Illustration showing virtual meeting

A small number of international tech companies, such as Doist, Github and Atlassian, already have someone in this role (the exact job titles vary at each organisation). These companies have staff spread out across the world, and are often fully remote organisations with no head office. But, as we all navigate post-Covid working patterns, there is a case for other employers to create this type of role too.

“I think in this context, where you’re making quite a big transition from no one working remotely to very substantial remote [working], it can really help,” says Andy Lake, director of Flexibility.co.uk, a website that shares research and expertise on flexible working. Lake also has 20 years’ experience as a consultant for companies that are trying to implement these ways of working.

Lake adds that many employers currently ask line-managers to figure out remote working structures for their teams, without a company-wide framework to guide them. This can leave managers “feeling a little bit overwhelmed,” as leading a remote or hybrid team is very different from their pre-pandemic experiences.

When remote or hybrid working is not managed properly, there is a risk of creating two tiers amongst staff. These tiers are often gendered – men are more likely to go into the office everyday and get on a faster career track, while women are more likely to work from home and get stuck on the so-called “Mommy track”. 

Almost half of managers (40%) say they have seen such inequalities in their workplace, according to a survey last year by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). And 60% of female hybrid workers feel they have been excluded from important meetings, according to a Deloitte survey of 5,000 women in 10 countries.

How exactly could a “Chief Remote Officer” help?

While each company’s structure will differ, a “Chief Remote Officer” could report to the Chief Operating Officer, Lake says. Their key tasks could include: helping to set up and oversee IT systems; checking that workplace policies are suitable for employees regardless of location or working pattern; and finding ways to prevent remote workers feeling isolated.

“Remote workers can be excluded if quick decisions are taken at impromptu meetings in the office,” says Anthony Painter, the CMI’s policy director. “[It’s about] asking yourself who is not in the room when you are on the cusp of making a decision that could have an impact upon others.” 

It’s about asking yourself who is not in the room when you are on the cusp of making a decision.

Painter adds that employers must also find ways to celebrate remote workers’ successes and mark personal events such as their birthdays: “The little things matter a great deal.” The CMI has a weekly all-staff meeting where colleagues are invited to give a shout-out to someone who has recently helped them at work, and this is often a chance to show gratitude to someone working remotely.

There are of course many jobs that cannot be done from home, such as construction site roles. Employers in these sectors are looking at what other types of flexibility they can offer, mostly in terms of working hours, in response to staff demand.

Looking at the long-term

Both Lake and Painter warn against having a “Chief Remote Officer” as a long-term strategy. This could inadvertently create a sense of division between staff depending on where they work, when in reality their locations shouldn’t matter and most of their needs are the same (for example, feeling disconnected is also an issue for on-site staff, an Accenture study last year found). 

“If you talk about ‘remote workplaces’ and ‘the [core] workplace’, you’re getting this kind of duality which can be a bit unhelpful,” says Lake. He adds that many office-based jobs now take place in a range of locations, including offices, co-working spaces, clients’ premises, cafes, libraries and homes. These should all be viewed as equally valid parts of “the extended workplace”.

For many companies, a “Chief Remote Officer” could be a useful transition role – but nothing more. “The ideal is for that role to morph into an overall Head of Workplace,” says Lake. “Ideally, over time, people just become so used to the idea of this ‘extended workplace’ that you have a single head who is dealing with the physical workplace and the virtual workplace.”



Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your Franchise Selection

Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now

Your Franchise Selection

This franchise opportunity has been added to your franchise selection

image

title

Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now


You may be interested in these similar franchises