In a Hybrid Work World, Companies Begin Hiring Chief Remote Officers
The workforce looks a lot different today than it did three years ago. As more and more companies settle into a hybrid or remote office structure, managers and the C-suite are having to adjust how they interact with their employees.
Human Resources departments are more critical than ever, but because managing virtual teams demands different skills than overseeing traditional workers, some businesses are adding a new role to senior management: A Chief Remote Officer (CRO).
The official title of that job shifts a bit from company to company, but the role is the same, ensuring that the new issues that arise from workers being remote are quickly addressed and that teams are able to synchronize their work easily to promote efficiency. Also important? Future-proofing businesses’ post-pandemic operating models.
Typically, businesses with 100 or more employees should consider the pros and cons of a CRO. Companies like productivity app creator Doist, GitLab and Meta’s Facebook have already added the position as the tech industry has pushed for remote work harder than other fields. They’re hardly alone these days, though.
A study by workplace solutions consulting firm T3 Advisors found that in August 2020, only 2% of a surveyed 95 tech companies had a designated leader overseeing remote work. By February 2021, that number had jumped to 15%.
“It’s increasingly clear that a key driver of long-term effectiveness of remote is a designated leader accountable for success of a distributed workforce,” the group wrote.
CROs need to be effective communicators, self-starters and able to both adapt and distill a constant stream of feedback into complex decisions for a broad audience. Managerial experience, of course, is essential, but they also have to be able to understand the different ways people operate as they work remotely. And a deep familiarity with collaboration tools is critical.
But they’ve also got to be willing to take risks. Remote work is different than in person, and overseeing teams that aren’t in the office could require a redesign of existing policies.
One of the forerunners of the CRO field is GitLab’s Darren Murph, who has been in the position since 2019 and has helped several companies develop the CRO role. He has said the shift brought about by the early days of the pandemic was just the first of many steps leading up to a hybrid, or fully remote workplace. And smart companies are creating jobs that have previously not existed, and altering their descriptions as things change.
“Remote is a journey of iteration — a tireless, evolving trek that demands a leader, or else your firm risks falling back into conventional habits or creating a fractured culture where no one is clear on what is expected,” he wrote.
The title of CRO might be fairly new, but the job isn’t as unique as it sounds. Many companies, for years, have had someone overseeing teams in different countries or regions. And coordinating those resources to work alongside people in the main office is the building block of this new position.
The rise of the CRO is just one of several new job titles that has emerged since the beginning of the pandemic. Some companies have senior managers in charge of COVID preparedness. Others have added Chief Happiness Officers to their ranks.
But of all the new C-suite residents, the CRO could have the most staying power, as workers seem determined to continue working from home at least part time and companies start to realize significant savings from smaller office footprints and day-to-day expenses.
“Many leaders can legitimately wonder whether Chief Remote Officers are part of a long-term trend or whether this is just a temporary role to support change driven by an external event,” says education company RealChange. “In fact, no matter how the COVID-19 pandemic situation evolves, skills developed by Chief Remote Officers will most certainly be part of the core competencies forward-thinking companies are looking for to manage human resources.”
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