While many businesses have shifted to ad hoc hybrid or remote work, others are creating a new role to oversee workplace transformation.

Chase Warrington, as the head of remote work, spends much of his workday focusing on the in-person experience. “I’m in charge of our company offsites – having a good IRL [in-real-life] strategy among distributed teams is critical,” he explains. “When I took the job, human connection was my top priority.”

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Warrington oversees the remote strategy for Doist, a productivity software company. He describes his job as cross-functional, with current day-to-day tasks including coordinating with the finance department on a compensation strategy for 100 global employees and liaising with HR on a new internal communications tool.

“My role is similar to a consultancy on remote working,” Warrington, who is based in Valencia, Spain, explains. “It’s looking at all aspects of the team through the remote-first lens: what we need to upgrade or change to perfect our infrastructure.”

While Doist, based in Barcelona, has been entirely remote for the past 15 years, the company decided in October 2021 that it needed a senior-level leader to oversee its distributed model. “The landscape changed after the pandemic,” Warrington says. “While we had the necessary processes in place for our work, there was a gap after Covid-19. We desired a unified strategy for establishing deeper connections, both in person and virtually.”   

Business requirements have shifted in the new world of work. One of the most pressing issues has been determining best practises for remote setups. Many businesses have struggled because virtual working has been a moving target with no precedent; in some cases, organisations have implemented hybrid or work-from-anywhere policies with no formal processes in place.

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While some employers have taken a reactive approach, others have taken a proactive approach, appointing high-ranking leaders solely dedicated to fostering remote work throughout an organisation. These chief remote officers may have different titles, but they are all charged with dealing with the complex issues that arise as a result of new ways of working and future-proofing businesses’ post-pandemic operating models. Business requirements have changed in the new world of work. One of the most pressing issues has been how to establish best practises for remote setups. Many businesses have struggled: virtual working has been a moving target with no precedent; in some cases, organisations have implemented hybrid or work-from-anywhere policies without formal processes in place.

While some employers have taken a reactive approach, others have taken a proactive approach, appointing high-ranking leaders solely dedicated to ensuring that remote work thrives throughout an organisation. These chief remote officers may have different titles, but they are all tasked with addressing the complex issues that arise from new ways of working and future-proofing businesses’ post-pandemic operating models.

The job description  

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Employers have had difficulty figuring out remote work, whether they choose a hybrid-working pattern or fully distributed teams. As a result, some businesses have created new positions to help employees navigate the changing work landscape. This is especially true in the technology industry, which has a higher proportion of remote workers and firms that embrace digital-first processes.

Atlassian is one such example. Since the pandemic began, the Australia-based collaboration-software company, which has nearly 10,000 employees spread across 13 countries, has been completely remote. However, in March 2022, it established a new executive position to develop its long-term strategy. “Building a remote transformation team is often reactive: it’s looking at it as a problem to solve,” says Annie Dean, the company’s global distributed workforce leader. Located in New York City.

“However, because we’ve assembled a team and taken this seriously, the majority of my work is proactively addressing future challenges.”

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Dean leads a 100-person team spread across Atlassian to fine-tune its remote processes: from the workplace experience team, which operates the office development and design for whenever workers choose to be in person; to the recruitment team, which shifts hiring policies and procedures in line with a fully distributed model, such as global recruitment; to the product team, which flags issues with remote working caused by day-to-day collaboration tools. “How I prioritise work for these teams is by focusing on the organization’s biggest challenges and opportunities in transitioning to a distributed-first model,” she adds.

Among these difficulties is enabling synchronised work among employees located all over the world. “Businesses used to co-locate everyone in the same space,” Dean says. “To be effective in ensuring teams get tasks done no matter where they work, we have to design teams on a time-zone basis, and have at least four hours overlapping between teams every day. Integrating those processes into the daily operations of the business is a major priority.”

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With colleagues no longer regularly collaborating in person, chief remote officers must also establish a cohesive workplace culture. “We’ve introduced a programme for intentional togetherness,” says Dean, “where employees gather around the globe with their immediate team. The goal is for teams that have never met in person to connect. then tackle difficult business problems that are best solved in person.”

Not every organisation that hires a head of remote is in the tech industry. Even companies that require some in-person work have created the position. Paul McKinlay, based in Boston, leads the remote-first transition at Cimpress, a printing company based in Ireland. Its 14,000 employees include those who work in manufacturing plants as well as 2,500 who work in finance, communications, and software engineering.

McKinlay says that, in addition to leading the organization’s remote-first leadership team, the results of a quarterly employee survey shape his strategy. “In response to feedback, I bring together functional leads from real estate, HR, and technology – all those who have an impact on remote working – to devise a remote agenda.” 

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As a result, McKinlay has moved quickly to hire full-time employees to address the most pressing issues that arise from a distributed model. “It was obvious that we needed specialist roles to handle issues like onboarding,” he says. “We didn’t think it should be a side job for someone to do in addition to their regular job. We wanted someone to wake up every day with the sole goal of creating a great remote-first onboarding experience.”

Cimpress now has a small remote-first department that reports to McKinlay and focuses on knowledge management, collaboration, onboarding, and learning and development. He claims that the early results of the teams’ efforts to improve the remote experience are promising. “We have a collaboration centre open in Boston for in-person work: there are only about 20 people there a day, with only seven or eight regulars, out of 700 employees who still live in the local area.”

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