The shift to remote work — and subsequent proof that many businesses can run well with employees operating at a distance — has been one of the success stories of the COVID era. But with many teams transitioning from remote-only to more complex hybrid arrangements — where some workers may be in-office, some remote and some divide their work hours between home and office — the biggest challenges may lie ahead.
For example, what do you need in order to make remote and hybrid work sustainable for the long term? What changes might you need to make to company infrastructures like networking tech and HR pipelines? And how can you ensure that your remote staff members are fully integrated into the organization and given equal opportunities to succeed?
You could start by appointing a chief remote work officer (CRWO), a new job title that looks set to become an important player in the C-suite. It’s a new role that will likely take years to fully flesh out, but here's a rundown of current ideas about its responsibilities, plus thoughts on the skills and experience an ideal candidate should possess.
What does a chief remote work officer do?
The chief remote work officer is responsible for all aspects of remote work in an organization. That means setting up full-time remote workers for success and helping ensure that hybrid employees have a consistently positive experience that’s seamless between home and office workdays.
The CRWO also crafts a multiyear remote work strategy, often with quarterly milestones. Goals may include identifying and replacing remote-unfriendly legacy systems or supplying ergonomic chairs and other office equipment to home-based workers.
Because it’s a cross-functional role, it’s essential for the chief remote work officer to collaborate with departments like HR and finance in areas such as:
- Onboarding and training — The CRWO should implement best practices so that remote and hybrid workers get the tools and guidance they need from Day One. They will train managers in best practices for integrating remote hires and work with learning and development to ensure everyone gets the same training, wherever they are.
- Compensation — The chief remote work officer can help define and communicate an equitable framework for remote salaries, perks and benefits. For example, is it best for the firm to adjust the compensation of remote workers to reflect the market rates where they live? Or should compensation be based on the same criteria regardless of location?
- Company culture — Full-time remote workers may become disengaged if they feel like outsiders. Creating an organizational culture that promotes a level playing field where everyone feels included and has equal opportunity to thrive is a top priority for chief remote work officers.
- Technology — Digital tools make telecommuting possible, but late-night notifications or oversharing irrelevant data to make remote workers feel informed can leave people reaching for the off switch. The CRWO is alert for signs of information overload and works with managers and IT to give employees the right amount of information and prevent too much off-hours communication.
- Cybersecurity — Remote workers are vulnerable to cyberattacks, with potentially devastating results. Chief remote work officers should promote a culture of security in which best practices around password management, encryption and use of VPNs are second nature to remote and hybrid employees.
- Talent acquisition — A CRWO may be deeply involved in the recruitment process, including fine-tuning job descriptions to appeal to remote workers and assessing sourcing channels for the availability of remote candidates. At a more strategic level, they also help talent acquisition by building an employer brand that shows remote workers are welcomed and supported in the organization.
The above list touches on just a few of the potential duties of a chief remote work officer. There may be different responsibilities associated with the role in different companies, though. It’s always good to carefully evaluate what factors are most important to your business.
Chief remote officer skills and experience
Given that CRWO is a new role with an adaptable job description, people in the role should be unafraid to take risks and carve their own trail.
What other qualities does a candidate need? Leadership skills top the list. CRWO is not only a senior position but a new senior position. A strong candidate will combine the experience and executive presence needed to thrive in the C-suite, with the self-belief to advocate for policies that have never been prioritized before.
Experience in managing remote teams is a must-have, but the type of experience will depend on your organization’s needs. If you are expanding your remote workforce, someone who thrived during the initial transition to all-remote work in early 2020 could be a solid bet. If you want to improve the work culture among your current staff or upgrade your cybersecurity, you might look for leaders with HR or IT backgrounds, respectively.
Keep in mind that most candidates for this position won’t be tried and tested in it. There are more companies that need a chief remote work officer than there are people with perfectly matching skill sets. Consider hiring for potential, either externally or internally. The successful candidate will be a versatile leader who can grow into the role, with a deep understanding of remote and hybrid work and a passion for change management.
Still not sure where to turn? We can help. Robert Half was an early adopter of remote work solutions, and our executive search gives you access to handpicked pools of C-level talent.