A 'Head of Remote' Can Help Companies Manage the Transition to Hybrid Work

In 2019, Darren Murph joined GitLab, a software company, with a title that seemed a little weird at the time: “Head of Remote.” But three years later, as hybrid work has become the new normal, the notion of putting someone in charge of that transition has started to make a lot of sense, Murph says.

“It's going to look different for every company, depending on size, and depending on industry. But the bottom line is, it should be a strategy, and you should hire someone to be in charge of all of these things that you now have to think about, and put intentionality behind the transition,” he says.

GitLab, which provides a platform used by software developers to write, deliver, and manage code for projects, has been fully remote since it was founded in 2014 and has never had a physical headquarters. The company has stuck with its all-remote model even as it has grown to 1,700 employees in more than 60 countries.

Lately other companies have been turning to GitLab for advice on how to make hybrid work a permanent part of their business. In 2020, GitLab produced a Remote Playbook that explains how the company operates and offers guidance. The document has been downloaded more than 150,000 times.

Some companies are taking a page from the GitLab playbook and creating head-of-remote positions. Atlassian has appointed a “Head of Team Anywhere.” Okta has a “Head of Dynamic Work.” Zillow has a “Vice President of Product Management and Flexible Work.”

Creating a hybrid work leadership team makes sense when you consider how much employees care about being able to work from anywhere. In one survey, nearly 80 percent of people said they consider remote work to be a top priority, and nearly 60 percent said they would leave a job if they could not work remotely.

Even more important, hybrid work might be only one part of a much larger transformation. Some argue that we have reached a historic inflection point, where everything about business is being reinvented. That includes the way companies are organized, the way they do business, and even the nature of work itself.

“While we are in the midst of a robust debate about remote work and many other details of what follows … there is a much larger opportunity ahead. The post-pandemic world will provide the impetus and tools to rethink the Corporation, and more broadly innovation, and how work is structured and how individuals contribute to that work,” Steven Sinofsky, a former top executive at Microsoft who now advises companies, declares in a compelling essay.

In a nutshell, Sinofsky argues that we’re still organizing companies the way we did in the 1950s, and that this model no longer works and needs to be replaced. Hybrid work is part of the change but only the first step.

Companies that get ahead of this transformation, that adapt and evolve, will gain a competitive edge, especially when it comes to recruiting, Murph says. Job seekers are not just looking for companies where they can work remotely. They’re also leaning toward companies that have figured out how to provide a great hybrid work experience—and that’s not easy.

“There is so much to redo,” Murph says. “We are reinventing work in real-time. It’s advisable to put energy into building the future, instead of attempting to drag the past into the present. We're only going to become more distributed, people will only continue to demand more flexibility. It behooves companies to get ahead of that.”

A good place to start learning is GitLab’s Remote Playbook. A few tips:

  • Create a company handbook. This is essentially an operating manual for the company. It’s a dynamic document, constantly changing and being updated. “It’s a tall task” to create the handbook, but a necessary one, Murph says. (It’s another reason to hire a Head of Remote—they will create the handbook.)
  • Introduce README pages. Employees at GitLab create README pages where they introduce themselves to the rest of the company, explaining how they like to work and sharing their personal interests and hobbies. Murph’s README page is a good example.
  • Embrace asynchronous communication. Eliminate most in-person meetings and use asynchronous tools. GitLab even has “asynchronous meetings,” where people share ideas and make decisions without having to get together on a Zoom call at the same time.

For some companies, finding ways to support a hybrid workforce will represent a wrenching change and a huge amount of work. But there is no use fighting it.

“In five years, hybrid work will just be work, and remote operations will just be operations. That's why I've seen a lot of organizations hire a Head of Remote, or a Director of Remote Work, or entire teams devoted to stewarding this transition. It is a tall task, but I advise companies to lean in through iteration,” Murph says.

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Dan Lyons
Anywhere Economy Evangelist
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