If your business made it into 2022, remote work is almost certainly ingrained into your operations. But of course, just doing something half-baked to string along your business doesn’t cut it for the long-term.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard all about the Great Resignation/Great Realignment.
When top talent has the choice to leave for greener pastures, it most certainly will do so, if work doesn’t actually work for its benefit.
Most business leaders, when faced with employees quitting, will counter with higher salary, better benefits, extra bonuses, higher personal budgets, and all sorts of gimmicks. They will also do so to attract talent, in the first place.
But none of these efforts change a thing about people’s motivations at work.
Most people are keen to achieve mastery through their work, to build products and deliver services with positive impact on others, to learn constantly and get regular feedback, to make a fair wage, and to feel psychologically safe while doing it.
In a remote world, all of this appears more difficult to leaders used to the “command-and-control” model of managing people. It’s simply harder to control what you can’t monitor and watch constantly in the office. So they attempt to bring the same style to Zoom and Slack and scheduling meetings and extracting answers during interrogations.
And of course, introverts suffer and extroverts thrive in this scenario. Those not naturally drawn to email and messaging all day, but rather to individual work on their own terms, are seen as aloof and not as productive.
Communication is done for updates, rather than for high-level strategy. Slack is in favor one day, email the next. Feedback on performance is sporadic. Employee engagement surveys are too infrequent and rarely acted upon. Return-to-office mandates exacerbate the poor dynamic created over Zoom.
The result is a vicious cycle that too often leads to checking out, hiding behind the camera, reports about reports, and other redundant and wasteful work, ultimately ending in resignation.
HR scrambles to plug the gaps. “Let’s upgrade the benefits! Let’s adjust total comp! Let’s create new career pathways! Let’s add five new systems!”
But the trouble is, this is often not an HR problem, but a remote infrastructure problem.
BUILDING THE RIGHT INFRASTRUCTURE
Humans are complex. They can’t be treated exactly the same way when they have different personalities, personal and professional needs, career pathways, preferred methods of communication, never mind neuro- and otherwise diverse viewpoints and perspectives. You can’t just throw money at a problem and hope it sticks (spoiler: it won’t, especially when the issues are much bigger than money).
You have to build a remote workplace the right way if you want people to react positively to the right incentives (not because the leader thinks so, but because they tell the leader so of their own free will).
The most important issue in the remote workplace, just as in the in-office and hybrid workplaces, is effective communication. Of course, systems are quite important for making the proverbial trains run on time. In particular, this means effective internal and external communication, project management, people management, client service, learning and development, and rest and relaxation experiences as a group, among others.
HR has certainly had to adapt to the remote framework over the last two years, often with tiny or non-existent budgets and strong headwinds from leadership. But HR leaders are too often both over-stretched and too focused on plugging holes and day-to-day management rather than building for the long-term.
And if we speak frankly, they too often have neither systems training, nor the in-depth understanding of—and experience with—building out remote infrastructure that integrates all the pieces effectively. It’s not a failing; just a lack of training and acquired mindset.
For all the much-touted merits of in-office bonding and hybrid work, it looks like a new COVID-19 variant every few months will have most of us working remotely for the foreseeable future. As such, businesses are increasingly hiring for a “Head of Remote” to not just plug holes, but to create a structurally sound system.
THE HEAD OF REMOTE POSITION
What is a “Head of Remote” in practice, you ask?
Pioneered by a company that nailed working remotely long before almost all others even thought about it, GitLab has built an entire framework, which is shared publicly.
A few of the most important tasks include:
- Directing training and upskilling
- Documenting all processes
- Auditing existing tools
- Transforming expectations from leadership
- Re-evaluating company values
- Building a visible talent brand
- Celebrating small wins
- Executing a long-term remote culture transformation
This isn’t just an exciting role to undertake in a company committed in theory and in budget to empowering their people to do their life’s best work in the here and now. It’s a huge strategic opportunity to rebuild the company in a more structurally sound way, from the ground up, not just with top-down directives.
Speaking from experience, an effective “Head of Remote” brings a critical depth of HR knowledge, systems thinking and design methodology, the ability to reduce processes to their essentials, and to train both executives and employees on using them.
This requires not just experience, but a certain chutzpah about seeing a better future for the company and its people, a vision for building a great culture slowly and meaningfully, not through some hacks and tricks.
As new virus variants inevitably force us back to remote work and many corporate leaders finally see the writing on the wall, look for the “Head of Remote” to become a C-Suite role with large budgets and great responsibility. After all, the entire company’s future is likely riding on its success.