The workforce looks very different today than it did three years ago. As more organizations move into a hybrid or remote office structure, managers and the C-suite must adapt the way they interact with their employees.
HR departments are more important than ever, but because managing virtual teams requires different skills than overseeing traditional employees, some companies are adding a new role to senior management: a chief remote officer (CRO).
The official title of this job changes a bit from company to company, but the role is the same to ensure that the new issues that arise from remote work are addressed quickly and that teams can easily synchronize their work for efficiency to promote. Also important? Future-proof business models after the pandemic.
Typically, companies with 100 or more employees should weigh the pros and cons of a CRO. Companies like Doist, the productivity app developer, GitLab and Meta’s Facebook have already added the position as the tech industry has pushed for remote work more than other sectors. However, you are rarely alone these days.
A study by workplace solutions consultancy T3 Advisors found that as of August 2020, just 2% of the 95 tech companies surveyed had a designated leader overseeing remote work. By February 2021, that number had risen to 15%.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that a key factor in remote’s long-term effectiveness is having a proven leader accountable for the success of a distributed workforce,” the group wrote.
CROs must be effective communicators, self-starters, and able to both adapt and transform a constant stream of feedback into complex decisions for a broad audience. Leadership experience is of course essential, but they also need to be able to understand the different ways people work when working remotely. And a deep familiarity with collaboration tools is crucial.
But they must also be willing to take risks. Remote work is different than working in person, and overseeing teams that are away from the office might require a redesign of existing policies.
One of the forerunners of the CRO space is Darren Murph of GitLab, who has been in this position since 2019 and has helped several companies develop the CRO role. He said the shift brought about by the early days of the pandemic was just the first of many steps toward a hybrid, or fully remote, workplace. And smart companies are creating jobs that didn’t exist before, changing their descriptions as things change.
“Remote is a journey of iteration — a relentless, evolving trek that requires a leader, or your business risks falling back into conventional habits or creating a fractured culture where no one is clear about what’s expected,” he wrote.
The title of CRO may be fairly new, but the job isn’t as unique as it sounds. Many companies have had someone overseeing teams in different countries or regions for years. And coordinating these resources to work collaboratively with the main office staff is the building block of this new position.
The rise of CRO is just one of several new job titles that have emerged since the pandemic began. Some companies have senior managers responsible for COVID preparedness. Others have added Chief Happiness Officers to their ranks.
But of all the new C-suite occupants, the CRO might be the most persistent, as employees seem determined to work at least part of the time from home, and businesses are starting to realize significant savings from smaller office spaces and daily expenses.
“Many executives may rightly question whether chief remote officers are part of a long-term trend or whether this is just a temporary role in support of change prompted by an external event,” says education company RealChange. “Indeed, no matter how the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic develops, the skills developed by Chief Remote Officers will surely be among the core competencies that forward-thinking companies are looking for to manage human resources.”
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