It has become necessary to hire professionals with the experience in managing large scale remote workforces and the policies required to achieve success, says Arran Stewart
Facebook’s newest job requirement caught some serious press attention when the company announced it was looking to onboard a Director of Remote Work. A role that certainly didn’t exist pre-Covid and arguably has been fast tracked in its necessity with most tech companies introducing work from home policies extending well into Summer 2021.
It has become necessary to hire professionals with the experience in managing large scale remote workforces and the policies required to achieve success.
On a personal note, I believe that position is not a gimmick that will disappear once we have a handle on Covid-19. There is plenty of evidence to show that the shift towards flexible, remote work was becoming increasingly popular well before the advent of the virus – it’s just been accelerated due to the pandemic.
So what can we expect for a role like Director of Remote Work? Is this a role that is here to stay and will it grow in commonality? The simple answer is yes, and here’s why – big tech companies have quickly identified that remote working is here to stay:
The workforce demands it
Employees have made it very clear in these companies that working remotely is something they prefer. The better work-life balance, reduced commute and expenditure (for instance travel costs, lunches, idle work purchases) and more flexibility with a less fixed regimen. When your best talent demands a certain work preference, companies have no choice but to listen. But in listening, it means they have to have all of the infrastructure and processes in place to cope.
No loss of productivity
There’s no doubt that if companies Facebook, Google and Netflix saw a negative impact in productivity from a sudden and drastic increase in remote working, they would implement policies to counteract the effects: likely by configuring a new, in-office work setup. The reality is, as much as we’d like to believe these companies had altruistic motives behind extending their remote work policies (perhaps out of concern for their employees health and wellbeing), it’s the least likely scenario. The coronavirus may have forced them to embrace this way of working, and luckily for them it’s working. This reactionary implementation of remote work works for now, but it needs true infrastructural backing and an HR team geared towards future remote hiring and team management in order to get the most of this new labor force.
Managing in a competitive landscape
When one firm, let’s say Facebook, states that over 24,000 people on its labour force (roughly 50% of its staff) will soon be remote, why does every tech company follow suit? Because the tech labour market is so deeply competitive that the fear of losing the best talent is too great. The competitive nature of the industry has forced an irreversible shift that places remote working at the core of hiring and employment for these companies. Who better to identify and manage the needs and expectations of this new paradigm than a Director of Remote Work (DoRW)?
Arguably the functions and duties of DoRW have existed as long as offshore teams have. However the timing and a few details of the requisition, especially in this climate, feels different than the usual remote management position for a few reasons:
According to the requisition Facebook is looking for someone to ‘develop and govern Facebook’s long-term, global remote workforce strategy and approach to flexibility’. This is a clear statement of intent that Facebook, in the future, is likely looking to embrace a remote-first work policy, which places precedence on the myriad changes in work and HR policies and functions to transition to a primarily remote work structure.
This role, undoubtedly will be followed by many other supporting roles within Facebook and likely eventually be represented in all major technology firms. Tech is an industry that often leads by example, with other industries following their precedent. So how will this role trickle down to a workplace near you?
One of the larger questions of the pandemic is how to build a culture when your staff is not in the same place? While it is challenging, it’s very possible. A DoRW will take the lead to implement the necessary communication and structure policies that continue to enforce the corporate culture that companies like Facebook have invested heavily in creating.
Managing productivity and structure
In the past, reduced productivity was a popular criticism of remote work. Well, it appears that Big Tech has managed to find the balance between remote work and productivity, so far. To ensure continued productivity, a DoRW will ensure that they have all the analytical reporting and tracking needed to monitor the performance of their staff. Similarly, they will help to determine and implement the structure for their staff to enforce and monitor.
One of the greatest reasons people stay in companies because of the great work environment. However, if this environment becomes your living room, then it doesn’t make much difference what the office is like. It’s hard enough to keep great talent in an infinitely competitive labour landscape that doesn’t have the spectre of a deadly disease looming above it. Add to that a greater sense of ‘not belonging’ that remote work can foster, it can be harder to retain employees with a mostly-remote work policy. Talent retention will come down to how companies like Facebook build relationships with their workforce – how they inspire them and create a true sense of remote belonging. All of the challenges of remote work are at their hardest when an employee is new to the company, so it is imperative that a DoRW leads the planning of how to onboard new employees so that a bond is formed between the individual, teammates, superiors and the values of the company. It’s not an easy feat by any means but a DoRW would have the experience to guide the company through the transition.
This posting, and the fascination it garnered, is a very clear statement on the long-term objectives that are likely being pursued by all Big Tech companies right now. The DoRW is merely a statement of intention, as there will be hundreds of supporting roles that will be identified and further onboarded in the company, once a Director is hired and understands the true gravity of the task at hand.
With our increased reliance on tech to do everyone’s job, companies will need an experienced guide showing them the ropes of remote team management. Facebook is asking for fifteen years of experience with offshore/remote teams for its remote work director. As we move forward, we’ll see what other requirements the role will have.
Arran Stewart is Chief Visionary Officer and Co-Founder of remote-first recruitment platform Job.com