Will Your Company Soon Have a “Director of Remote Work?”

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Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Facebook announced recently it is hiring for a new role: Director of Remote Work. Let that sink in. It’s a new position for the 52,000-person company which will focus on, well, you might have guessed it from the title: ensuring Facebook’s strategic pivot to Work From Home (WFH) is successful and sustainable.

While WFH (or the more au courant “Remote-First”) is not entirely a new thing, Facebook and many other high-tech firms have embraced it in a systemic, critical-mass approach as a result of the virus. They are being pandemically purposeful.

There are a host of variables and potential roadblocks for successfully implementing a large scale WFH strategy and it looks like this role is designed to help lubricate the machinery for that transition. Among the dynamics in play for a broad-based WFH deployment:

  • How to build/maintain team and organizational culture;
  • How to build/maintain trusting relationships;
  • How to communicate within teams and between teams, especially with matrix management situations which can be already ambiguous;
  • How to set performance expectations and measure work;
  • How to protect digital assets and prevent electronic intrusions through data and network security and user best practices;
  • How to have effective meetings, both 1–1 and team-based;
  • How to be productive and stay focused in a home or apartment full of potential distractions (“No Fido, not now!”);
  • How, as a leader, to know when someone on the team needs some extra care and feeding when you no longer have visual cues and clues;
  • How best to train and develop staff (and self) in a virtual arrangement.

And so on.

Many of those issues are not unique to this migration to WFH. In fact, for years, many leaders have had to lead and manage team members who were located elsewhere, sometimes even on the other side of the world. I worked for 14 months in Hong Kong back in 2013–14 and my immediate leader was Shanghai-based and we saw each other maybe once/quarter and we somehow made it work even before Zoom and other video conferencing technology became popular.

But what’s different is that prior to now, work was still largely performed in offices or factories even if distanced from the manager. There was still a common workplace and workspace. Now folks are at their kitchen tables or in their home offices (AKA bedrooms) getting work done. Click here for my recent article on the future of WFH. And some people and teams will need help to be both efficient and effective.

Enter the Director of Remote Work role.

I’ve looked at the job spec that’s available on the web and this individual will help “lead the remote work strategy” and “partner with an extensive group of cross-functional partners to make this shift to the way we design our organizations and grow our people.” The objective is to “drive a company-wide shift toward remote-first ways of working.”

In other words, help make sure people are able to get stuff done in this new world order.

This will be a staff function although it’s not clear if it will report to a line function like Ops or a staff function like IT or HR. But like most staff positions their success will depend on an ability to collaborate well, to influence, to work across boundaries, to think and act strategically, etc. Also essential, I’m sure, is figuring out how to make this new role value-added instead of it being seen as just another pesty corporate staffer and more overhead.

While this role has gotten some press because of Facebook’s high profile, is this just a one-off response to this pandemic zeitgeist and this too will pass or is it a harbinger of similar things to come in other organizations looking at WFH strategies?

My POV is that it does indeed have legs in some form. I believe it will be a thing and that other remote-first kinds of companies will create some variation of this facilitator/advocate/ mobilizer/troubleshooting role. Over time it will become part of the usual corporate landscape. Until something else changes the world and the way we work…

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago it was unusual to see a VP of Diversity or a Chief Diversity Officer role but because of changing times organizations are now more likely than not to have such a role or function. It’s more the rule than the exception.

So, interestingly the COVID crisis has created job opportunities like this one. And others.

Until 6 months ago, for instance, who had heard of a job called “Contact Tracer?” I hadn’t — it sounded like a character from a dystopic sci-fi story. But the experts are now suggesting we’ll need at least 100,000 of those people because of the virus.

Similarly, there has been a sudden upsurge and skilling up in companies for people to be “producers” of video conferencing or virtual training. The person in that role works with the meeting leader or content provider to ensure the technology is working, to show participants how to work with whatever interactive tools are available with the technology platform (how to raise your hand; how to respond on the screen or join a virtual break-out room, etc.) and to keep the “production” moving so the meeting leader or trainer can stay focused on the meeting objectives and the participants. Thousands of those “producers” are needed to help facilitate virtual interactions.

The infection has created an inflection. And with inflection points, disruption and displacement usually occur. But new situations can also create new possibilities and opportunities. We adapt and we adopt in our personal world and in the work world.

About the author: Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics. He has been a leader and/or consultant for 40 years and has worked in multiple countries to provide training, executive coaching or assessment feedback to thousands of leaders. He can be reached at mjhoban@sbcglobal.net and at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.

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