The highest impact decision on productivity and innovation over the next 2 years will be finding the optimal mix of on-site, remote work, and robotics.
Like it or not, the projected pandemic will likely continue to make the use of remote work a key human resource area for at least two years. And because of the significant strategic impact of effectively managed remote work, the person overseeing it should be an expert that is focused full-time on maximizing the impact of remote work.
The person in the “Director of Remote Work” position will need to make several critical strategic workforce decisions. And the first decision will be, “Should we become a remote-first firm? Where more than 50% of our employees will work remotely?” So that our first choice will be to assign most new employees to Work From Home (WFH) positions. Next, the follow-up decision that must also be accurate includes, “What criteria should be used to objectively determine which jobs should be assigned to each of the three options including work at home, work on-site, or use a robot.”
This position will likely remain important for years because the pressure to add additional remote work will likely remain strong and the complexity and the expense involved in providing on-site workers and customers with a virus-free environment. To garner management support and funding for remote work (which they normally resist), the Director of Remote Work will need to sell executives and managers on the productivity, recruiting, real estate, and health advantages associated with remote work. That executive will also need to find solutions to the many complexities and pitfalls of remote work, including a weakening of the culture and the potential loss of a significant amount of innovation.
Why Now Is The Opportune Time To Hire A Director Of Remote Work
In my view, now is the opportune time to hire a Director of Remote Work. It is a hot topic, but organizations also need to act now before others realize the importance of this position. Any delay in action will result in the competition for this limited talent pool becoming intense.
The remote management benchmark firm is GitHub, which has had an established head of remote work position since before the pandemic. All their 700 employees have worked remotely for nearly a decade. You should also be aware that other companies are now acting. Recently, Facebook decided to hire a director (see Facebook’s job posting), and Quora, among others, has also decided to create a similar position. Rather than appointing a senior executive, many companies like HP are trying the stopgap solution of putting together a team of executives to handle remote management issues.
Contributions That Can Only Be Made By A Director Of Remote Work
Even in tight HR budget times, there are plenty of business justifications for establishing this new standalone director position. They include:
- Maximizing the productivity from remote workers – it’s a mistake to let remote workers use trial and error to learn the most effective ways of increasing their productivity. Studies have shown that productivity increase from remote workers varies between 13% and 47%. A remote work director would be better equipped to gather the needed data and do the required benchmarking. Every remote worker will know precisely which productivity factors lead to success, and which ones lead to failure.
- Proactively minimizing the loss of innovation from remote workers – there’s plenty of data to support that remote workers routinely produce fewer innovations then on-site employees (which is why IBM last year dropped its remote work option). So an experienced director would be needed to develop methods for increasing remote worker innovation (Note: I’ve already written about a dozen tools that can overcome obstacles to remote worker innovation).
- Selecting the appropriate jobs for each option – it makes sense to have a senior-level person that can generate data covering which current and new jobs should be remote. Often, a manager’s or an employee’s personal preferences don’t match the organization’s needs.
- Determining the appropriate hiring criteria for remote workers – it will require a senior level expert to conduct the research and the benchmarking that is necessary. To determine the unique skills and experience that a new-hire must possess to do remote work successfully. The director can then work with recruiters and hiring managers to ensure that those requirements are followed.
- Maintaining remote worker engagement – over time many remote workers begin to feel isolated. And only a data-driven manager will likely be able to discover and implement effective engagement methods like “My interests” profiles that help make every team member aware of all other team members’ interests.
- Assessing new remote work technologies – with so many project management, team collaboration, and communications tools coming to market every day. The director should be responsible for developing an objective process for evaluating these new tools. And then advising managers and employees which ones are best for your organization.
- Maintaining the established culture – likely, having a large number of remote workers that don’t physically come to the office will, over time, weaken your existing culture. The director should take a leadership role in ensuring that remote workers know and “live the culture.”
- Equitably adjusting the pay based on your location – special expertise will be needed to determine the appropriate fair and equitable pay rate and benefits for remote workers because different remote workers will now reside in geographic areas where the cost of living is extremely lower than in the headquarters region.
- Robotics is a third viable option for minimizing health risks – when it comes to being immune from the virus. Robots win hands down when compared to human workers, no matter where they are located. Emerging every day are so many hardware and software substitutes for employees. It makes sense to have a director who also serves as a human employee advocate, who can work closely with those in engineering and robotics that are considering the option of replacing employees with a robot.
- Calculating workforce metrics – the new Director of Remote Work must be a data-driven decision-maker who can effectively build a business case. They should also be responsible for measuring all three work options’ relative effectiveness to continually maintain the desired level of innovation, productivity, and employee safety.
In my experience, many will unknowingly suffer significant economic losses in the area of remote work until they hire a dedicated and experienced outside established expert to fill the Director of Remote Work position. And in my experience, it is a serious mistake to assume that simply adding some “remote work management duties” to an existing HR employee will be sufficient. First, because the position needs to be full-time to have enough available hours to devote to remote work problems during the next two years. But also, because the manager of remote work we’ll need to already be an established expert with a sophisticated skill set that must be available immediately. The costs of slowly learning on the job will simply be too high.
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