Three reasons you need one person in charge of the remote work experience

A "head of remote" role could handle worker logistics, reduce tech frustrations, improve security and lead the charge to build a culture that covers hybrid, in-person and remote workers.

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"Change is the only constant" is not a new idea but it is more relevant than ever these days. Over the last nine months, companies have had to change office reopening plans, debate vaccine mandates and figure out what "hybrid work" really means.

Tech, HR and operations leaders have juggled these tasks among themselves with the idea that this is a short-term problem. The new reality is that managing change is a daily task. Leaders need a new set of communication and decision-making skills to keep employees informed and on track. It might be time to put one person in charge of the employee experience to take on this challenge.

SEE: Human-centric design and hybrid work should be "a normal strategy" (TechRepublic)

Creating a head of remote experience could make it easier to address these challenges:

  • Managing the logistics for in-person, remote and hybrid workers
  • Reducing frustration with collaboration toolsBuilding a culture of security
  • Consider this advice from tech and operations leaders about why they see a "head of remote" as the newest member of the COO's team.

Managing a million moving parts

One of the challenges with having employees working in a mix of fully remote, hybrid and in-person settings is that conditions on the ground are different every day, sometimes for every employee. Having one person to focus on those shifting dynamics can help with the logistical challenges and improve the employee experience.

Sandra Slager is the COO of MindEdge Learning, a learning and development company that produces digital and video training for universities, professional development organizations, continuing education and custom solutions. 

Slager said that MindEdge has fewer than 100 employees and she has managed all the operational responsibilities that came with the shift to fully remote in early 2020. The company planned to reopen the office in September but delayed those plans. 

She thinks that a person in charge of employee dynamics could manage the anxiety that comes with the ups and downs of constant change. 

"Having someone on staff who is trained in managing that anxiety on staff is valuable for company growth and morale." 

Slager said she recognized the need for strong decision-making and communication skills during the pandemic as conditions changed frequently. She began communicating the interim steps of the decision-making process to reduce speculation and the associated productivity hit.

"That sensitivity prompted me to communicate early and often to reassure people that we are on top of it, and taking care of their interests," she said. 

Finally, a head of dynamics could take into account the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all experience any more for a team. 

"We have senior level staff on Zoom six hours a day and then junior level people who don't see anyone all day," she said. "Those folks have no touch points with colleagues and that's a completely different experience than someone like myself who is always working on teams."

She thinks "head of remote" isn't quite the right title, though, given the fact some employees are working from home, some from the office, and both of those groups could change on a day-to-day basis.

"'Head of employee dynamics' works because that better describes what the person would be charged with doing: making sure everyone can be productive optimally regardless of where they are and regardless of where the team happens to be on that day," she said.

SEE:  3 ways to help your team stay connected while WFH  (TechRepublic)

Making the employee experience less frustrating

Now that remote work is the norm, employees use more digital tools than ever to collaborate with colleagues and track projects. This sprawl is starting to reduce productivity, as a recent study found that 43% of workers report spending too much time switching between tools, with employees spending up to an hour each day simply searching for information across different applications.

Yassine Zaied, chief strategy officer at Nexthink, an employee experience software company, thinks an employee experience officer could help ease those frustrations. A leader in this role can be the point person for helping IT understand what tools are working and which ones aren't.  

SEE: Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Nexthink's software does real-time analytics, instant remediation, automation and employee feedback across endpoints and applications. The company has seen a growing trend of IT professionals taking on the responsibility of ensuring a good digital experience for all employees.

Zaied sees the shift to more remote and hybrid work as a chance for IT pros to change the angle of observation when it comes to selecting and supporting software. 

"IT used to look at software from a central POV but now they need to look at it from the POV of the employee," he said.  

He said that many employees are just living with software problems instead of finding a solution. A head of remote workers could prioritize the employee experience and address these problems. 

Measuring employee sentiment about software and asking questions in the right context can help IT departments personalize the individual experience, Zaied said. 

"If you have the methodology and technology to see it from the employee's side, regardless of location and hardware, you will be able to do it," he said. 

Zaied sees this as a natural growth of the CIO role, as those leaders have been the biggest advocates of digital employee experience for years. He thinks that other executives—particularly chief people officers—have seen the importance of this dynamic as well during the shift to remote work. 

"We see the frontier between the CIO and CPO becoming thinner as they drive strategic initiatives together," he said. 

Zaied identified two main components for measuring the digital employee experience: 

  • The ability to understand all the employees and their activities and interactions with IT assets across any platform and application 
  • The ability to do contextual engagement and contextual sentiment  

IT teams can use this data to measure and compare the digital experience of every employee and understand why it is bad or good, Zaied said. The key to success is having all the data you need in real time as well as visualizations that make it easy to act on this data.

SEE: IT expense reimbursement policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Creating a security-first remote culture 

Throughout the pandemic, hackers have targeted people working at home with phishing campaigns and other cybersecurity attacks. Companies are still struggling to secure each home office. There's also the need to build a new corporate culture that incorporates full-time remote worker, full-time office folks and people who work in both settings. 

Stephen Cavey, co-founder and chief evangelist of Ground Labs, sees this moment of transition as a chance to incorporate good cybersecurity practices into this new culture.

Ground Labs is a data security company that helps companies locate and manage sensitive private data across networks, databases and products. The company's software scans various data repositories to identify data that could be targeted by hackers. Once all the data is identified, companies can put the right controls in place, for security purposes and to comply with the growing number of data and privacy laws.

Yet even with these practices in place, it's still difficult to control data sprawl, especially when teams are 100% remote. 

"The challenge that keeps coming back is these out-of-bounds processes that keep coming up," he said. "There's always something that slips, such as a new employee or an urgent requirement from marketing to spin up a new campaign."

Cavey said that every department from finance and human resources to the ops and sales teams plays a role in this data sprawl.

It's this distributed dynamic that makes a head of remote so important, in his view. He compares the role to the responsibilities of a facilities manager who makes sure everything in the building works.

"That's all out the window as soon as everyone is at home, so now we need someone who is thinking about it from a remote perspective," he said.

He sees this moment as a chance to establish a new messenger for cybersecurity best practices.

"Instead of it coming from those IT guys over there—people who add more friction—you can change that narrative, and have it come through the head of remote in the context of, 'Stay productive, connected and secure,'" he said.

Cavey thinks the message will carry more weight coming from a business leader instead of a technical expert. The employee experience leader or head of remote can ensure that good security habits are baked into company culture.

"When you're trying to tackle this really challenging issue of keeping data and teams secure, building security into the culture is an equally critical thing to do," he said.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...