It’s one thing to send everyone home to work, and another to do it well.

It’s one thing to send everyone home to work, and another to do it well.

Chief Remote Officer?

The pandemic has normalized remote work, and managing the virtual work environment well is a challenge many insurance companies are facing.

“Head of Team Anywhere,” “Head of Remote,” and “Chief Remote Officer” are some of the new job titles popping up to fill an urgent need for remote work leadership.

With the insurance industry’s continuing investment in remote operations, we’re all asking some big questions.

  • Who’s tracking performance and productivity? And how do we do it well?
  • Who’s coordinating the training of new team members and the related communication channels?
  • Who’s supporting virtual work teams and helping them to remain connected and part of the team?

Chief Remote Officer (CRO) or Head of Remote is a new executive role, and professionals with the optimal combination of experience and credentials are hard to find.

The specific expertise needed, will vary from company to company.  The logical first step is possibly to give company managers and HR generalists access to training in remote work leadership courses to upskill the current staff. Coursera offers a free-to-audit course (4 weeks, 12 hours); Cornell, Harvard Business School,  The Ohio State University, and Utah State University have paid certification courses, to cite a few options.

A CRO is the Swiss army-knife combo of HR, internal communications, IT, and remote team management—a traditional manager’s dream challenge or a potential nightmare, depending on their flexibility and ambition.

An element of recruiting and human resources acumen is necessary for the legal compliance, onboarding, internal communication, and development of virtual policies and company remote culture. A CRO is a cross-functional role that collaborates with various departments (HR, finance, Marketing, IT). Responsibilities can range from ensuring the employee has (and is trained on) the necessary digital tools and technology to overseeing strategic cybersecurity, compensation, recruiting, and onboarding.

Human Resources staff are frequently tapped to draft and enforce company policies related to remote work, to oversee labor and workplace compliance, and revise attendance and benefit policies. They may also work with IT to create (and enforce) policies concerning the various platforms for internal communications, as well as plan and coordinate employee events, recognition, and wellness programs so they don’t exclude people working off-site.

By default (or in the short-term) many organizations appoint current members of the company’s leadership to manage remote teams on an ad hoc basis. Without adequate training in remote management, they will often apply traditional management and workflow practices to employees working from home. That “just won’t work,” says Brie Reynolds, a FlexJobs manager.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab explains it like this: “A head of remote considers each action and decision from the remote worker’s perspective. Our job is to frame everything through the lens of our remote-first workforce to make sure no decision has unintended consequences for our distributed workers.”

Are you ready for a CRO?’s whitepaper covers this question with charts and check-offs to compare your company’s remote infrastructure, leadership buy-in, compliance policies, and other foundations of remote readiness. Well worth a look.

Once you’ve determined that you do need a CRO, review Gitlab’s deep dive into remote leadership with a comprehensive examination of job description, certifications and courses, and posting and hiring the CRO. Gitlab claims to be the pioneers in remote leadership (rightly so, judging by their prolific and practical online output on the topic).

Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd’s book, Remote Work: Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, opens with the apt “2020: A Study in Chaos.” Many business leaders are still riding the wake of that chaos, trying to stay afloat in a tidal wave of challenges. Or, as Dyer describes it, we feel as if we’re in a snow globe that someone keeps shaking. All the scrambling to adjust processes for virtual work reveals the need for deliberate, curated design. The well-referenced book analyzed real companies’ struggles and successful strategies to give useful context to the aftermath (and continuation) of the pandemic.

Dyer notes that if there’s one thing we learned from the pandemic, that “it’s quite one thing to send everyone home to work, and quite another to do it well.”

What a Chief Remote Officer is not….

A CRO’s not responsible for every aspect of remote in your organization, according to CROs don’t construct the infrastructure, “backend” operations, or oversee the various networks.

The CRO does, however, oversee the overall communication platforms’ use, training, and policies.

Before the pandemic, only 23% of people worked virtually. Now 59% of employees (whose work can be done remotely) are working from home all or most of the time, according to Pew Research.

Looking ahead to the end of the coronavirus outbreak, 60% of workers with jobs they can do remotely say they’d prefer to do so, part or all of the time.

Companies that support their remote and hybrid employees with competent leadership will find it easier to retain (and attract) top talent. As businesses experiment with remote management approaches, Human Resources and team managers will continue to shoulder a bigger share of the workload to keep virtual workers engaged and effective.  The extra effort is ultimately worth it – the demand for remote and hybrid options for staff isn’t going away any time soon.

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