GitLab and Darren M. pioneered the "Head of Remote" role. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are transitioning to remote. Regardless of what phase they're in, or what stage they intend to embrace, GitLab has triggered a global movement of appointing a dedicated lead to evolve a company's remote fluency.
A Head of Remote ensures operational agility and durability as a workforce decouples business results from physical geography. It serves as a cross-functional internal consultant to evolve key pillars (e.g. learning & development, knowledge management, tooling, onboarding, and culture/informal communication) such that each function becomes more effective in a distributed setting.
Initially, a Head of Remote sets the tone for behavioral and cultural shifts required to embrace new models of working. Longer-term, the role may evolve to lead or support overarching workplace experience.
As more organizations embrace remote-work variations, they are realizing that remote and remote-hybrid workforces run the risk of creating two opposing cultures and workflow defaults. For the organization to thrive, charting a harmonious path forward must be someone's job. Not just a part of their job, but the whole job.
Distributed work unlocks talent and productivity, but not without intentional effort. The underlying infrastructure of how a team works will change without an office as a crutch, and it requires a leader to steer teams through the shift, coordinate upskilling, and enlist new tools where appropriate.
Senior leadership roles continue to grow as work expands, collaboration occurs across borders, and software continues to eat the world. Just as UiPath articulates the need for a Chief Automation Officer, the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that working with remote teams is too important to leave to chance.
Organizations should consider hiring a Head of Remote. This may be titled Director of Remote Work, VP of Remote Work, Chief Remote Officer, or a variety of alternatives. Longer-term, this role may evolve into a Head of Workplace Experience, Head of Culture, or similar.
Below is a series of fundamental questions that leaders must answer when transitioning to remote. It is unlikely that an existing team will be capable of directing adequate attention to these needs without backfilling for other responsibilities.
As @gitlab's Head of Remote, it's surreal to see the world catch on.— Darren Murph (@darrenmurph) December 5, 2020
Deep remote work leadership experience went from 🤷 to 🪙
Head of Remote and VP of Workplace Experience roles are here to stay. This @T3Advisors report has the data to back it.https://t.co/4GAT8l9IEc pic.twitter.com/yk91tczicn
Finding a leader with extensive remote experience and a history of successful business or culture transformations will be difficult. Suddenly-remote companies may consider hiring a Chief Documentarian to establish a regimented documentation strategy, and morph this role into a more encompassing one over time. Former editors and publishers may be suitable for such a role.
A sample of questions to be answered by a Head of Remote Work:
Team members can experience burnout, isolation, and anxiety regardless of their organizational structure. In a remote-work setting, it's possible for a team member to appear well, but struggle with any of these issues internally.
In a remote setting, where in-person interactions are less common, it's easier to fall victim to isolation. This is particularly true for those who are not well acclimated to remote work, or have just started their first remote role.
We take employee mental health seriously at GitLab and have many systems, processes, and procedures in place to help employees prevent or treat symptoms of burnout, isolation, or job-related stress. Remote team members may feel less comfortable reaching out to a person when experiencing mental duress, so it's vital to ensure that answers and resources are easily discoverable within a company's handbook.
Transitioning to remote work is not a binary switch that is flipped. While many organizations were thrust into their homes overnight, that is only the first of many steps. Remote is a journey of iteration — a tireless, evolving trek that demands a leader, or else your firm risks falling back into conventional habits or creating a fractured culture where no one is clear on what is expected.
The larger your organization is, or the more deeply it is entrenched in colocated tradition, the more significant the challenge and compensation expectations. This role will be far more complex in a hybrid-remote setting compared to an all-remote setting, as you're answering every question twice.
For an added deep dive on the topic, replete with a decision-making rubric, download the Head of Remote white paper from our friends at Remote.com and Distribute Consulting.
During the interview phase, it's vital to get an understanding of how a potential employee understands and plans to participate effectively in remote work. To be a great remote worker, potential hires should be:
In lieu of hiring a full-time remote work leader, or as a bridge until you're able to recruit the ideal candidate, consider working with a specialty consulting firm. The below companies have extensive remote operational experience and carefully construct teams of subject matter experts to address the challenges specific to each client.
No one remote transformation will be identical to another. Some companies need a documentarian to craft a handbook, while others need more assistance on messaging and tooling. These consultancies run end-to-end audits to meet companies where they are and move them forward.
Be especially wary of working with remote experts and consultancies which did not have extensive remote work experience prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The below is an inexhaustive list of firms who are publicly hiring — or have hired/appointed — a dedicated remote work leader since the COVID-19 pandemic. To add to this list, please create a merge request or tag
@darrenmurph on Twitter.
Multitudes of firms are hiring for this role without formally posting a job description.
It depends. The general rule with a nascent role is to put it where the most help is needed. While People Operations may feel like the most suitable, a company's remote leader should be sat where they can exert the most cross-functional influence. The active roles above sit within People, Marketing, Communications, Finance, Real Estate, Operations, and Design — quite the eclectic mix.
Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Automation Officer, Chief Data Officer, and Chief Experience Officer are all relatively new C-suite titles. Yet, it's difficult to imagine progressive organizations scoffing at the validity of their existence. GitLab has pioneered a nascent role in Head of Remote — a senior leader dedicated to remote work and workplace experience.
While case studies through Harvard Business School and INSEAD are percolating through the university system and equipping MBA students with information on running an all-remote company, there is no well-defined career path to becoming a Head of Remote.
Below are several recommended areas of study that will prepare you for a remote leadership career, paired with GitLab courses to share on your resume/CV and LinkedIn profile.
At GitLab, we seek to open source our mastery of remote work in order to equip and empower the next generation of remote work leaders. We encourage those aspiring to fill remote work leadership roles to complete the coursework below and implement GitLab's proven practices into your current organization. In interviews, share completion of these courses and examples of implementing GitLab principles as a means to substantiate your mastery of remote work fundamentals.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was low supply and low demand for dedicated remote work leadership. In the midst of the pandemic, demand began to rise slowly, while supply remains low.
By 2022, most of the world's organizations will reckon with their new reality: at least a portion of their workforce will insist on more flexibility, and a refusal to adapt will lead to their best talent fleeing to organizations which are actively empowering people to work more flexibly.
Below is a thread about the future of remote work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. I predict that remote will go through a trough of sorrow due to hybrid not working out, and most companies will return to being office based. But many all remote companies will see success.— Sid Sijbrandij (@sytses) May 23, 2020
As this occurs, many organizations will ignore our warnings on the pitfalls and nuanced difficulties in creating a thriving hybrid-remote organization, triggering an acute spike in demand for senior leadership who understand the mind of a remote worker and the organizational design principles to convert remote work from a challenge to a strategic advantage. In a high demand/low supply environment, remote work mastery will become a highly marketable skill.
Much like someone who is multilingual, an individual who has completed GitLab's Remote Work Foundations certification and Remote Team Management course on Coursera will have an advantage when vying for new roles centered on remote work leadership. You will effectively speak a new and evolving business language which is critical to acquiring/retaining talent, creating workflows which are location agnostic, and building a culture which does not rely on a physical building to function.
While each organization will utilize a remote leader somewhat uniquely, below are skills worth honing and highlighting when pitching yourself as a Head of Remote to your existing organization, or putting yourself forward as a candidate for an open role.
Study the links below. They point to various educational sections within the GitLab handbook which will equip you with knowledge to pass the aforementioned certifications.
We are collecting publicly available Head of Remote (or similarly titled) job descriptions in a shared Google Doc.
For companies who are attempting to articulate what they need in a remote leader, use the examples above as a starting point.
Sid Sijbrandij and Darren M. used GitLab to create the Head of Remote role on
2019-10-26. There's a pretty good story behind it, too.
Following a "Making Remote Work" event in San Francisco, which was co-hosted by GitLab and General Catalyst, Darren M. (
@darrenmurph), Sid Sijbrandij (
@sytses), and Andreas Klinger (
@andreasklinger) were discussing Darren's role at GitLab.
At the time, Andreas was the de facto Head of Remote Products at AngelList. After hearing Darren's duties, he informed Sid that Darren's title should be "Head of Remote" to be indicative of his responsibilities. He then tweeted the same sentiment, which is embedded below.
Larger remote teams should get a "Head of Remote".— Andreas Klinger 🏝 (@andreasklinger) October 25, 2019
A role at the intersection of optimizing internal tooling, processes, transparency, collaboration, efficiency, inclusivity, onboarding, hiring, employer-branding, culture and communication overall.
Sid went back to his home and created a merge request on GitLab which proposed the title change, also tweeting it for the public to follow. Darren later merged the MR, ushering the proposal into reality.
GitLab Head of Remote Darren M. details his role in an all-remote organization in his README, which serves as an operating manual to working with him.
More broadly, a Head of Remote exists to achieve the following.
If you are employed in an organization with leadership who assumes that they can manage all of the above on their own, without making investments or changes, send them the link to this section. Please tag me on Twitter (
@darrenmurph) if you'd like.
We've created a space for remote leaders to share resources, challenges, and insight. Whether you're leading the remote transformation within your organization or you're seeking to pursue this as a career path, join the conversation in our Head of Remote forum.
T3 Advisors reports a sharp surge in companies creating remote work leadership roles, rising from just 2% in August 2020 to 12% in November 2020.
Pre-pandemic, the Bay Area was still the leading choice for our founders in terms of where to start a company. There were many other cities that were distant seconds or thirds including New York and Seattle.
Post-pandemic is a different story. More than 40 percent of founders say that the best place to start a company will be in the cloud. We expect to see decentralized or remote companies displace venture-backed companies based in the Bay Area over time.
Post-pandemic, the Bay Area will be the second leading technology hub after the cloud.
Capgemini Research Institute surveyed 500 organizations and 5,000 employees from a range of sectors globally and conducted interviews with academicians and executives to compile its Future of Work report.
Around three in ten organizations expect more than 70% of their employees working remotely in the next two to three years, up from just one in ten before COVID-19.
If you assume hybrid-remote will be "the best of both worlds" by default, read this in @australian— Darren Murph (@darrenmurph) February 6, 2021
🌐 Every workflow and policy must morph to remote-first
💡 Hire a Head of Remote to manage the playing fields
🏖️ Keep your execs remote
🌆 The office can't change HOW you work pic.twitter.com/IPvfb4L2EY
The below is an inexhaustive list of news articles covering the growing movement of firms hiring a dedicated leader for remote work. Some of the articles may require a paid subscription to access.
Making remote work well, particularly in companies with colocated roots, is a shared challenge. If you or your company has an experience that would benefit the greater world, consider creating a merge request and adding a contribution to this page.
Return to the main all-remote page.