Darren Murph, with a little help from his son, works in his home office in North Carolina. Courtesy of Darren Murph.
Early this fall, as companies began hiring executives to make remote work a long-term reality, a buzzy new job gained traction in Silicon Valley: Head of Remote Work. The position originated at GitLab, which has been all-remote since 2011, and in recent months companies like Facebook, Quora, and Okta have posted a similar or equivalent job. The tech industry is known for laying the groundwork for new executive titles — one example being the Chief Product Officer — that eventually cascade into other sectors. It seems likely the Head of Remote is on track to enjoy a similar trajectory.
Darren Murph has been GitLab’s Head of Remote since 2019. He believes that by 2021, it will become essential for businesses to hire someone to oversee a holistic workplace environment and lead the virtual work experience.
“Working remotely is a sea change, requiring a complete rearchitecting in how people think about work, where it happens, and when it happens,” he says.
Viewed as a pioneer of the role, Murph is now advising companies like Facebook, who started searching for Director of Remote Work applicants in May.
At GitLab, Murph works at the intersection of culture, operations, people, talent branding, marketing, and communication. His duties include collaborating with the People Group to improve onboarding and manager training, and working across the company to ensure team members acclimate well to remote. Championing GitLab’s all-remote culture and initiatives is also a big part of his job. In November, CNBC named him an “oracle of remote work.” True to GitLab’s completely transparent culture, Murph created a treasure trove of continuously updated resources that detail how to manage the transition to a remote infrastructure, such as the Remote Playbook.
While the pandemic ushered in the first wave of remote work, it’s possible that many companies will ask employees to leave their home offices behind and return to corporate campuses once vaccines become widespread. But what Murph calls “the great remote migration” over the last nine months suggests that many businesses, individual departments—and, in some cases, entire industries—can thrive in a remote culture after the pandemic ceases to be a threat.
KPMG Advisory surveyed American workers last summer and found that 64% of workers said that they wanted the flexibility to work remotely at least part of the time. In another survey, 41% of respondents named best practices for working remotely as valuable ongoing training. Murph says that accomplishing this task, among others, requires a full-scale learning and development effort to rapidly bring team members up to speed.
“Industries will no longer view remote as binary,” he says. “Particularly in industries outside of technology, this leader will be vital in ushering in new tools, workflows, and processes which may not be easily understood.”
Some new workspace tools are already popping up: One communications product, Loop Team, aims to reproduce the office experience for remote workers using AI. The goal is to keep distributed team members connected “no matter where they are.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to allow employees to continue to work from home through the summer of 2021, and pledged to have half of the company’s global workforce working remotely within the next 5 to 10 years. Facebook’s Director of Remote Work job post expressed interest in applicants who will execute the shift to remote work as a long-term strategy. This person must also act as an advisor, leading “a group of cross-functional partners” dedicated to the transition. Their Director of Remote work will be, among other things, “a strategic thinker, an outstanding relationship builder, and a change agent … with a passion for experience design, process excellence, and change management.” The idea is to build a lasting remote future that will create a connected experience between those on-site and those working from home around the world.
Quora, which is also transitioning to a remote-first culture, noted in its Head of Remote Work post that the company is “not aiming to recreate the same experience we had when we were all in the same building together—we’re looking to create something much better.”
Murph is already deeply familiar with this concept. The key, he says, is to empower people to fill their social quota outside of work, in local neighborhoods and communities, and then bring that culture to work. whether they’re working from their couch or in a corner office.
“Rather than building game rooms and onsite fitness centers so workers have no reason to disengage with work, leaders should equip teams with tools and documentation that enable them to be maximally efficient at work,” Murph says. “We’re humans first, and colleagues second.”
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