Op-ed: Chief remote officer? Better think twice about it

remote work

What’s an interesting trend to follow in Ottawa workplaces today? Well, how about the job advertisements popping up for chief remote officers? I read them with fascination and I started to see a common thread.

Each of the job postings assigns just one person in the organization the responsibility for creating a strategy for the employee experience that is focused on “all aspects of remote work.” So, does that assume that workplace culture and the happiness of employees starts and ends with remote work? 

What if employees want other things? What if you put an expensive remote work strategy in place and your ability to recruit and retain employees doesn’t improve? It may be very costly to recover from that mistake.  

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Is the creation of the chief remote officer the latest fad? How do you know if it’s right for your organization? It’s important to do the research and make sure you’re not missing an opportunity to set yourself apart as one of the best places to work, especially in this competitive labour market.  

Our culture surveys with Ottawa workplaces tell us that gone are the days of the “one-size-fits all” method. Employees want a personalized approach that includes more than just remote work.

Today’s workplaces need to consider things that matter to employees at each stage of their career and, yes, stage of life. What matters for someone at the early stage of their career may not be the same as someone who is in mid-career or late career. The workplace needs to constantly adapt its offerings as the needs of employees change.  

The most worrisome aspect of the role of the chief remote officer is that one person is assigned to come up with a strategy for the recruitment, onboarding and training, compensation, engagement, and health and safety of remote workers. Whoa! Since when did the employee experience become the responsibility of just one person? 

Too narrow a focus limits the organization’s ability to see different points of view.  Sloughing things off to a chief remote officer is a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t you want your leadership team to play a role? They need skin in the game if you want them to stick around.    

If you lose just one of your experienced team members, the cost of hiring and onboarding a new employee could run as high as three times the departed employee’s salary. That’s assuming you can find someone whose experience is the same as the person who left. In this competitive labour market, you might not find what you’re looking for.  

Understanding how to create a personalized connection between employees and their workplace cannot be done effectively without inviting different perspectives into the dialogue. Re-designing the work environment, rewards and career development for individual employees is complex. We need to remember that remote work represents only one small component of the employee experience. 

It’s in everyone’s best interest to find creative ways to give employees what they want and It’s going to take a village of perspectives to do that, not just one chief remote officer.   

 Karen Brownrigg is the CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services. 

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