Is “head of remote” a marketer’s next career choice?

Is “head of remote” a marketer’s next career choice?

As marketers embrace remote and flexible working, their unique skill-set is also seeing them top the candidate list for the most in-demand new corporate role - the head of remote. 

Strategic thinker and strong communicator? It might sound like you’re describing a marketer, but in this new era of work, you could just as easily be talking about the hottest new corporate role - the head of remote, responsible for leading a company’s remote work strategy. 

Or could they be one and the same? The ‘Do you need a head of remote?’ whitepaper, released this year by international payroll platform Remote and remote work consultancy Distribute, outlines that an internally facing head of remote may have a HR-related scope, like onboarding and employee experience.  

Yet companies with an established remote work practice, who require a head of remote to play the role of external advocate, will be looking at responsibilities that are more marketing oriented.  

Namely, supporting marketing strategy, public speaking, brand awareness, talent attraction and employee experience marketing, content development and production, as well as thought leadership and networking. 

Companies will, of course, need to pay a premium for this rare expertise, as Remote and Distribute reveal in their whitepaper. Salary expectations can start at £182,000, compared with the average UK chief marketing officer salary of £102,000. 

The case for a head of remote

 The argument is certainly building for organisations to appoint heads of remote in general. A study of 95 technology firms by real estate and workplace advisory T3 demonstrated that the number with a specific leader for remote work jumped between August 2020 and February 2021 from 2% to 15%.  

“Companies with distributed teams need to invest in executive remote specialists..." - Romanie Thomas, CEO and founder, Juggle Jobs.

And that’s in line with the amount of jobs now being advertised as remote, and flexible too. According to remote and flexible jobs board Juggle Jobs, marketing roles advertised have increased by 150% from January to June 2020, accounting for nearly half the positions posted to the platform. 

"At the end of last year, the number of remote jobs being advertised had risen by 147%, according to (jobs marketplace) Adzuna, and Facebook initiated a rise in a new role - a ‘head of remote' after hiring a 'remote work director'. ONS data suggests that 24% of the UK workers are fully remote, and this is set to increase significantly over the next three to five years,” outlines Romanie Thomas, Juggle Jobs’ CEO and founder. 

“Companies with distributed teams need to invest in executive remote specialists to ensure onboarding, employee experience and benefits are still prioritised in a remote-first world.” 

This head of remote, Thomas explains, needs to be a strategic thinker, adept at cross-functional communication, comfortable with change management and process-driven - qualities often found in marketers. 

 Meet the marketers leading corporate remote work strategies 

 Cimpress’s Paul McKinlay and GitLab’s Darren Murph are both senior marketing and communications professionals leading remote strategies within their respective organisations. 

McKinlay had been in a senior communications role with the company since September 2010. But in September 2020, his role evolved into a career and company defining move, taking on the title VP, communications and remote working for Cimpress and its subsidiary, Vistaprint.

“My dual role was right for us and I’m loving the extra challenge and all of the amazing colleagues I get to work with across the company,” - Paul McKinlay, VP, Cimpress 

“I was head of Cimpress corporate and Vistaprint internal communications last summer, when I picked up the additional responsibility as head of remote to lead our transition to permanent remote working. I report into our CFO, and, like many comms folks, have reported into most of the C-suite over the years. I think in comms, and now as head of remote, the reporting function is far less important than the actual executive and the sponsorship they provide,” McKinlay explains. 

“Remote was not well established last summer when I took on this role, but the executive team was fully committed and the leaders from real estate, HR, finance, tech, etcetera who became part of the core remote leadership team, received a clear mandate from our founder and CEO: go make remote first a towering strength of our culture and a competitive advantage.” 

Communications, both internally and externally, McKinlay notes, is a big part of Cimpress’s shift to remote, which he acknowledges as having “high complexity” and requiring “cross-functional change management, company-wide advocacy and leadership”. 

“My dual role was right for us and I’m loving the extra challenge and all of the amazing colleagues I get to work with across the company,” he enthuses. 

 How marketers and heads of remote core skills and experience align 

 Senior marketing and communication leaders are ideally suited for the role, believes Darren Murph, head of remote at software company GitLab, as they will be pivotal in driving understanding and “creating tailwinds for the change”. Marketers are typically already competent at cross-functional collaboration with people operations, and finance, he says.  

Murph’s role sits within the marketing department at GitLab, which also includes an entire team dedicated to building the brand’s remote narrative and messages. 

“Storytelling is a consistently valuable skill in evangelizing a company's value, mission, and impact to candidates and the market at large. For firms making the remote transition, this becomes an immediate part of their identity,” rationalises Murph. 

“Therefore, conveying the why of a firm's remote transition externally (to candidates and the market at large) and internally (to incoming candidates as well as existing team members who will have questions on how the workplace is evolving) is critical to the very success of said transition.  

“With much of the remote transition being wholly new territory for many, it's not enough for a people operations team to push new rules, perks, and tools to a team which is already disoriented.” 

 But what else do marketers need to bring to the table? 

 For marketers intrigued by this potential new career direction yet lacking experience in remote work culture, Cimpress’s McKinlay argues what’s more important, is someone with a proven track record of leading change, a strong desire to listen to team members, to learn from outside experts and who has shown they can get things done. 

“There are so few experienced heads of remote out there, and even fewer who would want to leave the progressive companies they are in today,” - Paul McKinlay, VP, Cimpress

While there’s clear alignment between the key attributes of a head of remote and that of marketers, McKinlay considers that both appointing and taking on the role is a practical choice companies and executives must make for themselves. 

“There are so few experienced heads of remote out there, and even fewer who would want to leave the progressive companies they are in today,” he says. 

But drawn by the prospect of an exciting new career path, and attractive salary to go with it, how long will it be before we see more marketers follow McKinlay and Murph into a head of remote role? 

Could this be your next marketing role? Strengthen your people management and presentation skills by completing one of our strategy and leadership courses.

MaryLou Costa CIM News analyst
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