I have a confession: I'm a little more jetsetter than trendsetter. But there is one area in which I like to stay on the cutting edge — remote work and remote team leadership. Hell, I was remote when remote wasn't cool. And now that it is, I've decided it's time for a little upgrade in title (when you're the founder and CEO, they let you do that).
When I first announced my title change on LinkedIn, I was worried it sounded a bit pretentious. What even is a Chief Remote Officer, anyway? But I knew that the titles I held previously didn't quite align with the many ways my role had shifted over the years.
So as I evolved from being a marketing leader to a remote team leader, I knew my title needed to evolve, too. And I wasn't alone. During the remote work revolution that started in 2020, many remote-first and remote-friendly companies began hiring or repurposing remote leaders as Chief Remote Officers or Heads of Remote. But in fact, the interest in these roles was climbing long before 2020.
I may not have been the very first, but I'm much closer to that than the last, as I predict CROs will experience a major boom in the coming months and years. And I wanted to share with you why and how this change happened — but first, the what.
What Is a Chief Remote Officer?
There is no set definition for CRO at this point. In a remote-first company like FPS, the CRO essentially fills the role and responsibilities of the CEO. In hybrid companies, a CRO may be an additional position that exclusively oversees remote team operations and people management.
For me, being a Chief Remote Officer involves a focus on operating 100 percent remotely and all the policies, communication, processes, and culture that comes with that. I feel that remote leadership needs to be coming from the C-Suite down in order for it to permeate throughout a company and be prioritized.
Why Change My Title Now?
This change had been a long time coming, but of course, the pandemic was the catalyst for global acceptance (and preference) of remote work. It unearthed a greater need for specialized, skilled remote leadership, which I was also coming to realize was the next crucial step I needed to take in growing FPS.
I went through a period of defining key leadership roles for the agency and outlined the need for a Head of Remote People and Head of Remote Operations. To manage those roles, we needed a Chief Remote Officer.
So that's when I knew the time had come. As we started the interview process, I found so many highly skilled, expert job candidates were bailing out of the sinking ship of Corporate America (as I had done years before) and looking for something better...something more.
As Chief Remote Officer, I was better prepared to offer them that something more. A company fully invested in remote culture. Stability and reliability in a once volatile and uncertain space. A future of prospects and purpose, autonomy and freedom.
Connectivity is abundant, and collaborating with colleagues sitting in different continents is no longer the challenge it once was. As the walls of communication have been shattered by email, video chats, and telepresence solutions, it’s time that we redirect the resources we’re spending on our 9 to 5 treks. – Darren Murph, Head of Remote, GitLab
What Being CRO Means to Me
I've found a really weird phenomenon over the last few years — that some executives think "working from home" is lazy or less efficient. And when they were forced to go remote, they spent their time looking for their employees' "active" or "online" icons to light up to prove they were working. What even is that?? Micromanaging and pushing your "butts in seats" mentality isn't good for anyone.
So being CRO means, to me, that I get to give my team the freedom, flexibility, and autonomy they've been craving. And if you think that giving your employees an inch means they'll take a mile, you're wrong. What my employees give is their all — every damn day. They are efficient, successful, and (gasp!) happy. Best of all, FPS is setting personal bests in revenue and growth.
We know now that people don't need to be in an office 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, 9-to-5, in order to get stuff done. If you let go of control, trust your team, hire great people, and build the systems to allow for deliverables with a tight project management ecosystem and very clear communication, you’ll get to the same place (or higher) than those doing the opposite.
Today, more than ever, there are specific ways of working remotely — it is a whole ecosystem that I’ve been inside of for seven years. From how to set a routine, to the best tech stack, to terms like asynchronous communication and nonlinear work days (what they mean and how to apply them), and how to run effective operations and communications remotely. It is a full-time job — and we’re going to start seeing a lot more “remote” in people’s titles as companies figure out they need people fully dedicated to getting this right.
So, I can't really say that my role or my responsibilities have changed, but the meaning behind what I do has changed. And in this remote and global workforce, the significance of that has changed. The title is just the icing on the cake and represents the visionary work our team is doing.
The core of what I do involves advocating for the future of work, and ensuring our distributed infrastructure is operating at peak efficiency. I approach this with enthusiasm because I strongly believe remote work can have a positive impact on individuals, organizations, and most importantly, our planet. – Chase Warrington, Head of Remote, Doist
Is a CRO Necessary?
If you're smart, it is. Well, let me clarify — if your company or team is remote-first, remote-friendly, hybrid, or any other combination that isn't exclusively office-based, then yes, you need someone in charge of remote ops and people.
At FPS, we spend much of our time as a leadership team talking about how to solve remote problems, working on becoming the best remote company out there. And it starts at the top — building a successful remote company and culture. It takes a shift in mindset, a shift in the way we work, a shift in the tools we use and how we use them.
It can be a challenge, but when we have a commitment to remote work at the core of what we do, we're always able to find our center.
What's Ahead in Remote Team Leadership?
Honestly, it seems like it's taking some companies — especially the big ones — forever to figure this out. While they're bickering over sending people back to the office, forcing hybrid work days, or arguing over four-day workweeks, smart companies are busy building a culture where people want to work remote in the ways that work for them (instead of what the company thinks works best for them).
I predict we'll be seeing people hired into C-suite or executive leadership roles with remote titles and a vision of how work can be when we all work toward something better. That's the vision we have at FPS, and I see it reflected in a lot of up-and-coming remote-forward companies.
We hear a lot these days about how "people don't want to work" (gag). People absolutely want to work. They just want to 👏🏽Work.👏🏽The.👏🏽Way.👏🏽They.👏🏽Want. 🎤💥
Smart leaders know this. CROs know this. And if you want to hire and retain the best talent, you'd better be on board.