• As more companies embrace virtual work, a new role has emerged: the head of remote work experience.
  • Liberty Planck is the first to hold the role at the HR software startup Gusto.
  • Planck shared her formula for shaping a new remote- and hybrid-work experience for Gustees.

When Liberty Planck took a new position as head of remote work at Gusto, a company that makes HR software, she felt firsthand the isolation that remote work can bring. 

Like 5 million other Americans, she had moved to a new city with a remote job. But Planck struggled to rebuild her community. So she did something many remote workers will relate to: She joined a Slack group. This one was about raising kids. One week in, Planck was messaging with new coworkers over the challenges of being a working parent, completely online. 

"It was the most connected I had felt to coworkers since the pandemic," she said. 

More than two years since stay-at-home orders forced many employees to convert living space to office space, the pandemic has reshaped how many of us work. Now, as more companies make remote or hybrid setups permanent, a new leadership role has emerged: the head of remote work experience. 

Companies such as Meta, Dropbox, and Twitter have hired new C-suite roles to oversee this transition, and firms of all sizes are following suit. Gusto, which helps small businesses manage things like payroll and benefits, hired Planck as its first head of remote experience to make sure its employees succeed and feel connected amid the daily blizzard of Slack messages and video calls. 

The need to make remote work, well, work is there: In March 2020, as US lockdowns began, one in 67 of the nation's jobs was remote. By the start of 2022, the number of jobs with the enticing WFH — work from home — tag had ballooned to about one in six, according to LinkedIn data. A more recent snapshot from LinkedIn said nearly one in five paid job postings on the site was for a remote role. 

Insider spoke with Planck to explore how she sees remote work evolving, the responsibilities of her role at Gusto, and how she's shaping an inclusive remote and hybrid experience for her fellow Gustees.

The tug-of-war between employers and workers

A new Microsoft report found about half of leaders are looking to end all remote work in the next year. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, made headlines this month when he sent a memo asking employees to return to the office or "pretend to work somewhere else." Amazon, Google, and the accounting giant EY are among the companies requiring employees to return to the office at least some of the time.

For Planck, there's no question about the direction in which work is evolving. "It's obvious things are becoming more remote, not less; more digital, not less, more asynchronous," she said. 

Even as some leaders call their employees back to the office, many job seekers are hoping to experience their first day at a new job from a home office — or even from a living-room couch.

For many workers, a remote option is no longer just a nice-to-have. A survey of about 3,000 employees conducted by Blind, an anonymous employee community app, found that 64% of employees, including those who work at Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, would rather work from home permanently than receive a $30,000 pay increase from a new job that required in-office work.

Not all jobs can be done from afar, of course; 61% of the US labor force can work no more than a few hours a week remotely, if at all, according to a report from the consultancy McKinsey.

At Gusto, the workplace is a mashup of in person, remote, and hybrid, where workers make the trek into the office at least some of the time. "Forty percent of our workforce is working from home, and 30% of our senior leadership is fully remote," Planck said.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the era of remote work

Despite the obvious benefits of working from home, there can be drawbacks. Remote workers are susceptible to feeling isolated, disconnected, and excluded from coworkers, customers, and leaders.

Yet schlepping into an office doesn't  guarantee a sense of belonging. A recent study from the consulting firm Accenture found only one in six workers felt strongly connected at work and that on-site workers felt least so. 

For remote workers, lack of in-person interaction can be at least somewhat mitigated by digital stand-ins like Zoom, Slack, and Google Meet. But the stakes might be higher for underrepresented groups in the virtual workplace.

"There are hidden costs to remote work," Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, wrote in a 2020 paper on remote work and inequity. "Along with risks to productivity and innovation and the stress of isolation and burnout, we are also seeing new patterns of inequity and exclusion emerging." 

According to Taylor, a top threat to fostering an inclusive remote-work model includes the unintended fostering of "separate and likely unequal" online cultures. 

Planck is trying to prevent the emergence of such barriers by using Gusto's diversity, equity, and inclusion framework, RISE, which stands for representation, inclusion, social impact, and equity. "RISE is about giving people an avenue to give honest feedback and have safe conversations," she said. "We've created these virtual sessions to talk about the hard issues."

Meeting remote workers' unique needs

It's clear that many workers who once had no choice but to say put during the depths of the pandemic now want a choice about when they leave home. The LinkedIn figures from April showing that about 20% of job postings were for remote roles also revealed that those positions drew 52% of applicants and nearly 47% of page views. 

Yet for all of the eagerness many workers show to do their jobs from somewhere else, they often have unique needs that companies should meet, Planck said. 

Planck, who began her position in April, is implementing new avenues for feedback and investigating metrics to figure out what employees need. She's also encouraging those who can to gather in person once in a while to help foster a sense of community. 

Gusto is also prioritizing unique remote-work experiences. The company recently hosted a popular virtual show with a magician. "Everyone was like, 'When is he coming back?'" Planck said. 

"I call myself an experience designer," said Planck, who previously worked at Apple as a product experience manager. "It was really important to make sure that in every conversation, there's someone representing the voice of the remote Gustee."

Read the original article on Business Insider