In remote work and tech companies, job titles have gotten longer – and fancier
Job titles have always changed with the times, and now the rise of remote work has given way to new positions, such as "chief heart officer", "head of remote work" and "chief science advocate".
Here’s one sneaky sign of unsettled times: longer job titles.
The past few years have thrown businesses into chaos. Millions are still working fully from home, while many others are picking up their commutes in fits and starts. A majority of people whose jobs could be done remotely were still mostly out of the office as of earlier this year, according to Pew Research Center data.
“The amount of disruption we’ve had has shaken every aspect of business,” said J.T. O’Donnell, a career coach. “What’s exciting is not just the number of new companies, and new ideas, but the number of new types of jobs.”
Job titles have always changed with the times. The growth of new technologies in the 1980s gave rise to chief information officers. The flow of political figures into tech turned everybody into a chief of staff. Competition for talent in recent years has morphed heads of human resources into chief people officers. Now the rise of remote work has given way to new positions, whose lasting power has yet to be tested.
“People will try a lot of titles,” O’Donnell added. “Some will fail because they’ll be too far out there. But ultimately you’ll see a lot of shifts.”
What’s exciting is not just the number of new companies, and new ideas, but the number of new types of jobs.
LinkedIn has seen a 304 per cent spike in titles that reference “hybrid work” and a 60 per cent increase in titles related to the future of work since the start of the pandemic. Far-reaching currents of malaise, coupled with churn in the labour market, have also led to the creation of new positions focused on boosting morale – though workers are often skeptical of what they really stand to gain from those feelings-focused roles.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the new jobs arising from upheaval in the office, especially in tech and other companies that have embraced remote work.
‘HEAD OF TEAM ANYWHERE’
Atlassian is a company that makes collaboration software, so when the company went remote in 2020, its leaders felt the pressure to keep the engines of collaboration running smoothly. Six months ago the company hired a “head of team anywhere,” a title nodding to the company’s stock ticker which is TEAM. Annie Dean, who is in the role, recently oversaw the opening of a “team anywhere-focused office” – which is, in fact, located somewhere (Austin, Texas).
Instead of desks and sterile cubicles, there are sunny event spaces, soft seating, a chef’s kitchen and white boards on rollers. “The old model is productivity focused,” Dean said, during a video call from her family’s East Coast beach house. “Our new model is experience focused.”
‘CHIEF HEART OFFICER’
With mental health issues heightening, employers are wrestling with how they can provide support, especially given the gaps in actual mental health care. Claude Silver, for example, serves as “chief heart officer” at the agency VaynerMedia, a title she has held for years, though it has grown more necessary during the pandemic.
“Rather than doing bureaucratic work at a desk and being a ‘no’ person, you need many more people in the company who can say ‘yes’,” she said.
Silver’s day-to-day endeavours run the gamut. Every afternoon at 1.37 pm, she helps organise online programmes for the staff, whether an interview with Novak Djokovic or a talk with an employee about homemade hot sauce. She sends out a staff newsletter called Heartbeat, and also leads “courageous conversations” where employees talk about challenging events in the news.
“You’ve noticed I’ve said the word connection about 20 times,” she said. “It’s so crucial to the psychological safety that every person – doesn’t matter if you’re young or old – needs right now in a very anxious time.”
'HEAD OF DYNAMIC WORK'
Some companies have been rigid about their thinking on workplace flexibility, weighing either a full return to the office or a commitment to being fully remote. Samantha Fisher, head of dynamic work at Okta, a cybersecurity company, wants employees to feel they can pick and choose routines that work best for them. “A less binary approach – you’re either remote or you’re not – is what we’re going to end up with,” Fisher said. “What people want is flexibility. It’s not necessarily ‘I don’t ever want to come to the office.’”
One of Okta’s projects was to set up a work-from-home store, so employees can order office-grade furniture, such as standing desks or ergonomic chairs – an acknowledgment that their hybrid setups are permanent rather than Band-Aid solutions.
‘HEAD OF REMOTE’
Remote work is clunky enough, so plenty of companies are keeping the relevant job title simple: head of remote.
Their reasoning behind the roles, though, can sound more grandiose: “If you had a skyscraper, you would no doubt have someone in charge of making sure that physical building worked well,” said Darren Murph, who serves as GitLab’s head of remote.
Murph sees his own role as something like workplace maintenance – it’s just that the workplace isn’t physical. “Remote companies have a skyscraper, too,” he said. “You just can’t see it.”
Murph took on his position as GitLab’s head of remote before the pandemic normalised working from home. In 2019, the company was holding an in-person conference on how to make remote work effective and someone encouraged the team to identify a leader focused on that project.
Murph is an ardent believer that work can happen anywhere. Just the other day he arranged his schedule so he could spend the afternoon meeting his baby niece and watching an Outer Banks sunset – “a year’s worth of awesomeness” compressed into a few hours, he said.
‘CHIEF SCIENCE ADVOCATE’
About five years ago, the manufacturing company 3M, which makes items like adhesives, laminates, orthodontics and masks, did a survey that yielded some troubling results: Public enthusiasm for science was low. The company decided to appoint a chief science advocate, Jayshree Seth.
Seth tackles any project that pumps people up about science: planning events with astronauts, making a documentary film about female scientists. With the onset of the pandemic, and in a divided political moment when many have challenged the expertise of their public health leaders, Seth has found herself especially busy. Or as she put it: “We like to say science is having its moment.”
‘VICE PRESIDENT OF FLEXIBLE WORK'
Meghan Reibstein, who leads product management and flexible work initiatives at Zillow, wants to see more companies appoint people to positions like hers, which she describes as wrestling with the question: “How do we change the way work shows up in our lives?”
Her company went remote in 2020. A given workday might include Reibstein’s team planning retreats, weighing in on office renovations or advising colleagues on how to make the best use of their meetings.
People she meets are often intrigued to hear her job focuses on making work from home effective. “When people hear that I spend a lot of my time thinking about it, they’re a little bit taken aback because it’s just a thing that happened in the world,” she said. “If you’re going to build something with a big vision and a lot of complexity and a lot of unknowns, you have to resource it.”
‘VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT EVANGELISM'
Leaders at the company Gtmhub, which makes management software, had a problem: None of them spent time being the face of the company – which, to be fair, isn’t exactly a household name. That’s why they decided to appoint someone to be their “product evangelist,” Jenny Herald, who describes her role as being professionally obsessive about the brand. She runs a podcast about Gtmhub, writes social media posts about Gtmhub, boosts internal morale and chats with customers.
“I can’t tell you how many times people are like, ‘Jenny, I listened to your podcast, it was one of the reasons I wanted to join Gtmhub, I feel like I’m talking to a celebrity,’” Herald said. “Every company needs someone to herald whatever it is that they represent.”
Roles like “chief evangelist” tend to raise questions, but O’Donnell, the career coach, argues that’s a positive: “People ask ‘What does that mean? What do you do?’” she said. “That’s why we change titles.”
By Emma Goldberg © 2022 The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.