2020 certainly made working from home a global necessity. What was initially assumed to hinder productivity actually turned out to show many benefits for both an employer and employee.
As it turns out, staff who work out of the office more than once a month are 24 per cent more likely to be productive and happy. Companies that allow employees to work from outside the office enjoy 25 per cent less turnover.
In this article, we’ll talk about exactly what a distributed workforce is, how it differs from remote working, and how you can make the most out of your distributed workforce in 2021.
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What Is a Distributed Workforce?
A distributed workforce can be most simply described as an overarching ethos of work and productivity for a business. While a company might have a physical headquarters, employees can and will operate from anywhere in the world.
Depending on the operational requirements, there might be employees who work from the office full-time or part-time. The salespeople might work from the road and only visit the office a few hours a week. There might be other workers that permanently work from the other side of the world.
No matter their location, all workers will work in a blended schedule that allows for clear channels of communication and effective collaboration. As you might expect, digital technology is crucial for a strong distributed workforce.
The company still has a clear mission, and all staff are aligned with common values; it’s just that they don’t necessarily work physically together.
What’s the Difference Between Remote Work and a Distributed Workforce?
The difference between remote work and distributed workforce really just comes down to scale and culture. Where remote work allows individual employees to work out of the office if desired or required, distributed work is basing your entire organisational structure on focusing on the outcome of the work, not the location it’s done from.
Put simply, remote work is a mode of work for the employee, whereas distributed work is the central mode of productivity for the organisation as a whole.
This paradigm shift’s initial challenges are obvious — foresight and planning are required to preserve a cohesive context around the work itself without the physical rhythms of “turning up” to work every day.
Once a company overcomes these hurdles, however, the benefits of a distributed workforce are proven.
What Are the Benefits of a Distributed Workforce?
No Longer Confined to Borders
A distributed workforce means that an organisation is not limited by geography, which has two main benefits. Firstly, it means that staff can be exactly where they need to be productive, rather than the office for arbitrary reasons.
Secondly, it means a business’s talent pool can literally grow from a city to the entire world. Not only can you recruit the world’s best talent, but companies with higher racial and ethnic diversity also enjoy a 35 per cent increase in financial performance.
Employee Savings and Work-Life Balance
For the employee, it means a much better life-work balance. 86 percent of workers believe that being able to work remotely reduces stress levels. That makes sense — a distributed workforce means less commuting, flexibility for parenting, and less distraction. That reduction in commuting alone saves employees around US$5,000 a year.
Fewer Company Overheads
On the subject of savings, a company with a distributed workforce enjoys less money spent on real estate, cleaning, maintenance, electricity, and all manner of other overheads. These reductions in costs have reportedly allowed companies with distributed workforces to save an average of US$11,000 per year.
A company with a distributed workforce is also more resilient to unforeseen or even catastrophic events. This benefit was self-evident during the COVID-19 pandemic — businesses that already had a distributed workforce did not have to rely solely on disaster planning, as their employees did not depend on working from designated physical locations.
The same could be said for a natural disaster — if, for example, an office building is flooded, it would not affect the operations of a distributed workforce as much as a centralised workforce. Once the business ascertains that its employees are safe, most operations will go unaffected.
How to Make the Most of a Distributed Workforce
Hire the Right People
There is no dancing around the fact that remote work is not for everyone. It’s a skill that requires discipline and a desire to work towards common goals without direct oversight. It’s easy for remote workers to struggle with isolation, loneliness, and distraction. No manager is looking over their shoulder or coming into their cubicle for a quick chat, which can reduce feelings of accountability.
A distributed workforce must be self-driven and genuinely want to flourish under the benefits that remote working offers. When you are recruiting your distributed workforce, ask them if they have any prior remote work experience, and perhaps provide them with a task to complete that mimics the responsibilities of remote work.
Set Clear Expectations for Your Distributed Workforce
With that perceived lack of direct accountability, it’s important that management set clear expectations for distributed workers. Ensure they know what tasks they have to complete for the week, set agreeable goals and timelines, let them know who to contact for workflows, and set expectations for their responses to emails, phone calls, etc.
A distributed workforce is only as good as its management and their understanding of how to get the most out of their staff outside of a traditional office environment.
Clear and Effective Communication
As an extension of setting clear expectations, effective communication is essential to promote information flow and help with feelings of isolation.
Facilitate and perhaps even mandate group messaging such as Slack to keep communications channels open and frequent. Try and mix up the meeting times to allow for time zones. That means it’s not always the same unfortunate employees that have to make a zoom call at 11 pm.
Use Technology to Mimic the Human Element
While technology is crucial for communication, it’s also imperative to help maintain the human element of working towards a common goal. We are social creatures, and the traditional office environment encourages watercooler talk, socialisation, and even gossip — all good things for a feeling of belonging and teamwork.
Make telecommuting technologies like video calling a priority for both staff and managers. In fact, we would suggest making sure managers make at least one weekly video call to each of their employees. Don’t let staff cancel these calls either — even if there is nothing directly work-related to discuss, it’s important that all staff interact, at least on some level.
Finally, some staff will love it, some staff not so much — but measure interest for weekly social catchups over video conferencing. It’s not essential, but it’s an excellent opportunity for staff to decompress and discuss their own lives and work.
Conclusion — What’s Next for Your Own Distributed Workforce?
2020 and 2021 have made it abundantly clear that the traditional, centralised workforce is not sufficient in a modern, hyper-productive economy.
While the concept of a distributed workforce is straightforward, you have to consider a multitude of factors before operating out of the norm confidently. With our team of experts’ guidance, we have successfully shifted many of our clients to a distributed workforce model in the last 18 months.
How can InCorp help?
At InCorp, we offer PEO services that simplify and help your company’s manpower operation needs in the following ways:
Meeting your recruitment needs
We find and recruit qualified candidates with the relevant skill sets that match your business needs such as market research. Rest assured, you can enjoy the flexibility of hiring on a short-term basis rather than having full-time employees on payroll.
Providing relevant training
Our team of professionals are well-versed in understanding the type of skills that are in high demand right now. Leave the worry of training your staff to our professionals and lower the additional costs of in-house hiring.
Flexibility to suit your requirements
Having served many business entities, we ensure that your company’s manpower requirements are effectively met. InCorp can provide you with all the necessary resources from restructuring of staff to urgent project management.
So what are you waiting for? If you are interested in exploring the viability of a distributed workforce for your organization, talk to us now!
- A distributed workforce can be most simply described as an overarching ethos of work and productivity for a business. While a company might have a physical headquarters, employees can and will operate from anywhere in the world.
- The difference between remote work and distributed workforce really just comes down to scale and culture. Put simply, remote work is a mode of work for the employee, whereas distributed work is the central mode of operation and productivity for the organisation as a whole.
- A hybrid workforce allows employees to operate freely from central office locations, work from home, or on the road. Workers can be based in the same city as the head office or anywhere in the world.
- Employers with a distributed workforce enjoy lower overheads, a larger talent pool, and operational resiliency. Distributed workers enjoy less commuting, less stress, and a better work-life balance.