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What is a distributed workforce?

A distributed workforce is created when an organization’s employees are not bound to a physical office space. Employees can be working from home—or anywhere from a remote office—but they need the technology to be able to work successfully from wherever they are. As more companies recognize that this type of work environment can be beneficial for both parties, it is being increasingly adopted as a workplace best practice. Many employees prefer this model because it provides flexibility around when and where employees want to work.

Why does a distributed workforce matter?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic brought distributed workforce models onto the world stage, the concept of remote workforces has been on the rise for quite some time. Even before the pandemic, the needs of the workforce were changing. Employees want more options for flexibility and work/life balance. And employers need to adapt or they run the risk of losing talent to more forward-thinking organizations.

The fact is, many companies have already adopted a distributed workforce model. This model works particularly well for large, global organizations with multiple offices that employ thousands of people. Instead of clinging to the traditional organizational structure, these companies have gained significant savings on office space and related expenses. There are other benefits as well, including better retention and employee satisfaction, the ability to attract diverse talent, and improved employee focus and productivity.

The difference between remote work and a distributed workforce

Remote work is based on the individual worker, but distributed work is based on an entire organization. Remote work is a new concept that has been gaining popularity in the last decade. It involves working from home—or anywhere else employees want to be in relation to a central office. However, there are some differences between remote work and distributed work, which can make one of them better suited for an organization’s situation.

To qualify as a remote worker, employees must conduct work in relation to a central office. Distributed work is not bound to a central office, which means that location should not be a factor of work performance or participation.

There are many reasons to adopt a distributed workforce: many workers like the ability to have more flexibility with the time spent at work, other workers just enjoy traveling, or often employees are looking for a change. Whatever the reason may be, there are some benefits to consider before making the move.

Distributed work is when businesses have one or more employees who work in different locations. Not only is the workforce geographically dispersed, it also represents multiple time zones, cultures, and races. These factors are advantageous for companies who are looking to operate with a local presence.

Tips for managing a distributed workforce

The rise of the distributed workforce has steadily became one of the biggest trends in business. Industries are recognizing the benefits of adopting a distributed workforce. So it is important to know how to effectively manage a distributed workforce. Here are some tips to get started.

  • Create a company culture of trust
    Working with a distributed workforce can be quite different from working with a centralized one. But it doesn't matter if you're a manager or a team leader—all employees should always strive to create a culture of trusting relationships. Trust is the foundation of work and necessary to be productive; without trust, work becomes challenging.
  • Be clear about expectations
    It’s easy to forget that employees are working together in a different way. It's important that you set out clear instructions for each person involved.
  • Make sure to communicate
    You should communicate regularly if you're working with a distributed team. Whether you use email; video calls; text message; or a messaging program, such as Slack, for communication, make sure that you regularly keep in touch with your team.
  • Set boundaries
    It’s important to set clear boundaries between your personal and professional life if you're working with a distributed team. There are some challenges to keeping work and home separate when you work from home. When everything is under one roof, it can seem like you don’t get a break. Setting and keeping a regular work schedule will help you focus during those hours and relax outside of that time.
  • Use technology as an advantage
    Employers may find that using personalized guidance technology tools help teams complete tasks. Leaders can drive success by delivering personalized guidance to support employees. Start employee journeys with the assistance of automated and personalized support when needed.
  • Encourage feedback
    If leaders want to build strong working relationships with your staff, encourage them to provide feedback. Ask questions such as, How am I doing? What would you change? Employees want to be heard, and it’s important to provide a platform that allows them to vocalize their thoughts. Listening and acting on feedback builds trust, boosts retention, and fosters growth.
  • Get creative
    It can be useful to think outside the box. Also ask current team members to suggest ideas for new project opportunities.

Benefits of a distributed team

Distributed teams have many advantages. A distributed team can better adapt to changes in business conditions than a centralized one. With the right tools, distributed teams can be more flexible, agile, and more responsive to change.

It also offers the following advantages:

  • Flexibility
    Unlike the traditional model, a distributed workforce isn’t confined to regular office hours. Employees have the flexibility to work during the hours that work best for them and are often more productive and better able to manage their time. With no commute, employees have more time to learn new skills with personalized training.
  • Agility
    Distributed teams allow you to respond quickly to changes in business conditions. Companies can scale and grow faster because they don’t have to worry about additional office space and can hire the best talent from all over the world.
  • Innovation
    Distributed teams give employees the freedom to experiment and try new ways of working. These teams can come up with innovative solutions to problems.
  • Collaboration
    Working from home has been shown to actually improve communication. A more diverse, global environment brings in new ideas. Modern technology, such as video conferencing, messaging apps, and AI-powered programs, encourages productive collaboration between teams.
  • Efficiency
    Distributed workers tend to get more done than those in the traditional office environment.

Challenges of a distributed workforce

The way we work and live has dramatically changed. We are now able to communicate with each other from anywhere in the world at any time. From our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops, distributed workers can stay engaged.

However, this does not mean that distributed work is easy. There are some challenges associated with distributed work. Here are some of them:

  • Lack of face-to-face communication
    Communication is key to success, but working remotely can be isolating. It can be hard to build good working relationships with your coworkers when they are not in the same physical location.
  • Productivity
    Working from home can affect productivity. Distractions are everywhere. At home, you may find yourself distracted by kids or pets. You may also be tempted to watch TV or play video games instead of focusing on your work.
  • Time zone differences
    Working from home means you’ll may be in a different geographical location from most of your coworkers. This can make it harder to coordinate virtual meetings and effectively collaborate.
  • Technology
    Technology can be an issue too. Some things just don’t work as well if you’re working from home. For example, email tends to be slower, and internet connections can be unreliable.

Considerations when adopting a distributed workforce model

A distributed workforce model can be thought of as the combination of two separate models: a centralized and decentralized one. The first part, centralized, describes how the company manages its employees. The second part, decentralized, describes how the employees manage themselves.

You might want to consider adopting a distributed workforce model if the following factors apply to your organization:

  • Employees are scattered across multiple locations.
  • Employees are spread out geographically.
  • Employees prefer to work from home.
  • Employees are willing to work from home.
  • Employees are comfortable working in distributed workforce.

If these factors apply to your business, then you may benefit from adopting a distributed workforce model. When employers provide tools that extend beyond traditional activities, HR teams can become more strategic in their decision-making. Give workers a reason to stay by creating personalized experiences. By effectively managing the workforce and delivering an exceptional employee experience, you can overcome the obstacles and successfully build a distributed workforce.

Learn how an industry-leading HCM solution can help manage a distributed workforce.