Having a distributed workforce is becoming a standard business practice, allowing employers to recruit beyond borders and providing employees with more flexibility in scheduling. Though this way of working was born of necessity during the pandemic, we now better understand its benefits and challenges and how the right technology makes it work for all.
The term “distributed workforce” refers to teams or employees who work remotely and collaborate using technology. A central employee success platform or intranet hosts all the tools, apps, and communication portals teams need to come together and stay productive, essentially replacing the physical office with software.
Leveraged to its greatest potential, a distributed workforce results in more flexibility for employees, improved visibility for management, and significant employer cost savings. Happier employees tend to stay in their jobs, reducing the cost of attracting and recruiting new talent.
Today’s post will explore the benefits and challenges of maintaining a distributed workforce for employers and best practices for managers and employees to ensure success while working remotely.
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Technology and infrastructure advances
Distributed work may seem like it happened in a flash (and it kind of did), but its success is down to the technology and infrastructure that supports it.
Internet connectivity is getting better, faster, and more reliable, making it possible for people working from home to work, share and transfer files, and communicate without compromising quality.
Companies using distributed workforces today rely on employee success platforms or intranets that allow employees to log on and work from wherever they are. Employee success platforms like Jostle are replacing intranets because of their flexibility, integrations with popular productivity apps, and ability to facilitate meaningful connections throughout the organization.
Advanced technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making it easier to train new employees and facilitate fieldwork in many exciting ways. For example, employers using AR for onboarding can provide instruction on the job using overlaid digital instructions, simulations, and real-time guidance provided by trainers sharing the connection. Doing so dramatically reduces the cost of training and provides new hires with an immersive experience—without requiring additional hardware, as AR can be accessed using a smartphone.
Bottom line, technology is the hands-down key to distributed workforce success. Used judiciously, it connects teams, enables collaboration, and often strengthens company culture through improved access and data democratization.
The many benefits of distributed workforces
Distributed workforces offer many benefits:
Flexibility and work-life balance for employees. Women were inordinately impacted when the pandemic hit, and many were forced to quit their jobs to focus on childcare and family. Employers that could not provide flexible schedules or the ability to work remotely lost valuable talent. Today, the same priorities apply. Remote employees can work from anywhere, which increases productivity, happiness, and engagement.
Access to a global talent pool for companies. Remote work removes barriers to recruitment, allowing companies to seek out and hire talent wherever they are in the world. Doing so provides access to highly specialized skills and enables employers to identify workers who may better fit their culture and values.
Cost savings, less overhead. Less office space is needed with a distributed workforce, as are fewer parking spaces, workstations, and on-site amenities. Many companies have downsized since the pandemic, some going from an entire building of office suites to a single floor with an open-plan design and shared tech.
Distributed workforce success: Challenges and solutions
Despite the many benefits of remote work as outlined above, distributed workforces have their own set of challenges. But with awareness of the potential problems, a little planning, and a shift in management style, success is assured.
Some of the challenges involved with distributed work include:
Communication and collaboration hurdles. The right tools are pivotal to maintaining communication and enabling collaboration. A central, cloud-based online hub provides employees with the tools and files they need to stay productive. A communication platform should facilitate internal communication within teams and company-wide, plus offer consistent, templated communication tools for external messaging. Consistency and reliability are critical, as the absence of either creates discontent within the workforce and sends the wrong message to customers and external stakeholders.
Building trust and maintaining team cohesion. Working remotely can be lonely and isolating for some people. Not all employees are cut out for remote work, so management must take an empathetic approach to ensure employees are engaged with their work and their teams. The employee success platform provides leaders with excellent data on what employees do during working hours, but this should not be a substitute for check-ins, reviews, and one-on-ones. Management may be “out of sight,” but employees should never feel like they’re on their own.
Effective remote management. Further to the previous point, management styles must evolve and adapt to remote work. Weekly meetings, daily check-ins, and instant messaging are a few strategies managers can adopt. For example, productivity apps like Slack help to manage projects within teams and facilitate project-specific conversations and collaboration. Recognize good work, celebrate wins, and ensure every employee has a voice. Periodic employee surveys are also excellent as they offer a snapshot of sentiment at any given time.
By establishing remote work policies and keeping communication consistent, managers can easily foster a culture of trust and accountability within their remote teams.
Strategies for Building and Managing a High-Performing Distributed Workforce
Building and managing a high-performing, distributed workforce requires commitment and transparency. Leaders may need to work a little harder to establish trust, but internal culture will thrive with the right tools, policies, and strategies in place.
Communication tools like conferencing software, instant messaging, and project management apps are vital to help teams connect and collaborate effectively. Policies ensure employees understand their roles and accountabilities, and empathetic management establishes trust.
When employees have the tools they need to do their jobs, know they have a part to play in the company’s success and trust that their team members and managers have their backs, the result is a cohesive and productive remote workforce.
Best practices to enable remote work
Working from home isn’t always a walk in the park. Distractions abound, and challenges can arise from shared devices, competing for bandwidth, or, in the case of people living alone, feelings of isolation impact mental health.
Here are some tips and best practices to improve the remote work environment:
Have a dedicated office space, preferably with a door that closes.
Let your housemates know you are not to be disturbed during working hours (if possible).
Keep to a schedule as much as possible, and try not to work overtime if unnecessary.
Take frequent breaks, even if it’s just to step outside for some fresh air.
Keep a stash of healthy snacks, water, coffee, or herbal tea on hand to keep your energy up.
Take lunch breaks!
Practice good time management habits to avoid getting behind on projects.
Maintain a rapport with teammates and reach out frequently.
Sign on to the company feed to keep up on internal happenings and news.
As for and provide feedback regularly.
Maintaining healthy remote work habits helps prevent burnout and ensures workers have enough energy to complete projects on time.
Final thoughts on the distributed workforce
There’s no question that the distributed workforce is here to stay. With the right tools, technology, and policies in place, employers and employees will continue to reap the rewards.
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