The distributed workforce: a gamechanger for business?

The distributed workforce: a gamechanger for business?

What is a distributed workforce?

A distributed workforce is one that is dispersed geographically over a wide area – domestically or internationally – and uses technology to go beyond the limitations of the traditional working model. While the terms ‘remote workers’ and ‘distributed workers’ are often used interchangeably, they aren’t the same thing. While both forgo the traditional office HQ as a base, the distributed model functions by replacing a head office with multiple workspaces distributed across one or more countries, or by including and integrating a remote workforce.

What are the advantages of a distributed workforce?

There are many advantages of the model, for both employees and employers. For businesses, a distributed workforce saves dramatically on office HQ costs, and can help streamline processes and systems. It’s also a way to expand your talent pool and attract and hire stronger candidates, regardless of their location.

With COVID-19 still fresh in the memory, there’s also a business continuity argument for distributed workforce. When your team is not all together in one central location, you can minimise the risk of something like a virus affecting the whole group.

For employees, the distributed model offers flexibility, the opportunity for a better work/life balance, cost- and time-savings on commuting, and a wider choice of the job market. A study by Walden University shows that remote workers are more productive than their traditional in-office colleagues, and are more apt to display better levels of workplace engagement (this is especially true when remote employees feel a personal connection to their work environment and a work culture that they’re familiar with).

What are the challenges?

The distributed workforce isn’t challenge-free. “Maintaining a sense of connection with remote employees, ensuring technology helps rather than hinders collaboration and innovation, and overcoming the potential for employees to feel isolated and excluded are areas where most companies struggle,” reports CIO.

Which companies are moving to a distributed model?

Businesses are in good company if they decide to adopt a distributed model. Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, has been an advocate of remote work for a while, and suggested in February, pre-pandemic, that the company might take steps to support a more global, distributed workforce following the pandemic. Meanwhile, in May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted that 50% of the company’s employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years.

In France, car manufacturer PSA is recommending that its employees only come to the office one day a week. “Working at a distance, with the exception of production, should become the rule for all business areas,” says personnel manager Xavier Chereau.

And in a recent report, Tata Consultancy Services, suggested that companies that were prepared to operate without people going to the office would gain a competitive advantage over firms that weren’t. “This is the new foundation of business continuity, and all businesses will move quickly to shutter offices as quickly as possible,” it said.

How to make it a success

Communicate, communicate, communicate. All experts agree that this is the only way to effectively work the new model – from implementing the right software to ensuring you’re adopting practices that help remote employees feel like part of a team.

Pre-COVID-19 The Wall Street Journal published a piece suggesting that the most successful companies of the present and future are those that give employees a sense of belonging. “Amid growing divisiveness and stridency in public life, a sense of belonging at the office will be increasingly prized by employees and a crucial condition for fostering innovation.” When your employees aren’t together in one physical location, creating a sense of belonging is more important than ever.

Distributed workforces will be the new normal as businesses reduce risk and embrace remote working. ​Find out how to flex and distribute your workforce using IWG’s portfolio of workspace solutions.