The Complete Guide to Distributed Work for Enterprises

Spurred by necessity and shifting employee preferences, businesses around the world are rapidly embracing a new work paradigm. In this new model, colleagues — even those who work closely together within teams — are more likely than ever to be dispersed across geographies, mixing traditional corporate facilities with remote locations, including coworking spaces and home offices.

We call this phenomenon ‘distributed work.’ And while every distributed team is unique, they all have one thing in common: they represent the future of work.

As a result of COVID-19, businesses around the world have collectively been forced to adapt to distributed work philosophies due to an unforeseen global health crisis for which most were ill-prepared. As a result, organizations are now faced with creating and deploying policies for the oft-discussed ‘future of work’ long before it was anticipated.

Statistically, your employer either already has or will soon introduce a formal “work from home” policy, increase hiring in remote offices and coworker spaces, or begin supporting flexible work schedules. Taken together, these changes represent a significant evolution of the way we work and how we define the workplace.

The Factors That Make Work “Distributed”

Every company’s distributed workforce looks different, but most distributed teams include one, all or a combination of the following factors:

More than one office location

Many companies have more than one physical office location. This gives a company the advantage of having a larger pool of talent and a local presence in multiple locations. By hiring employees who know the native language and local customs, companies can form stronger relationships and trust within specific geographic regions. Additionally, companies that operate globally benefit from having employees work across time zones to provide higher-level support to international customers.

Employees that work from home

Globally, 70% of people work from home at least once a week. A growing percentage of those employees work from home permanently. This is advantageous for both employers and employees. Remote workers save organizations, on average, $22,000 a year per employee since the company does not have to provide the employee with office real estate, electricity, food, etc. For employees, working from home gives them a flexible work schedule without time lost due to commuting and a comfortable and familiar work environment.

Employees who work from coworker spaces or public spaces

Working from home is not for everyone. Some remote workers like the idea of working from a local coffee shop or quiet space like a library on a regular basis. Other employees may find it hard to stick to a regular work schedule or stay focused with the many distractions at home or in public spaces. For remote employees who live a considerable distance from one of their company’s main offices and don’t like the idea of working from home or a public space, a coworker space is a great option. This allows employees to locally commute into a shared, rented office space that often provides a more structured and productive work environment. Additionally, some companies that have multiple remote employees in a specific geographic location may find it more cost-efficient and productive to have those employees work from the same shared office space.

Mobile employees who work on the go

Mobile employees are those who work on the go, away from the main office and their homes. Having mobile employees doesn’t look the same for every company, but typically, a mobile workforce is a group of people dedicated to working “in the field,” away from a traditional office setting. Traveling salespeople, field engineers, service teams, delivery personnel, maintenance technicians, aviation employees and event managers are all examples of positions within the mobile workforce.

How Distributed Work Differs from “Working from Home”

Distributed work refers to companies that have one or more employees who work in different physical locations. This blended work model may comprise on-site teams at one or more office locations as well as remote employees who work from home, coworker spaces or public spaces or on the go. Employees who work from a home office are just one part of a geographically distributed team.

What You’ll Learn in This Guide

1. Why distributed work is the future of the workforce

We’ve put together a compelling list of statistics and trends that are driving the remote work revolution. We also outline the top advantages of distributed work for enterprise companies.

2. How to hire a distributed team

Hiring a distributed workforce is especially challenging since you may not have the opportunity to meet the jobseeker in-person during the interview process. We provide seven useful steps to help you find and hire the right candidate for your company. Additionally, we outline six qualities to look for when hiring a remote worker.

3. How to run a distributed enterprise team

As the manager, your job is to make sure your distributed team is communicating effectively and working together efficiently to accomplish team goals. With the right people, processes and tools in place, it's possible to build a productive and engaged team. We outline eight steps for successfully managing a distributed team and provide management tips from industry leaders.

4. How to promote company culture across distributed teams

Since distributed teams interact and communicate inside digital communication tools rather than inside a physical office, your company culture has to go beyond ping pong tables and happy hours. We show you why company culture, especially for remote teams, is so important and provide useful strategies to help build your company culture playbook.

5. Productivity for distributed teams

Distractions at home, communication issues, poor time management and accountability issues among other challenges can all affect how much each employee accomplishes in a workday. A highly productive distributed workforce doesn’t just happen on its own. It requires the use of the right tools and smart strategies to ensure everyone is contributing and actively working together as a team. We provide useful tips to help increase the productivity of your distributed team.

6. Challenges with distributed operations

Even with all the advancements in technology related to communication, collaboration and productivity for distributed operations, effectively managing and running a distributed workforce is still challenging. We outline some of the common challenges for distributed teams and provide useful tips to help overcome each obstacle.

7. The distributed team tech stack: 20+ apps and

There are a number of tools designed to improve employees’ productivity but building a tech stack for distributed teams isn’t just a matter of having a collection of great tools. It’s how you literally stack those tools and how they work together seamlessly that make them useful and effective for your employees. Here are 20+ apps and tools to keep your remote workforce productive and working together as one unit regardless of their physical location.

8. Distributed workforce security tips

By moving data outside the premises of a single physical office and across a global network of devices and access points, asset management and security has become a major challenge for enterprise companies. Organizations with a geographically distributed workforce have to take data security seriously and implement a comprehensive security plan to protect their employees and sensitive company data. We outline the top five security challenges and solutions for distributed teams and best practices to ensure data security.

9. Distributed work resources

We’ve put together a list of tools, blogs, guides and solutions to help you start or scale your distributed workforce. Use these resources to stay up to date on distributed work tips, best practices and remote work statistics. We’ve also included some of our favorite distributed work tools, best places to recruit remote workers, additional distributed work guides and communities for remote workers.

Common FAQs

How do I manage a distributed workforce?

Managing a distributed team can seem daunting but with the right procedures and tools in place, you can have an effective and engaged team. First, you must hire employees that you can trust since you will not have the option of micromanaging each team member. Outline procedures and clear expectations early on so everyone knows what is expected of them. In addition to your regular team meetings, one-on-one meeting with each member of your distributed team is just as important. This personal interaction helps employees feel valued and keeps you informed of any obstacles they are facing.

How do I effectively communicate with my remote team?

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any functioning team, and it is especially crucial for companies with a distributed workforce. Apps for instant messaging, chat and video conferencing make communicating, collaborating and problem-solving with your distributed team easier than ever before. Complement traditional emails and messaging apps with regular video conferences so team members can see each other. The face-to-face interaction allows you to read body language and pick up on nonverbal cues that are often missed in text-based messages and audio only calls. Additionally, video conferencing adds a human component to the conversation and allows team members to connect on a deeper level.

How do I keep my distributed team productive?

The fact that you don’t have direct, in-person access to your entire team and your team members work at different hours may encourage a relaxed attitude toward work. This is where task management tools like Jira, Monday and Asana come in handy. These tools help with time management and keep your team on track to avoid wasting time on distractors and nonproductive work. Project management tools coupled with regular team meetings to check in on the status of projects will ensure your team stays focused and productive.

How do I interview remote job candidates?

Video conferencing has made it remarkably simple and cost-effective to interview remote job candidates. The face-to-face interaction lets you pick up on nonverbal cues. Facial expressions, posture, gestures and tone of voice allow you to gage a job candidate’s trustworthiness.

How do I overcome cultural differences

Having a globally diverse workforce with different backgrounds, languages and cultures can be challenging. As part of a cross-cultural team-building exercise, have each member of your team share insights and stories about their native languages, cultures and food. You can also have team members learn how to say greetings or short phrases in their coworkers’ native languages. This will help reduce cultural-related misunderstandings, promote appreciation of different cultures and strengthen relationships among team members.

How do I schedule meetings with remote workers in different time zones?

For distributed teams scattered across multiple time zones, coordinating times to meet can be troublesome. Try to choose meeting times that are during everyone’s typical daytime work hours. For some, this might be in the morning, while for others, it’s the afternoon or early evening. For teams that are on opposite sides of the hemisphere, you need to get creative. Record the video conferencing meeting for those who couldn’t attend the live meeting so they can still view the meeting at a later time. Distributing meeting agendas and meeting notes in writing also helps colleagues get up to speed when they can’t be there in person.

How do I ensure data security for my distributed workforce?

The human element can undermine the strongest security systems in the world. That’s why it’s important for every employee to understand the risk of a data breach and strictly follow company-wide security protocols. Data security training should start during a new hire’s onboarding process. Emphasizing the importance of cyber security early on helps foster good security practices and makes employees aware of their actions. In addition, companies should educate all employees on new protocols, security risks and best practices on a regular basis by holding trainings, sending out informative memos and using online training modules.