Distributed Work: Its Future in the Time of a Pandemic

by in Best Practices, Industry, Mobility

Every distributed team is unique, but they all have one thing in common: they represent the future of work. Spurred by shifting employee preferences and hiring trends, businesses around the world are now embracing this new hybrid work model. 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. 

However, the concept of working remotely or teleworking is not new. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s as people started to own personal computers and have access to the internet at home, remote work became a viable alternative to being in the office. As personal computing technology improved, internet speeds got faster and Wi-Fi became more accessible, employees realized they could effectively perform their job duties outside the office — so long as their employers allowed it. 

More recently, advancements in cloud-based productivity tools, video conferencing and powerful collaboration apps have made the popularity of distributed work explode. In fact, studies show that by 2025 remote work will equal or surpass traditional fixed office work. The remote-work phenomenon is being driven by several trends:

  1. The globalization of business necessitates distributed work. According to the University of London, international business travel increased by 25% between 2013 and 2018. To better accommodate global business needs, companies are investing in new methods of communication to bolster internal collaboration and enhance the customer experience. Company culture and collaboration have moved outside the boundaries of a physical location and now happen virtually through digital communication tools like chat apps and face-to-face video conferencing. 
  2. Companies are leveraging distributed teams to address talent shortages. By supporting remote work arrangements, companies can now hire the absolute best talent for any given role, regardless of their physical location.
  3. Younger employees expect employers to support evolving work preferences. Much has been written about the impact of millennials and Gen Z employees entering the workforce. Research consistently shows that younger employees prefer to work from wherever they are most comfortable and productive. As a result, employers are evolving remote-work policies to accommodate different methods of collaboration. 

Lady sitting at your desk on a conference call with two coworkers

What Is Distributed Work?

Distributed work broadly refers to work done by employees within the same organization who are separated by their geographical locations. This may include a hybrid of employees who work in a traditional office environment as well as employees who work from home, coworker spaces, public spaces, or remote offices and mobile employees who work on the go. Technological advancements and changes in the global economy are increasing the geographic distribution of work across all industries. 

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 who 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. Fully 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.

Enterprise Remote Working Statistics

90% of employees who have experienced the benefits of working off site plan to work remotely for the rest of their careers

More than 82% of millennials who work remotely report an increased sense of loyalty to their employers as a result

91% of remote workers say they have a better work-life balance

80% of workers consider teleworking to be a job perk

70% of the world’s workforce works remotely at least once a week

74% of respondents think that flexible working has become the “new normal”

There has been a 173% increase in remote work since 2005

The typical business saves $11,000 per person, per year, by letting employees work remotely 50% of the time

Remote workers are 2.2x more likely to earn salaries of $100K/year or more

By 2025 remote work will equal or surpass fixed office locations

82% of telecommuters have lower stress levels when working outside the office

16% of companies globally exclusively hire remote workers

65% of employees who work remotely do so because there are fewer distractions

One in three employees would switch jobs to work remotely

Remote workers save up to $7,000 per year

Remote work could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons each year

84% of telecommuters work at home

Remote managers have 20.9% more direct reports than on-site managers

Fully remote companies have 4x as many female CEOs compared to nonremote companies

98% of remote workers are happier working from home

72% of employers say teleworking has a high impact on employee retention

57% of employees say working remotely reduces their stress

Common Challenges for Businesses with a Distributed Workforce (and How to Solve Them) 

Communication challenges

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. In addition to regular team video conferencing meetings, one-on-one meetings are just as important. This gives members of your team the opportunity to share a problem, idea or thought in a private and confidential environment. The face-to-face interaction in real-time adds a human element to the conversation and helps you understand what your team members are trying to communicate. 

Language and cultural barriers

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.

Scheduling conflicts

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. A video conferencing solution that syncs with your Google, Apple, or Outlook Calendar will reduce scheduling conflicts. 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.

Tracking and measuring performance

When managing a distributive workforce, it’s helpful to have a quantitative way to evaluate each team member’s contributions. By utilizing project management and productivity software like Asana, Monday.com and ProjectManager.com, you can easily track the progress of projects and measure individual performance. These tools provide invaluable insight for you and help employees stay on task and actively contribute to the team’s goals. Modern video conferencing tools also provide granular data about meeting participation, usage and more.

The Advantages of a Distributed Workforce

Access to global talent 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of having a distributed workforce is the ability for enterprise companies to find and employ the absolute best talent from all over the world. This means organizations are not limited to only hiring local candidates who live within commuting distance from their office. Distance and geographic boundaries no longer matter. Instead, organizations have access to a massive pool of qualified and skilled workers from all regions of the world. 

Boost innovation

Distributed teams open the door for talent from all different backgrounds, knowledge and experiences, which brings different ideas and ways of thinking to the table. By employing individuals who do not look, talk or think like the rest of your team, you can avoid the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking.  In fact, a McKinsey and Company study found that companies that have higher ethnic and racial diversity did better than the industry mean, with a 35% increase in financial performance.

Drive employee productivity

Allowing your team members to have a flexible schedule and work from wherever they are most comfortable helps drive productivity. A two-year study by Stanford showed there’s an astonishing boost in productivity when employees work remotely. It turns out that remote employees take shorter breaks, have fewer sick days and take less time off. In fact, on average remote workers complete nearly a full day of extra work every week compared to colleagues who work exclusively in the office.

Better coverage

Having a distributed team spread across multiple regions and time zones gives companies better global coverage. Remote offices and team members who work in various strategic locations allow enterprise companies to have a local presence in that region — employees who know the local language, culture and customs. This is invaluable for a company that is trying to make an impact in that location. Additionally, by employing individuals from different time zones, companies can easily provide services 24 hours a day globally and teams can work on projects around the clock for faster completion. 

Provides headcount affordably

Although cost-saving is not the only reason to have a distributed workforce, it is an added benefit. For companies with corporate offices in large metropolitan areas, expanding your physical office space to accommodate your growing headcount may be costly. Instead, you can hire remote employees without additional office space rent, furniture, electricity, food and beverage costs, and other expenses. Opening additional smaller offices in less expensive regions or renting space at coworker centers may provide additional cost savings. You can also find high-quality talent in certain regions of the world who are willing to work for a fraction of the cost as their North American colleagues. 

Coronavirus: Distributed Work in the Age of a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is poised to disrupt workplaces and work habits the world over, accelerating many of the trends listed above (and intensifying the challenges). Distributed work will become the lay of the land, and more employees will be working remotely than ever before. If you’re new to the world of remote work and trying to get your bearings, you’ve come to the right place. In response to pandemic, Lifesize is offering free, unlimited video conferencing service to all global businesses for six months. Our goal is to support businesses as best we can during this difficult time and keep the world working.

Conclusion 

This blog is part of a series on distributed work for enterprise companies that we’ll share over the next several months. In the series, we will cover a range of topics related to distributed work such as how to hire a distributed team, remote work culture, best practices for managing a distributed workforce, team productivity, distributed team tech stacks and secure remote working. Be sure to follow our blog for helpful tips and best practices related to hiring and managing a productive and successful distributed workforce.