Remote working used to be an emerging trend, something that went on the “nice to have” list of company benefits alongside an on-site gym and Pizza Friday. The events of 2020 accelerated the adoption of remote working and, for the most part, it went quite well. But it’s not perfect. So is there a better and smarter way for companies to manage distributed workers?

The answer is yes. Companies like Zapier and Github have been demonstrating this for years already by adopting an approach called the distributed workforce. It’s about time the rest of us caught up, don’t you think? Let’s look at this model in a little more detail.


What is a Distributed Workforce?

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You might hear the terms ‘distributed workforce’, ‘hybrid model’, and ‘remote working’ used interchangeably, but there are some very important differences between them.

Last year many organizations found themselves thrust into supporting remote work. That is, trying to enable their staff to do the same job they had been doing in the office, but from their own homes. Scrambling to stretch the centralized workforce model to dozens, perhaps even hundreds of locations, exposed a lack of digital readiness in these companies.

The cost of this was a dramatic drop in productivity in the short term, in fact a survey by Stanford found that just under half of remote workers didn’t manage more than 80% of the productivity level they achieved in the office.

A hybrid model supports elements of remote work while retaining a central office location where the majority of the business is run. A distributed workforce, however, is very different. A Dropbox article puts it nicely: “from a distributed work perspective, a company is just a collection of resources aligned on a common mission.”

This is typically characterized by:

  • Multiple workplaces across different regions in place of a head office
  • The deployment of tools to promote engaged, connected, and focused employees
  • A more agile org chart to sustain collaborative relationships
  • An increased intersection between IT and HR to establish tools and policies that increase worker autonomy and collaboration
  • A radically different, data-driven approach to decision making

Not constrained by geography, every member of a distributed workforce has all the tools they need to work at maximum efficiency wherever they are. They have never experienced the awkward migration from an office to a remote location. They are designed to work across as many locations as necessary. There’s no such thing as “remote work”, everyone, and everything, just “works”.


Benefits of Distributed Workforces

1.   Increased Productivity

Distributed workforces often work harder and smarter. One recent study found that 53% of remote employees expressed interest in working overtime, compared with only 28% for on-site employees. Additionally, 45% of remote employees said they can deliver more with fewer resources.

2.   Better access to talent

When you operate from one location, the employees you attract are typically limited to that location. When you operate from multiple locations, you attract a more diverse set of employees, with a diverse set of skills to match.

3.   Cost savings

Companies with distributed workforces enjoy reduced expenditure on utility bills, accessories, rent, office management, and much more. Employees at these companies also report spending less money on child care, commuting, and ad hoc purchases throughout the day. A study by Global Workplace Analytics estimates that if at least 50% of the US workforce had flexible work options, companies would save an eye-watering $700 billion a year.

4.   Lower staff turnover

Increasingly, employees care just as much about where they work as to how they work. Companies that offer flexible work options often have happier employees because those employees experience a better work-life balance. As a result, staff turnover is reduced.

5.   Higher staff wellness

Wellness takes many forms in a workplace but mental health is a crucial but occasionally overlooked element. Remote workers often experience a better work-life balance, which leads to lower levels of fatigue and burnout. Research shows that companies with flexible work options experience 63% fewer unscheduled absences.


The Best Tools for Managing Distributed Workforces

From a management perspective, running a successful distributed operation is all about using the right tools and making smart use of data. Data provides a common language for collaboration, information sharing and decision-making in place of the common language of in-person meetings and water cooler chats.

So what are the right tools?


Applications like Slack have become a critical part of distributed work. Clear and concise communication between teams is important, but these applications also support the free sharing of data that is necessary to keep a distributed workforce informed and autonomous.

For example, during the early months of the pandemic, the senior management team at Culture Amp ran daily meetings, sharing crucial updates on a dedicated Slack channel. All employees had access to the data in this channel.

As time went on, leaders became more confident in their teams to set their own priorities and make informed decisions based on their interpretation of this data. A distributed workforce thrives when authority is distributed too. Having communication tools that support this will dramatically improve efficiency at all levels.

Automation & Integration

To enable all of that data to flow around the organization, a strong set of integrations is needed. Distributed workforces don’t have the luxury of passing information around an office, so integration between document control, CRMs and production platforms is needed instead.

Automating as many steps as possible will reduce the time that workers spend on admin and help nudge them towards maximum productivity. Zapier supports a dizzying number of integrations between hundreds of applications and has built-in automation features to help grease the wheels of a distributed workforce.

Workforce Management

Finally, flexibility is critical to allowing distributed workforces to remove friction and thrive. Organizations need to manage hotdesks and allow easy booking of meeting rooms, parking spaces, company vehicles, and other assets.

Investing in the right workforce management software is key to achieving the cost-efficiencies, productivity boosts, and automation-driven long-term cost savings associated with distributed workforces. Smartway2 is a leading provider of workforce management software and the go-to choice for modern, agile, and collaboration companies. 

Distributed Workforces are the future

The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that remote working alone is not sufficient for the next generation of businesses.

Less than 80% productivity is not going to cut it for much longer. Businesses need engaged, connected, and focused teams working effectively from various locations. Companies need to transition to the next evolutionary step; distributed workforces.

Smartway2 is a workplace scheduling system that helps enable peak performance from employees. Using Smartway2 is easy and can help to pave the way towards a “culture of innovation.”