Creating a distributed workforce
The way we work is changing rapidly. The honeymoon period of 'remote working' is over, with individuals and organisations starting to consider what the future of the office will look like.
We have worked with several organisations on this journey and collected a few thoughts along the way to help businesses make the transition.
Old terminology to describe a new solution
Dividing colleagues can lead to problems with culture and collaboration. Think consciously about the messages sent to colleagues and try to provide an inclusive solution for all.
The phrase 'remote workers' implies that there are individuals central to the organisation, and there are those that are not.
A 'distributed workforce' paints a picture where everyone is treated equally.
Consider the transition like any other change project. Pay attention to the messages and tone.
It is easy to make decisions in person; you gain a consensus and move forward. This approach can alienate those not included in the conversation.
Leave a record of work, conversations, and decisions, making it easier for the wider team to pick up on themes and helping new starters to get up to speed.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Develop ways to share news and decisions quickly with everyone, wherever they may be. This may mean establishing an online message board using slack or yammer or holding regular briefings.
The messages don't always need to be formal; updates to introduce new colleagues, share personal achievements, or garner broader opinions on projects can contribute to a good team atmosphere.
One of the most significant areas of concern for agile workers is isolation; keeping information channels open helps share messages and create an open culture.
Find the right tools, and don't be afraid of trial and error.
There are hundreds of systems that support distributed working. This can lead to decision blindness. Most of the tools can be integrated into existing software and altered to the needs of your business. Don't be afraid to take a chance and ask for feedback from the colleagues who are using it.
There is no perfect answer, and experimentation will help your business decide what it needs.
Create productive face to face time
Although we are becoming increasingly comfortable with screen time, the message we hear time and time again is there is no replacement for face to face. We agree, but it is even more critical to ensure that face-to-face time is productive.
Create regular events to share key messages and build relationships. Perhaps a quarterly meet up with 50% of the time dedicated to business and the other 50% to networking. The key outcome will be to make sure people leave with the same message and new connections to help them with their work.
Give people flexibility
Agile working allows people to create their ideal work environment; the individual's temperature, light levels, and noise levels can now all be tuned.
The way we work has also changed. Teams may work around childcare, lie in on Mondays or work long days on Thursdays. People want flexibility and will search for it elsewhere if not provided.
Try to find a way to measure outputs rather than presenteeism. 100% productivity is an unobtainable target, whether in or out of the office. Try to make targets realistic and built-in a collaboration with your teams.
It is also essential to challenge a lack of productivity and demonstrate consistency as if you were in the office. If people are working flexibly, make sure this is shared, so they are not concerned when they cannot get a response during 'office' hours.
Reinvest overhead savings
To show how efficiencies from agile working have been reinvested back into the business is a compelling message - Share the success stories.
Some businesses provide 'home set up' allowances to help colleagues tailor their workspace to suit them. Invest in your people by allowing them to decide on their new workstations.
We have seen examples of companies who provide a monthly 'stipend' to colleagues to support working from home.
Whether it's to buy a cup of coffee, so they aren't asked to leave a coffee shop or examples of colleagues pooling their 'stipend' to rent a small space in a picturesque location, giving people the ability to influence what suits them.
There will always be reasons why organisations cannot change; it is easy to be risk-averse with any change project.
We believe that the most innovative companies will have a distributed workforce over the next ten years. If businesses don't adapt, the risk of losing talent increases, the effectiveness of recruitment is reduced, and the pool of potential employees will be smaller.