- A distributed workforce has employees located over many different locations. A distributed workforce or team is often a remote team, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Benefits of a distributed team include flexibility, productivity gains, cost savings, better access to talent, and scalability.
- Challenges that come with distributed team include communication problems, supervision difficulties and compliance difficulties.
- Any business interested in hiring a distributed team needs to think carefully about how they will overcome some of the challenges of doing so.
What is a distributed workforce?
A distributed workforce (also known as a ‘distributed team’) refers to a team of employees who work remotely or from different locations, rather than being ‘co-located’ physically in the same central office or headquarters.
While this is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘remote team’ or ‘virtual team’, they are actually slightly different concepts: A team can be distributed without being remote — for example, a company may have salespeople located all over the country who are not ‘remote’, but still make up a distributed team.
Pros and cons of a distributed workforce
What are the pros of distributed teams?
The potential benefits of having a distributed workforce in your company include:
- Enhanced flexibility for employees — a distributed workforce means that the company can be more flexible about job location, reducing the need for commuting and relocating. This makes employees happier, and can potentially help with employee retention.
- Increased talent pool size — a distributed workforce means a wider pool of talent, as employee sourcing is not reduced to just a few locations. This can be particularly beneficial when hiring in specialized fields.
- Cost savings — a distributed workforce has the potential to help organizations save on costs such as office space, equipment, and utilities. This could happen in a few ways: If employees work from home, this could be because there are reduced office rental costs; if employees work from co-working spaces, this will also often mean a reduced overhead.
- Productivity gains — distributed teams can work around the clock, with team members located in different time zones, meaning better responsiveness particularly when it comes to customer support.
- Scalability — distributed teams are more scalable as they can be expanded in accordance with business needs. A physically collocated workforce will have a (hefty) fixed cost for the office lease and utilities. This will be based on an estimated maximum number of employees. By contrast, with a distributed team working outside traditional offices, there is not the same inherent limit on team size.
What are the cons of distributed team?
While a distributed workforce comes with the acknowledged benefits, it also comes with its own set of downsides, such as:
- Lack of face-to-face interaction — distributed teams miss many of the benefits of in-person communication, including building trust, reading body language and nonverbal cues, and fostering a team culture. These are the same difficulties faced by companies trying to introduce a robust remote work culture.
- Communication problems — distributed teams may experience delays, misinterpretations, and lack of clarity, due to different timezones and work locations which would not happen if located in the same office.
- Supervision complications — managers may find it more difficult to monitor and manage distributed employees to ensure productivity.
- Technical difficulties — distributed teams may experience technical difficulties, such as poor internet connection or equipment failure, disrupting work output. While this can occur in any work setting, it can be easy to call in someone to fix it when all employees are working in the same office.
- Isolation and loneliness — being distributed all over the place may make some employees feel isolated and lonely, as they don’t have the incidental social interaction of a traditional office space.
- Compliance challenges — having a team distributed internationally means taking care of global compliance, this might be a lot more work than dealing with only local labor law and tax compliance issues.
What are the best ways to hire and manage a distributed workforce?
Hiring a distributed workforce means mitigating some of the challenges discussed here, including taking the following steps:
- Using online recruiting platforms, such as LinkedIn and Indeed, to attract the best candidates for a globally-distributed team.
- Focusing on the right skills and capabilities when recruiting, including the ability to work independently, and capability with the necessary equipment and technology.
- Investing in a robust employee onboarding process — make sure you onboard new workers with everything they need to adjust smoothly to the distributed office.
- Providing regular check-ins — by checking in regularly with your new distributed team, you can ensure that they are adapting well to the new environment and address any issues or concerns.
- Foster a sense of community among your new distributed team, by providing opportunities for team building, social interaction, and networking.
Distributed workforce — do it your way
Hiring a distributed workforce has its challenges, but by taking the right steps, organizations can attract, hire, and retain the best talent (whether globally, regionally or locally), while still avoiding the pitfalls of being ‘out of office’.
If you are interested in hiring a globally distributed team, it is worth considering whether a global Professional Employer Organization (global PEO) would be of any assistance. These are professional employment firms devoted to hiring and onboarding the best talent, no matter where in the world they are located. To read about the top companies in this industry, check out our list of leading global PEOs.
Often distributed teams work remotely. But they do not need to do so. For example, a company with multiple one-person offices all over the country could say it had a distributed team, even though those individuals did not work remotely.
They can do so. If the distributed team works remotely this may save a company on all the costs associated with running a physical office.