Distributed Workforce vs Remote Teams: Difference, Benefits, Tools

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What is a Distributed Workforce?

A distributed workforce consists of globally distributed employees working closely in a team. Unlike an all-remote crew, a distributed workforce can have both in-house and remote teams.

With remote work much favored by employees, distributed workforces are no longer “hot” trends. 

Even the most optimistic HR managers and thought leaders wouldn’t have predicted that distributed workforces would become real so soon.

However, the pandemic prolonged nationwide lockdowns, for which employers longed for a quick end. To survive, they had to improvise. 

With innovative tools to emulate office-like engagement and communication, staying connected became easier than expected. In 24 months, working remotely became a reality. 

The success of managing internal teams remotely gave confidence to employers to build distributed teams at a much larger scale.

Factors That Made Distribute Workforce A Reality

Several factors have contributed to the growth of distributed workforces. Over the past couple of years, virtual employees have exploded worldwide as employers sent their workers to work remotely. 

Let us look at the factors along with some distributed workforce statistics.

Multiple office locations

One of the major drivers that prompt employers to build a distributed team is owning offices in various locations. 

Companies that expand globally would like to establish local offices wherever they go. They tap into the regional talent and other resources such as suppliers and manufacturers in the region. Moreover, they can cut costs and get a more seamless experience than handling all these aspects from their main office.

Virtual employees that work from home

It takes only an employee-centric thought to shift to a remote working model. 

Some form of the “work from home” employment model will stay. Many professionals are now reconsidering their priorities about work, with work-life balance now playing a major role in employment decisions.

  • 54% of employees, according to an EY survey, would quit their current employer if another employer offered some form of work-life flexibility.
  • 84% of employees, as reported by Owllabs, believed that remote work would make them happier.
  • 75% of people believe that remote work will make them more productive due to fewer distractions.

These opinions are valid to a great extent.

Furthermore, virtual employees can avoid diversions like prolonged water cooler camaraderie and office politics.

An explosion of collaborative and global HR tools

The boom in collaborative tools has allowed employers to:

  • Take ownership of their tasks
  • Bridge the communication gap
  • Create consistency and accountability concerning schedules
  • Onboard employees remotely

Even several hiring solutions have grown absurdly fast in this remote world. For instance, Multiplier’s global Employer of Record solution has helped over 70 brands recruit employees from across the globe in 10 months.

Using our self-serving onboarding and employment solution, employers can send compliant employment contracts within minutes after hiring.

The inevitable boom in such innovative tools has fuelled the growth of a distributed workforce. Distributed workforce management has become more accessible owing to these tools.

Difference Between Distributed Workforce vs. Remote Work

Here are a few differences between a remote distributed workforce and a remote team.

Remote teams Distributed workforce
Definition Remote teams refer to teams working from remote locations A remote distributed workforce relates to groups that are present in different places. These teams need not work remotely but can work in-office from other locations
Contractual obligations All-remote teams do not have any contractual obligations to work from the office. Remotely distributed workforces will have contractual obligations to be present in-office but in different locations.
Physical spaces All-remote teams may not work from a physical place. Distributed workforces require physical spaces to work.
Tools All-remote teams need extensive tools to collaborate. A distributed workforce may not require onboarding tools as they can undergo onboarding in regional offices.

Simply put, all-remote teams are distributed workforces. However, all remote distributed workforces need not be fully remote teams.

Benefits of a Distributed Workforce

Here are the top benefits of having a distributed workforce:

  1. Affordable access to stalwart talent

As differentiated above, a distributed workforce is one where employees are present worldwide. 

Thus, you end up functioning and encouraging a company-wide culture where you think globally about recruiting and talent acquisition.

  1. Increased wellness

A distributed workforce, which is primarily remote, does not anguish over weather-related problems, traffic, and pandemics; a massive benefit of a distributed workforce over traditional teams.

For an American employee, working from home saves 40 minutes daily on the commute.

These advantages save costs and have a positive impact on health as well. 

  1. Lesser attrition

Reduced turnover and increased job satisfaction are two significant benefits of a distributed workforce. 

Companies with flexible work options can also keep employees happy for several years. They use it as a desirable perk that significantly increases their chances of retaining top talent for an extended period.

  1. More savings for the employee & employer

A report published by Global Workforce Analytics reveals that, if employees are allowed to work from home, then:

  • 31% of respondents were willing to take a pay cut of up to 5%
  • 26% were willing to take a pay cut of up to 5%, and 
  • 23% were willing to take a pay cut of over 10% (+15% from 2019).

By working remotely, people also believe that they can save money spent on commute, food, health, and more.

Employers, too, can reap the benefits of a distributed workforce. For instance, Google saved about $1 billion in 2020, courtesy of the national lockdowns. The average office space cost per employee is around $18,000 per year. Overall, companies can save on real estate costs, utility bills, and office furniture.  

Distributed Workforce Management Strategies

Distributed workforce management is different from managing traditional teams. On-site teams need fewer ways to monitor motivation, engagement, transparency. 

In contrast, distributed workforces require more attention concerning these very elements. 

Here are tried and tested strategies to manage distributed workforces.

Establish clear communication standards and tools

Managers face a considerable challenge balancing asynchronous and synchronous communication when managing distributed workforces.

Note: Asynchronous communication means things like emails, while synchronous communication includes video conferencing.

Both of these forms of communication are inevitable while managing virtual teams.

Thus, plan processes to help employees minimize back and forth emails and yet discharge information. 

Use virtual assistant tools to enable managers to streamline processes, help team members understand dependencies and send resources across teams.

Importantly, emphasize often how each task contributes to the overall success of the team and the organization. Adding such context makes employees feel included and increases participation.

Schedule check-ins

Check-ins need not be structured and stringent. Although a weekly meeting structured around an agenda would be helpful, frequent status update meetings are a no-no. 

According to the State of Remote Work report from Owl Labs, 80% agree or strongly agree that there should be one day a week with no meetings at all. More meetings would lead to micromanagement, which impacts employee morale.

Check-ins that encourage virtual camaraderie and prompt banter can keep the team highly engaged. You could also schedule check-ins individually and offer constructive feedback. 63% of Gen Z employees say they want to hear timely, constructive performance feedback throughout the year.

Strategize to improve transparency and accountability

Increasing transparency isn’t limited to giving more light on tasks, rewards, promotions. Similarly, accountability isn’t always about enforcing and meeting deadlines. 

For an employee of a distributed workforce, water-cooler conversations, business updates, community building do not come across easily.

Emulating these in a remote scenario can result in increased transparency.

Here are some ways to improve transparency:

  1. Increased timely and constructive feedback
  2. Updates on business plans and goals
  3. Informing employees about opportunities for growth
  4. Democratization of information
  5. Adopting agile methodology which creates more opportunities to deliver feedback 
  6. Flat hierarchies where information passes down with lesser filters
  7. Create more spaces where employees can feel heard, and their input is welcome

Treat employee engagement as a strategy

Many teams boost engagement by having team meetings via video chat and asking people to turn on their video cameras when possible.

Speaking to faces and recognizing body language is usually more powerful than just hearing a voice over the phone.

It encourages attendees to be present and focused on the meeting.

Check out our blog post on fun activities for virtual teams.

Bring your team together whenever possible

Nothing beats in-person camaraderie. Conversations flow naturally. Nuances in body language become apparent. Cake facials, birthday bumps, and the likes happen naturally.

Three out of five enterprise employees miss in-person interaction when working remotely.

Thus, even when working remotely, ensure the occasional but amicable huddle in a pub or a restaurant.

Distributed Workforce Tools

Tools to manage a distributed workforce number in the hundreds. Since the pandemic, remote work has increased by 160% in the USA alone. A distributed workforce tool stack must comprise four types of tools. 

Onboarding tools

A distributed workforce can have your talent acquisition team in your home country while employees live around the globe. In such cases, only a local few can be onboarded in-house. 

With a digital onboarding tool, you can onboard your talent from anywhere. 

A remote onboarding process is a relatively new topic. Read our article to understand the dos and don’ts of the process.

SaaS-based solutions like Multiplier can help you grow your global workforce. Our slew of global employment solutions allow you to onboard employees located anywhere worldwide. You can generate compliant employment contracts, manage distributed workforces and pay them in their local currency on a unified platform. 

Communication tools

A comprehensive communication strategy for your distributed workforce management will have a glaring gap if you do not have the proper communication and collaboration tools.

The lack of in-person communication does have its benefits. Employee performance is known to increase 13% when the staff works from home, with fewer distractions, and it’s easier to put in more hours of actual work. However, this does not mean that human communication is needless. 

To allow employees to flex their social intimacy muscles, include communication tools to eliminate employee isolation and boredom. Video conferencing tools, virtual assistant tools, virtual and hybrid event management apps can improve employee synergy.

Collaboration tools

When on-site, employees rarely work in silos. You can observe employees sharing beanie bags, working with laptops on their laps, working from the cafeteria. However, a distributed workforce may not have this liberty. 

Buffer reported that 19% of employees feel lonely while working remotely, and another 17% believe that remote work does not allow organic communication and collaboration with coworkers.

All teams need to collaborate and share camaraderie. They work best when they cultivate a sense of inclusion and collaborate organically.

Thus, when you recruit globally, you need to set tools to encourage collaboration.

These tools can improve employee productivity as these tools can pull and store streams of information and resources and streamline them in a single place.

They can also improve client/customer relationships. Collaboration tools allow clients to view the status of their work directly. If an account manager needs a specific file for their client, the former can simply download it from the tool instead of running from cabin to cabin to find the document’s owner.

The Future of Distributed Workforces

Nothing can stop virtual collaboration from becoming more mainstream. 1 in 2 people won't return to jobs that offer remote work. With employee preferences shifting towards the remote way, setting up a distributed workforce will become an employer’s must-do in their workforce management.

Employers should also remember that as you make this shift, you need to do more to keep teams engaged. Employers must make communicating concisely and employee engagement a priority.

Hiring and onboarding using Multiplier ensures you hire remote talent with locally compliant, fool-proof job contracts, offer emphatic benefits and disburse salaries accurately with absolutely nil errors in payrolls.

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