How To Manage a Successful Distributed Workforce

Lisa Ardill

Content Editor at Workvivo

1 Aug 2023

A distributed workforce has the potential to benefit your organization in several ways. Ideally, you’ll enjoy increased access to top-tier talent and fresh perspectives, helping your business grow. But too often, distributed teams experience the kind of communication breakdowns that can play a major role in hurting their brand. What’s the best workforce management solution?

Here, you’ll learn how to navigate the potholes and smooth out your process, communicating better than ever with a team that’s spread around the globe. Take a look at what you need to know.

What is a distributed workforce?

A distributed workforce is spread geographically over a wide area (this could be domestic or international). If you have one or more employees who work in a different location than the rest of your company, this is considered a distributed workforce. You’re geographically dispersed, and not all team members are bound to a single physical office space.

Distributed workforce vs. remote workforce

It might seem like a distributed workforce and a remote workforce are the same thing. But in actuality, these two work models hold several differences.

The biggest difference between a distributed workforce and a remote workforce is that remote work is based on an individual employee – someone who works from home instead of in the office. Distributed work, however, is based on an entire organization. It’s not limited to one office.

Often, companies with a distributed workforce are more committed to providing the resources and support their workers need to thrive. This is a good thing! When your team is spread across the country or even the world, it can take some extra dedication to make sure everyone is set up for success. 

Benefits of having a distributed workforce

There are many benefits your company can enjoy by having a distributed workforce. You’ll be able to reach broader markets, diverse perspectives, and more talent, to name a few. Here’s why this is so valuable. 

Increased access to talent

Having a distributed workforce allows you to access a talent pool that you might not otherwise have been able to reach. If you require all of your employees to come into a central office (or to work from home in close proximity to that office), you are limited to people who live in that geographic area. 

But when your workforce is dispersed across the country or even globally, you’re free to hire anyone who seems like a good fit, no matter where they live. This lets you access top-tier talent for your brand.

Diverse perspectives and collaboration

The next benefit of a distributed workforce is the ability to access diverse perspectives and improve collaboration. Employees from different places, cultures, and backgrounds will bring fresh perspectives to the table. You’ll notice that creativity and innovation skyrocket by having a diverse team! These people will bring new ideas and unique approaches to benefit the entire organization. 

Expanded market reach

Finally, a distributed workforce can expand your market reach. When your team is fully distributed, it’s easier for you to reach more audiences. And you’ll be able to scale more quickly, too. 

Challenges of a distributed workforce

It’s true that a distributed workforce can hold many benefits. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Here are some of the top challenges you might face.

Communication breakdowns

A distributed workforce doesn’t get the chance to talk in person very often. And when you’re trying to coordinate projects across time zones and cultures, it’s all too easy for communication to break down. You might experience miscommunications, a lack of ample communication, or even over-communication, where people try to overcompensate and end up constantly distracted by message notifications. 

Team cohesion and culture

Maintaining good team cohesion, engagement, and culture can be challenging when your workforce is distributed. Culture is built on your team’s small daily interactions with each other. For a remote or distributed team, managers need to go above and beyond if they’re committed to building culture, which isn’t something that everyone is willing to do.

Managing performance and accountability

If your team members are working from their home offices or local coffee shops, you can’t pop over to check in to ensure everything is moving along as it should. This can let obstacles and blockers to  productivity build up instead of nipping them in the bud. 

Trust and autonomy

Despite its benefits, we’ve already seen that having a distributed workforce can potentially affect your team’s communication and culture. This can easily translate to issues with trust, too. For example, it might be hard for managers to trust that employees are actually getting their work done, or for employees to feel trust in superiors whom they’ve never met face-to-face.

How to manage a successful distributed workforce

What’s the answer to these dilemmas? With the right tools, the right mindset, and the right approach, you can create a work environment that’s ideal for even a distributed team – ensuring you reap the benefits of a distributed workforce, not the cons. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Use the right tools to keep employees connected

Digital tools are a great way to help remote employees stay connected with their colleagues as they work on projects together. Today, you have many options for a social intranet, knowledge base, instant messaging, and so much more.

For easy adoption, choose a platform like Workvivo that combines all of these tools into one. Workvivo’s capabilities span employee experience, communication, engagement, and more – providing the features you need to centralize knowledge, culture, and collaboration in one place. 

Request a demo to learn how Workvivo can bring your distributed workforce together. 

2. Establish a cadence for communication

Remember how communication can be an issue with distributed teams – either under-communication or over-communication? Don’t let that happen to you. Set expectations for the right communication frequency for your team so everyone knows when (and how much) to communicate. 

How often will you have face-to-face, real-time team meetings? Send Slack messages? Send emails? The answer might vary between teams or departments. Regardless, setting these expectations helps everybody communicate better.

3. Don’t micromanage

Resist the urge to micromanage. In workplaces where micromanagement is at play, employees may find themselves irritated and burned out with no work-life balance. They may not be engaged with their work. And your turnover rate will likely be higher, too.

Instead, work to foster trust and accountability among managers and their teams. Encourage them to be more hands-off with their leadership style, trusting that employees can competently do the job they were hired for. This doesn’t mean managers never provide any guidance – they’ll still help their teams along. The idea is simply to focus on more big-picture goals rather than controlling every aspect of employees’ day-to-day work. 

4. Provide regular training and education opportunities

Workplace development is an important focus for any company. By providing employees with learning opportunities, you’ll see their engagement and productivity rise. And not only does regular training help your current employees, but it attracts new talent to your company, too.

When your workforce is distributed, you may need to get a little more creative beyond the usual Lunch & Learns. Try holding Zoom trivia or Jeopardy events to help everyone gain clarity on the details of a new company policy. Or offer stipends that employees can use on their own to complete self-paced trainings or courses that would be beneficial to them.

5. Recognize and reward individuals and teams for their hard work

Employee recognition is a huge way to help remote team members feel valued. When people know their hard work is appreciated, they’ll be more willing to dive in – engaging at work and doing a better, faster job of getting their tasks done.

Employee recognition doesn’t have to be complex. Simply give an employee a public shout-out on social media or in front of others (for example, in a video conference), and encourage other leadership members to do the same.

6. Collect feedback often and continuously improve

The best way to improve employee engagement and experience is to simply listen to your employees. Send out a pulse survey to see how people are feeling about communication, processes, and other aspects of the workplace. 

Once you’ve received feedback (and followed up for clarification if necessary), implement it! Steady, small changes will add up to create a better work environment for all. Plus, you’re creating a stronger culture and increasing your chances of good employee retention.

Empower effective communication in your distributed workforce with Workvivo

If your organization uses a distributed workforce model, communication can be difficult. You might experience communication breakdowns, a lack of trust, or a weak company culture. Thankfully, with the right communication tools and plenty of dedication to team building, you can fix these issues.

Use Workvivo to empower and connect your distributed team. Through features for video conferencing, an activity feed, a document hub, and much more, you can cater to your remote workers and provide the support they need to do their work. 

Get started with a demo to see how Workvivo can help improve your communication today!