From “I HAVE to go to the office” to “I WANT to go to the office” - this is what the future of workplaces look like.
Distributed work is a model that refers to companies having one or more employees working in different physical locations such as on-site teams, remote employees who work from home, co-working spaces, public spaces, or even employees on the go. The distributed work model has been around for quite a while but found only a few adopters until after the advent of COVID-19. Spurred by the necessity imposed post pandemic and the shifting employee preferences after experiencing the prospects of working from home, businesses around the world today are voluntarily embracing distributed work programs. Today, even as the pandemic wave shows signs of receding, workplaces are beginning to implement a more contemporary version of distributed work as a preparation for future events.
But it’s certainly not an easy thing to implement. In order for a distributed work strategy to be effective, it must provide balanced support toward work, culture, and business goals, while making the workplace inherently more effective and efficient. Since there is no one formula that works for all, there cannot be a similar outcome for all companies. Many times, to get the right answers, you need to begin by asking the right questions. As such, you need to ask yourself a few whys, whats, whens, and hows before you proceed to transform your workplace into a coherent distributed workforce.
Do I really need a distributed work program?
This question is particularly important if you are looking at the distributed work program in light of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, it was crucial for organizations to understand the context for including distributed work in their workplace strategy. Ask yourself:
- • Why are we considering distributed work?
- • Will this benefit my organization financially?
- • What is our experience during the lockdown?
- • Will my organizational goals and culture be sustained by a distributed workforce?
- • Will my team & departments be able to complete projects on time?
- • Will there be effective communication between teams?
When you are sure to go ahead with the plan, you may start taking steps in the forward direction. Managing a distributed team may seem daunting at first, but with the right procedures and tools in place, you can have an effective and engaged team. Start by hiring trustworthy employees since you will not have the option of micromanaging all of them. Outline procedures and clear expectations early on so everyone knows what is expected of them.
What components need to be considered?
There are several components that need to be identified and integrated into a distributed work program including picking employees, assigning resources, and defining their work peripheries. A distributed work program cannot be implemented indiscriminately to all employees and needs to be well balanced. You need to ask:
- • Which employees are most suitable to participate in the program?
- • What are the parameters that define employee participation?
- • Will employees have access to alternate spaces outside the office?
- • Will they be provided with ‘work from home furniture’ by the office, or will they have to buy their own set?
- • What alternate seating arrangements can be used in the office to support distributed workers at times when they work from the office?
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Defining the components pertaining to your distributed work program
Once the process and its components are set, the specific operational processes, technologies, policies, and training required to support the program need to be finalized. This may include cleaning and safety protocols, program management, occupancy and utilization assessments, communication and feedback mechanisms, etc. It also includes managing virtual teams & team meetings, collaboration and knowledge sharing, communication technology, desk sharing, and access to multiple work location options, workspace location, integration with safety and cleaning protocols, occupancy, and resource utilization.
You need to take into account the fact that even though nearly everyone worked independently, without an actual office during the COVID pandemic, it doesn't imply that everyone can or wants to work that way in the longer term. Also, implementing a hybrid strategy such as say, 3 days of work from home per week - can also be disruptive to employee productivity. As such, you need to build a strong strategy planned with the help of experts and the participation of employees. This will give them more choice in deciding when and how getting their work done will be more effective. An ideal distributed work program will continue to support engagement, build trust between employees and their managers, and contribute to a positive workplace experience.