A businessman sitting at a desk working at his computer, situated in an out door environment with a mountainous background - Officeless workplace concept
PHOTO: Shutterstock

The rise of the digital workplace is well documented, with intranets and internal communication platforms connecting employees like never before. But the digital workplace revolution hasn’t stopped there. 

There’s been a trend in recent years toward fully remote or distributed workforces, with companies such as Automattic and Digital Workplace Group growing without offices. According to a recent survey, about 16% of global companies are now fully remote, and nearly half of employees worldwide work from home at least once per week.

Remote work and distributed workforces, therefore, seem like trends that are here to stay. So we asked remote work experts why distributed workforces are becoming more popular and what challenges they face.

Distributed Workforces Are Becoming Commonplace

Here we look at the major benefits that are contributing to distributed workforce growth/popularity.

Lower Overhead Costs

“First of all,” stated Jake Rheude, VP of marketing at Red Stag Fulfillment, “cost savings is the motivating factor behind many decisions that a company must make.” With a distributed workforce, much of the overhead expenses like office space, cleaners, supplies and more are virtually eliminated. Add to that, employees won't have to deal with dry cleaning expenses for daily business attire and will no longer have to deal with the high cost of commuting.

Better Availability of Talent 

It can be challenging to find the right talent, especially for companies that are located in an area that’s not easy for workers to commute to. “But with remote employees it is easy to come across self-driven and talented employees that’ll help you meet your objectives,” said Sameer Bhatia, CEO & Founder of ProProfs. He said they’re also more likely to bring a fresh perspective and can become a key asset to an organization.

Greater Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is essential as well. “Most employees really appreciate not having to commute and being able to work from wherever they want,” said Ilya Brotzky, CEO of VanHack. With Slack, Skype and other communication tools, employees can live and travel wherever they want and still remain connected and available. This flexibility means there’s a reduced risk of workers getting burned out, and in turn, leads to higher employee retention.

Improved Employee Morale

Avoiding the daily commute and the freedom of where to live are huge morale boosters. “You can't pay someone to be happy,” stated Rheude, “but you can give them the freedom to find where that happy place is.” And happy employees are often more passionate about their work and the company they work for. That means they’ll be more productive and more willing to go the extra mile to achieve the company’s mission.

Related Articles:  How to Improve Support for Remote Workers

The Challenges With a Distributed Workforce

While distributed workforces have many advantages, experts were quick to add that there are still some significant challenges as well.

Managing Time Zone Differences

“To run a large workforce remotely you must have a strong emphasis on instant communication, business objectives, processes, rigorous scheduling and collaboration apps like Asana, Trello or spreadsheets to make sure everyone is doing what they need to do,” said Brotzky.

Rheude agrees that managing a distributed workforce can be challenging. “The hardest part about managing remote teams, at least in my case,” said Rheude, “is that we have some serious time zone differences.” Differences in time zones can make scheduling team meetings more difficult, but it also offers the opportunity to have better coverage for companies that have clients worldwide.

Maintaining Strong Company Culture

It can be difficult for companies with a distributed workforce to maintain a strong business culture as the company grows, said Brotzky. It becomes much more challenging for employees to form deeper relationships with each other than if they were working in the same office each day. There are no birthday celebrations, company holiday parties, or weekly happy hours for colleagues to become friends. And this can have an impact on teamwork.

“Collaboration is essential to the success of an organization,” Bhatia said. Distributed teams may lack coordination and collaboration because they’ve never met in person or don’t have similar working hours. These factors are critical for building a unified company culture, and without this, productivity could suffer. That’s why many remote companies use annual or quarterly in-person meetups to encourage team-building and better collaboration.

Related Article: Remote Control: Keys to Developing a Successful Remote Work Policy

Is the Future Really Officeless? 

Rheude seems to think so. “At the end of the day,” he explained, “I respect the autonomy of our remote workers to do what they do. As long as they’re professional when it comes to the work we pay them for, it’s none of my business whether they decide to work from home.” He understands the value of flexibility and believes it has been working for his teams.

Brotzky, however, doesn’t believe every company should be remote. “It’s likely that more and more companies will continue to go officeless, but it will still “make sense for some companies to keep a central physical location,” said Brotzky. Distributed workforces will continue to grow, but perhaps the future isn’t officeless after all.