10 Steps to Effectively Managing a Distributed Workforce

10 Steps to Effectively Managing a Distributed Workforce

Since the pandemic, the uptake of remote work has made its way into almost every industry across the globe. Providing freelancers with the ultimate freedom while giving employers access to the largest talent pool imaginable, it sure looks like remote work is here to stay.


The latest stats back this up, too, with the number of remote workers booming from 20% in 2020 to 28% by 2023, and by 2030 the number of global digital jobs is predicted to rise by 25% to around 92 million roles. 


To reach the widest talent and customer base, increasing numbers of companies around the world are employing a distributed team management approach. But what exactly is a distributed workforce? And how does it benefit businesses, employees, and customers alike? Here’s a definitive guide on distributed workforces, along with ten steps to effectively manage your own distributed workforce.




What is a distributed workforce?


Quite simply, distributed means shared or spread out. In relation to the employment sector, a distributed workforce is a team located in multiple locations. Distributed workforces utilize a range of distributed management tools to propel the whole team towards the same goal.


Clear, concise lines of communication hold the key to maintaining an effective distributed workforce, which is why savvy businesses are adapting their HR strategies in line with this need. 


HR software is a vital tool used in many recruitment strategies to attract and retain top talent, but more employers are asking what is HCM? HCM technology can enhance retention efforts in a variety of ways, so it's worth looking into. More on distributed management tools later.



What is the difference between remote and distributed workforce?


Although similar and both valuable elements of an agile working strategy, the main difference between a remote and distributed workforce is that remote workers typically have a central office but choose to work from home. A distributed workforce doesn't need a central office to operate and thrive.



Typical examples of distributed teams include customer service reps located in different time zones, and international marketing teams that work with contractors and freelancers. Entirely virtual, distributed workforces are known to offer greater flexibility for workers and hiring managers alike.



What are the advantages of distributed teams?


No matter whether you're an employer or a worker, there are many reasons to invest in trusted distributed workforce techniques. Flexibility and mutual respect are the cornerstones of attracting and retaining today's workforce. Implementing a distributed workforce goes one step further in meeting these needs.


These are some of the main benefits of distributed teams:

  • Access to a large talent pool and niche skills

  • Geographical flexibility

  • 24/7 operations

  • Better employee retention

  • Considerable cost savings

  • No commuting stress

  • Better work-life balance

  • Enhanced workforce productivity and motivation

  • Increased worker satisfaction and morale

  • Boosted business continuity

  • Diverse company culture

  • Dedication to innovation

  • Better scaling possibilities

  • Smoother expansion into diverse markets.


Distributed workforces benefit customers, too. Easily reaching clients in multiple locations at almost any time of day, the distributed workforce model can open your business up to endless sales possibilities.



10 Steps to Effectively Managing a Distributed Workforce


1. Fine-tune the onboarding process


It's essential that all new starters feel welcomed, informed, and prepared to carry out their role effectively. But it shouldn't end there. New employees need to understand your company culture and form lasting bonds with their team and managers, too.


An effective distributed workforce onboarding checklist should include:


  • A comprehensive onboarding plan tailored to distributed teams, including achievements, activities, and resources.

  • Relevant documentation, training materials, and resources to get started remotely.

  • Access to necessary equipment, project management platforms, communication tools, shared drives, etc.

  • A personalized welcome message and virtual introductions with key team members.

  • Access to policies, procedures, and culture with virtual orientation and training sessions.

  • Further guidance and a dedicated support network that includes onboarding new employees onto a cross-generational mentoring program.

  • Clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations right from the beginning.

  • Asking for feedback from new team members to understand what worked well and any areas for improvement.

  • Recognize and acknowledge milestones and contributions for new team members, e.g. completing training courses, delivering their first project, etc.


2. Define clear goals and expectations


An integral part of the onboarding process, cementing clear goals and expectations for each team member, as well as each project, will make sure everyone understands their responsibilities and targets, no matter where they’re located.


Here are three essential steps to define these goals:


  • Understand your workforce's objectives, e.g., financial targets, product development, and customer satisfaction metrics.

  • Align your goals with the wider objectives of the business.

  • Make your goals specific – vagueness only leads to unrealistic expectations and confusion.



3. Prioritize communication and collaboration


As there isn't a physical office, communication can be challenging with a distributed workforce. Without the right structure, typical challenges include misunderstandings, delayed responses, reduced team cohesion, and even social isolation. But, with the right communication structure in place, remote communication and collaboration shouldn’t be any less effective than face-to-face interactions.


An effective communication strategy for distributed workforces should include:


  • Extensive detail about each task, rule, or responsibility.

  • Use repetition in meetings to get your point across.

  • Utilize multiple communication and collaborative project management tools, e.g. Slack, Asana, Skype, etc.

  • Plan in-person meetings, where possible. 

  • Avoid 'Zoom fatigue' by encouraging employees to fully focus on video meetings and refrain from catching up on emails or work during the meeting.



4. Create clear boundaries


Whether it’s working from home, hybrid work, or in the office, improving work-life balance is one of the top reasons for changing jobs. This is why respecting downtime and boundaries with a distributed workforce is absolutely essential.


Setting rules that cover how communication occurs will help retain the best talent and reduce frustration and the dreaded burnout. Putting clear communication protocols in place also helps handle and solve urgent issues as quickly as possible.



5. Encourage inclusion, engagement, and feedback


Flexible work policies, training on diversity awareness, and implementing regular feedback and engagement surveys all play their part in maintaining an inclusive and engaging environment and empowering distributed teams.


Here are some strategies to seamlessly integrate these elements within your distributed workforce:


  • Promote Open Communication Channels, e.g., video conferencing, instant messaging, and emails.

  • Organize regular one-to-one meetings and team check-ins.

  • Create virtual water cooler moments, e.g., chat rooms and virtual happy hours.

  • Use active listening skills to promote inclusivity.

  • Provide training and resources, e.g., training on remote best practices.

  • Encourage feedback on processes, projects, and team dynamics.

  • Lead by example. Remember, in a world full of words and promises, behavior is the greatest language of all.

  • Offer flexibility in work schedules, e.g., flexible hours and supporting carers.

  • Regularly measure your distributed workforce's engagement and satisfaction levels.


6. Trust your employees


There is no room for micromanagement in a distributed workforce – it simply doesn’t work. If anything, it works against any efforts made and takes you two steps back rather than two steps forward.


You’ve entrusted your employee to carry out a specific role. Micromanagement will only create frustration and resentment – the perfect recipe for a toxic environment, even if you’re not in the same location!


Start thinking about what’s best for your workforce, rather than what’s best for your ego, and trust in your team to get the job done. If they don’t, you can address it in their next performance review.



7. Use collaborative distributed workforce tools and technologies


Tools that enable collaborative work online are the lifeblood of an effective distributed workforce.


Examples of vital collaborative tools and technologies for modern distributed workforces include:


  • Cloud security technologies, e.g. encryption, identity and access management (IAM), legal compliance.

  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) keep distributed team communications secure through public internet connections.

  • Enterprise HR management is another popular tech solution for large distributed workforces that require flexible payroll and HR software options.



8. Promote team building and bonding


Team building builds trust, reduces conflict, improves performance, and boosts morale. Encouraging opportunities for remote teams to connect and build relationships beyond work will greatly strengthen team bonds.


Social events, informal gatherings, and virtual group activities, such as virtual group fitness classes, movie nights, and escape rooms, are all fun ways to bring your distributed workforce together, no matter where they are!



9. Give credit where credit’s due 


Where would you be without your team? Celebrating good results and recognizing the wins of individual team members is the key to reinforcing positive behaviors and performance amongst your team. 


Increasing productivity and morale, remote workers are motivated to maintain high levels of productivity. This, in turn, creates a sense of momentum that inspires continued wins and professional progress.


10. Implement a smooth offboarding process 


As everything is conducted online, reducing security risks and data leaks is vital when distributed workers decide to move on. Therefore, offboarding procedures for distributed employees should be thorough, organized, and respectful.


Ways to streamline offboarding processes for remote workers include:


  • Communicating the departure immediately with those directly affected.

  • Asset tracking software can quickly identify equipment that needs to be recovered.

  • Industry-standard data wiping procedures.

  • A knowledge transfer plan to minimize downtime during their notice period.

  • An exit interview to understand why they're leaving and any improvements that can be made.

  • A positive goodbye that thanks them for their contributions and wishes them luck for the future.

Leaving on a positive note also leaves the door open for employees to be rehired at a later date. Helping to save money on recruiting and training, 'boomerang employees' are particularly important as they help fill skills gaps and tend to be more loyal than those who didn’t leave too.


Conclusion - Communication works for those who work at it


The main takeaway here? A distributed workforce is only as strong as the communication tools and strategies supporting it. So, it's essential to get your communication protocols and expectations right from the outset.


Prioritize collaboration, clear boundaries, and team bonding alongside the latest distributed workforce tech, and watch your remote team (and your profits) flourish.