Advancements in technology have made it possible for the workplace to evolve and for companies to employ a workforce based in multiple locations, including their home. Telecommuting and flexible work arrangements, in particular, are on the rise.
According to a forecast by IDC, mobile workers will account for nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) of the total U.S. workforce by 2020.
A more dispersed workforce presents a number of challenges to companies, as having employees working from multiple locations can put stress on everything from collaboration to the flow of information. Here are four challenges of a dispersed workforce and also some opportunities for overcoming them:
When employees are not all located in the same office as company and team leaders, it may take longer for key messages to be delivered. Many employees may even struggle with knowing where to go to find important information. A Zogby Analytics survey of remote employees found that a lack of information from management and the timeliness of the information were named as the biggest obstacles to working remotely.
One way to support improved communication among members of a dispersed workforce is to actively use the company intranet so that employees recognize it as a reliable source of up-to-date information. Another useful communication tool is a live org chart that includes a searchable employee directory, which can also sync with calendar and contact platforms. With a live org chart, employees who need to reach out to a team member can easily find whom they’re looking for and can also see when that person is in the office and available.
Collaboration doesn’t have to happen face to face for it to be effective, but it can be difficult to encourage teamwork when people aren’t in the same location (or even time zone). While there’s a lot of value in face-to-face communication, modern technology makes it possible for teams to collaborate and engage in team activities, whether face to face or not. In addition to video tools like Skype and join.me, collaboration platforms like Slack can help teams share ideas and feedback on key projects from any location. Similarly, a live org chart that integrates seamlessly with your human resource information system (HRIS) is always up to date and can help keep people in the loop on changes that affect their team such as new employees or shifts in team accountabilities. Detailed profiles in the live org chart also open the door to helping individuals get to know one another better and learn about members of their team.
As companies grow and expand into new locations and markets, new leaders must be hired or promoted to manage the workforce. These new leaders must ensure the productivity of their teams while also staying tied into the overall company strategy. If these new leaders feel left out, they (and their teams) risk becoming disengaged. To overcome this challenge, it can be helpful to involve team and division leaders in strategic planning decisions that will impact their teams. One way to facilitate their involvement is by making them active participants in workforce planning discussions. They can view and comment on collaborative versions of the company org chart and get involved in key decisions around hiring, reorganization, or even the merger of two or more teams. When leaders feel involved in planning for their team, they may be more engaged overall.
Employees in remote locations often miss out on company parties, team lunches, and other culture-building activities. However, having a dispersed workforce doesn’t mean that company culture has to suffer. It’s possible to build a positive work culture by occasionally holding a team event off site that remote workers can attend or conducting virtual brainstorming sessions that give everyone a voice. In addition, since culture is often supported by tools that bring people together, it can be helpful to introduce technology that increases opportunities for individuals to connect with members of their team—for example, through an online game that helps people put names to faces.
It’s becoming more and more common to have a workforce based in locations other than headquarters. However, it is possible for remote employees to be both informed and included in all the important team activities that will help them be productive and engaged. A dispersed workforce doesn’t have to be a disconnected one. Modern technology has made it possible to communicate, collaborate, and lead from anywhere.