One of the surprising things to emerge from the pandemic lockdown is the ability of people
to work from home so effectively. Millions of employees had probably spent much of their
working life in the office and couldn’t have imagined being able to work from home as well
as they have done.
It’s gone so well that major enterprises such as Twitter have said that employees can work
from home permanently if they so wish. Furthermore, several surveys of employees in
different countries have revealed that many workers would like to continue working from
home when we return to normality.
For major enterprises that are paying exorbitant fees for city-center office space around the
world, this may act as a wake-up call to a different way of working. For any organization
considering moving to a fully distributed workforce, how should they best approach do so?
Why distributed workforces are more effective
There is no real reason why most major enterprises couldn’t switch to a fully distributed
workforce if they so desired. It is only is fear of the unknown and attachment to the familiar that is holding them back.
There is a perception that working from home is for freelancers and not as suitable for
larger businesses, but that’s not the case. WordPress VIP is the world’s most widely used
enterprise content platform, working with organizations such as UEFA, Facebook, and USA
Today, to name just a few. Our parent company Automattic employs 1,200 people and has
never had an office, believing that a fully distributed workforce is more effective on many
Successful home working is all about the smarter motivation of people. A key part of this is
autonomy, meeting the desire for people to be self-directed and have control over
themselves and the environment around them. By shaping that environment to suit their
personal preferences, instead of the lowest common denominator of their colleagues for
eight hours a day, the impact on creativity and performance is huge. This, in turn, delivers
back to the enterprise benefits such as these:
Increased productivity – you evaluate people’s work on what they produce, not how or
when they produce it. Many enterprises remain fixated on the 9-5 working day, an outdated concept that isn’t as relevant to modern working.
Deeper trust – this is the glue that holds most enterprises together. But how trusting is it to have a supervisor checking in on an employee throughout the day? Treating employees as adults and trusting them to get work done is much more effective in improving results and outputs.
An empowered workforce – because people are free to contribute in the ways and times
that are most appropriate to them, i.e., not just the loudest voice in the meeting, the
company benefits from more deliberate decision-making and a more empowered
Access to the global talent pool – basing recruitment decisions on whether someone lives close enough to an office to commute to it, is counter-productive. A distributed workforce model means an enterprise can tap into the global talent pool, 99% of the world’s population, and skills that would otherwise be missed.
Improved employee retention – because the enterprise has created such an empowering and effective model, employee retention goes up. People are invested in the company, and the opportunities it has afforded them, and they see much less reason to leave.
Getting started with distributed working
For any enterprise keen to embrace distributed working, the hardest part is taking that
initial leap. But with most organizations already practicing home working during the
lockdown, that barrier is removed. The technology needed to facilitate home working is
straightforward, but it’s important to ensure that each employee has what they need to
work, communicate, and collaborate effectively.
For distributed work to really scale up, though, it needs senior teams to pave the way.
Picking a day or two of the week in which everyone works from home is a good starting
point, then building the tools and systems to support it. Enterprises will be surprised how
quickly it will work and from there can expand and tailor their efforts as appropriate.
There is no real reason why enterprises cannot move to a fully distributed workforce model.
We have always worked in this way, and I honestly believe that it’s more productive,
effective, and rewarding and is a key element of the future of work.