The pandemic changed the landscape of the world of work, shifting out of the office and into the home. Distributed workforces, remote workplaces, and even hybrid offices are becoming the new normal. In 2022, 16% of companies worldwide are now 100% remote. In fact, a recent study found that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2023. Though 97.6% of remote workers would like to continue working remotely for the rest of their careers, there are still many challenges they face.
Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work surveyed 2,000 remote workers globally and found only 31% of remote employees surveyed reported no struggles. 25% struggled to unplug, 21% struggled to work across time zones, 17% had difficulties with collaboration and communication, and a whopping 52% felt less connected to their coworkers than when they worked in-office.
A Statista report surveyed about 2,100 remote workers globally and found that 24% struggled with loneliness, up from 16% in 2021.
What the reports agree on is that remote employees, whether contingent workforce or permanent employees, struggle to stay connected and collaborate with their coworkers.
It’s Not Just Physical Distance
Though physical distance certainly plays a role in communication and collaboration issues, remote employees and distributed workforces are not just struggling with physical distance. They are also struggling with operational distance and affinity distance.
Operational distance refers to the processes and procedures that can help or prevent teams from collaborating. There are communication issues, workload issues, and a lack of tech support to contend with. Technology is a common way to bridge the gap as are communication protocols, daily check-ins, and great project management.
Operational distance struggles can often be handled with good remote workforce and contingent workforce management.
Affinity distance refers to the connection between teammates and coworkers. Remember, Buffer found that 52% felt less connected to their coworkers—that’s affinity distance. This distance is certainly easier to close the gap when working fully in-office or in a hybrid office environment. But, there are also plenty of ways available for distributed workforces, both permanent hires, and contingent labor, to get that connection through the internet.
Remote Collaboration is Key
A remote workplace tends to increase productivity, don’t let lack of motivation and feelings of disconnection damage that. Well-established remote collaboration allows for seamless engagement across distances and time zones.
It promotes more than collaboration. Teams will work better together, feel more camaraderie, and feel more supported. It can eliminate many of the communication barriers and even increase remote engagement.
If you’ve shifted towards a distributed workforce or remote workplace, or even a hybrid office, you need to shift your focus toward remote collaboration. Your remote employees will find more success in their positions and more motivation to stay if you do.
Reduce Affinity Distance
Affinity distance is by far the biggest issue for remote employees and contingent workforces. While it may not seem like the most important thing to tackle, with more than half of those surveyed citing a lack of connection, it should still be top of mind. Affinity distance can decrease engagement, decrease morale and motivation, and increase employee dissatisfaction.
Reduce the difference by:
- Hosting virtual team building activities
- Encouraging active participation
- Using video conferencing often
Set Communication Protocols
Another struggle for remote workplaces is communication. Distributed workforces are likely working across time zones and contingent workforces will not have the same working hours. Setting communication protocols and adhering to them is an important part of remote and contingent workforce management.
- Set acceptable communication hours
- Set expectations for response time
- Create a set of rules and regulations regarding the different forms of communication
Utilize Multiple Channels of Communication
Collaboration relies on communication. For your remote workforce to properly collaborate, you will need to ensure that they can communicate effectively. This often means utilizing multiple channels. Email is the most common form of communication, but distributed workforces often use chat platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat. Phone and text messaging may be an option for your team as well.
Make Data Accessible
Your distributed workforce may not be working in the same time zone or keeping the same hours, so it is extremely important that they have access to all the data and documentation they need to complete their work. There are plenty of options like Dropbox, Google Drive, Sharepoint, or some other cloud-based drive to make this easier for your remote employees and contingent labor. These can be gated with access going to only those who need it.
Another important piece of this is providing support and documentation for different procedures, policies, and other items the workers may need to complete their work autonomously.
Promote Remote Employee Success
Setting your workers up for success with remote work is not as difficult as it may seem. There are several steps you can take to ease the burden on remote and contingent workers that will boost productivity, engagement, and collaboration.
- Don’t micromanage
- Limit meetings and ensure they are productive
- Promote feedback
- Encourage dedicated workspaces to limit distractions
- Celebrate achievements
- Dedicate time and resources to effective project management
Distributed workforces open up the talent pool and allow organizations to choose the best candidate for the role. Remote, flexible work can increase employee retention as well as overall employee satisfaction—when it’s done right.
Distributed and contingent workforces are growing in numbers with many employees preferring remote workplaces over the traditional office. If you’re taking advantage of the many benefits of distributed and contingent workforces, you may consider outsourcing some of the more difficult aspects of remote and contingent workforce management with an AOR or EOR service provider.