What is a Distributed Work Environment?
By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
As the workplace continues to evolve, facilities managers and team leaders need to plan for a distributed workforce. They’ll need to support employees wherever and whenever they work in a way that’s conducive to team success. Now’s the time to consider the shift to a distributed work environment.
What is a distributed work environment? Also called a blended work model, a distributed work environment includes both on- and off-site employees, as well as various working schedules and interactions between teams. It’s a workplace modeling theory that bridges the physical and digital workplaces into a single concept that supports the entire workforce.
With the massive shift to remote work and the pre-COVID-19 rise in coworking, distributed work environments are rapidly becoming the new norm.
A look at the distributed workforce
For many businesses—even traditional enterprise companies—the concept of a distributed workforce is real. It looks different for every company because it’s a product of the work their employees do and how they do it. Here are a few common examples of distributed workers:
- Rogelio exclusively telecommutes from home
- Heather works in-house to take advantage of an agile workplace
- Kamila sometimes works from home, sometimes works in-house
- Jay, who travels, works from coffee shops, coworking spaces, and airports
- Luna doesn’t keep regular 9-5 hours; she works in chunks throughout the day
- Dimitri is a contractor who frequently collaborates remotely with the company
Now, imagine some or all of these examples working together. Heather and Kamila are both on the same marketing team. Jay, Luna, and Rogelio collaborate on product design. This is a distributed workforce in varying levels of complexity.
Companies that employ a distributed workforce need to overcome the logistical challenges of supporting and enabling groups who might not work at the same location, at the same time. They need a distributed work environment.
The physical element of distributed work
The physical element of a distributed work environment takes into consideration where every member of the team is. They’re not together, so how can you bring them together? What barriers and obstacles do you need to overcome to make the place where each employee is, the place they need it to be?
Employers of distributed teams have little control over where their employees work—be it at home, a coworking space, a coffee shop, the airport, or any one of an infinite number of formal and informal spaces. What they can control are in-house facilities and the physical technologies distributed teams use, including company-issued computers, smartphones, and wireless access cards. These types of technologies are tangible and bridge the gap between wherever your distributed employees are and how they collaborate with the rest of the team.
The digital architecture of distributed work
A distributed work environment is built atop a robust digital infrastructure. When the physical workplace becomes secondary, digital access forms the basis of how and where individuals and groups do their work. Kamila and Rogelio need video chat capabilities. Jay, Luna, and Dimitri need access to the same files to collaborate on them. Everyone needs access to a project management system to hold themselves accountable to the success of the team.
Given the many digital resources used by distributed teams, the business cloud becomes the distributed work environment. Everything is virtual, right at the fingertips of whoever needs it, wherever they are. Digital resources bridge all gaps—communication, collaboration, accountability, and agility.
A distributed work environment is anywhere and everywhere, so long as it affords access to every member of the team in the capacity they need it. In this way, it’s even more effective than even the most accommodating physical workspace—and it’s why more companies have embraced distributed teams.
Take a proactive approach to accommodate blended work
Everyone keeps talking about “the new norm” when it comes to work. It’s not remote work or workplace social distancing—these are only elements of a greater change. The new norm is a blended work environment, and it pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic. Technology, flexible work schedules, and changing social policies all play a role in the rise of a distributed workforce.
Companies that haven’t yet adopted a distributed work model may soon need to. It’s best to get ahead of the curve and consider what a distributed work environment looks like for you. Consider the physical barriers distributed teams face and the digital resources they need to overcome them, and build out a model for blended work that’s broadly supportive of every team member and their work habits.
Keep reading: 8 Apps for Remote Workers Productivity and Success