The Data You Need To Manage Your Distributed Workforce

by Angela Burkett on June 9, 2020

Many companies have been moving toward a more distributed workforce for years, but the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend.

A recent Gartner survey showed more than 40% of employees plan to continue working remotely at least part of the time for the foreseeable future.

To account for this shift, nearly 70% of corporate real estate leaders are considering reducing their real estate footprint. Instead of adding more office space, they’re adopting a more flexible approach to space, seating and possibly even work schedules.

Here’s a closer look at some examples of distributed work and the data you need to make it successful.

Defining The Distributed Workforce

A distributed workforce is one in which employees work from different geographic locations and potentially different time zones. That includes:

  • Employees who work at a home office on a full- or part-time basis
  • Employees of the same company who work at different regional or global offices
  • Employees who work together in coworking spaces where your company doesn’t have a physical office
  • Workplaces that use flexible space strategies, such as hot desking, desk hoteling or activity-based working
  • Independent contractors hired from different regions or countries to expand your company’s access to agile talent

More than a third of U.S. employees already participate in the gig economy for either their primary or secondary job.

Having a distributed workforce comes with many benefits. As more organizations struggle to attract top talent, this approach makes it easier to hire the best people, no matter where they are. Imagine your company is expanding into a new country. You need someone knowledgeable about business and employment law in that area to ensure you’re complying with all regulations. You might only need their help for the first six months, and then on an as-needed basis.

It’s much easier to hire a consultant who lives in the area than to find someone who is willing to relocate.

Distributed work is also more cost effective. You can hire team members for specific functions on a temporary basis without an extensive onboarding process. And you can lease more office space as needed, rather than committing to long-term leases each time you enter a new market.

What Every Distributed Workforce Needs

Distributed workforces can also come with drawbacks if they aren’t managed properly.

First, managing a distributed team presents unique challenges.

One in five remote employees reported feeling lonely and isolated in a recent Gallup report. And although plenty of remote employees report being more productive, a remote worker who feels isolated can become quietly disengaged. Without the day-to-day interactions that happen more naturally within an office, productivity and quality of work can suffer. Leaders need to take extra steps to engage remote workers and ensure they have a positive employee experience.

A distributed workforce also requires a more strategic approach to technology. To help keep employees connected, you need cloud-based software that enables them to easily communicate, share documents and collaborate on projects from anywhere.

And although video conferencing and other technology has made it much easier for employees to work remotely, they still need opportunities to connect in person.

The quality of virtual meetings is getting better, but it still doesn’t compare with the experience of sitting across the table from someone. We miss out on eye contact and other nonverbal cues. We also miss some of the casual conversation that happens more naturally when we’re spending the day working next to someone, instead of joining them on a video call with 10 other people.

“Screens are distancing,” said Thalia Wheatley, a professor of psychological and brain science at Dartmouth, in a recent Time Magazine article about remote work. “In face-to-face communication, you are sharing a moment in time and space with someone,” she says. “That is incredibly compelling for our ancient brains.”

That’s why every distributed workforce needs to consider how to create opportunities for employees to connect in person when possible.

That means offering distributed employees an easy way to sign in, find their colleagues, find their way around and reserve workspaces or rooms when they need them.

They also need to be able to request services, whether it’s fixing their laptop, having someone clean a conference room or ordering catering before a big meeting.

And they need to be able to receive important announcements that help them stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected wherever they are.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that 59% of corporate real estate leaders who responded to CBRE’s 2018 Americas Occupier Survey said they were planning to offer mobile apps to help employees navigate the office environment. That was long before the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the value of mobile apps for a distributed workforce has become even more evident.

The Data You Need To Manage Your Distributed Workforce

While employees in distributed work environments need flexible policies and technology to succeed, workplace leaders need better data to make informed decisions.

When you have distributed teams, you don’t always know how many people will be in the office from one day to the next. Unless you have assigned shifts with alternating “work from home” days, you might have a full office on Monday and a nearly empty one on Friday.

This makes it difficult enough just to plan for your daily needs, much less plan for the future. Fortunately, if you use our space management software, you have access to a plethora of planning data.

Using our Insights module, you can create reports that show:

  • Which spaces are occupied
  • How much square footage you have by division
  • Available capacity by floor and by room

You are able to create custom dashboards that show total headcounts and occupancy percentages by floor and by room.

Using our new safe distancing feature, you can also create updated floor plans and seating scenarios to increase the space between desks.

If you use sensors in your workplace, you’ll have access to even more accurate, real-time data.

You’ll be able to see:

  • True conference room utilization
  • Desk utilization
  • Average hourly space utilization
  • Peak utilization

This can help you ensure you have enough workspaces to meet your needs, especially if you’re moving to reservable seating. You might have different seating arrangements for employees depending on how often they come into the office.

For instance, if you have some employees who have a longer commute and only come into the office once or twice a week, you can create reservable workstations for them. Employees who come to the office more regularly may still need designated desks, even if they plan to share them with someone else. Rather than having 100 desks that are only used half the time, you might realize you only need 50 shared desks if employees are using them on alternating days.

Sensor data can also show you which spaces were actually used each day so you can adjust your cleaning schedule accordingly.

Having all this data at your fingertips can help you make adjustments day to day while also enabling you to forecast and plan for future needs.

Recent advances in technology, agile labor and an increase in flexible work have made it clear the future is heading toward a more distributed workforce.

The real question is, will you be ready for it?


Angela Burkett

As the Director of Product Engagement, Angela Burkett is dedicated to one thing: ensuring that every iOFFICE customer has a rewarding experience with the platform.

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