Your Guide on How to Manage and Engage a Distributed Workforce

Follow these actionable steps to manage and engage a distributed workforce model to enhance business success.

The modern workplace is undergoing rapid evolution. This is applicable to the way of work for frontline workers as well, whose day to day work life is changing. The outcomes of this shift are positive for employees and employers alike. Employees are enjoying flexible working hours and reduced travel time and expenses. Research confirms that 73% of American employees now prioritize the resulting work-life balance over paychecks. It’s a win for organizations, too, as employee performance is also improving. Studies show that 55% of employees were “high performers” when allowed to work outside office premises.

If you’ve got a distributed workforce in place or have been considering embracing it for these benefits you must know how to engage your workforce to get the best output. Knowledge about common challenges and their remedies will help you proactively address what’s necessary to prime your organization for success. In this blog, we evaluate the intricacies of a distributed workforce and suggest actionable ways for your organization to engage and manage workers. 

What is a distributed workforce: a definition

A distributed workforce is an organizational structure where employees permanently work from dispersed locations—from remote work at homes or co-working spaces to satellite offices and the field.

This out-of-office distributed operation is fairly permanent and fundamental to how the business operates. While working this way, workers usually connect and collaborate using different communication and engagement tools. As a concept, this is broader in scope than mere telecommuting, which focuses on employees working remotely only occasionally. 

What are the benefits of a distributed workforce?

As an employer, implementing a distributed workforce framework in your organization is an excellent idea. It’s proven to unfold several benefits, such as:

  • Boost in employee productivity: Research suggests that 65% of workers are more productive when working from home.
  • Introduction of real estate savings: When employees are working from distributed locations, your organization’s commercial real estate expenses, such as rent or purchase costs of office spaces, fall. This boosts profitability. 
  • Access to a broader talent pool: When you let people work across distributed locations, the feasible talent pool available to recruit from instantly becomes wider. This supports hiring the best individuals with specialized skills and expertise irrespective of location constraints. The result is more diverse and agile teams.
  • Holistic operations: Not all business operations can be completed in a physical office. For instance, executing orders at a quick service pizza outlet, dealing with customers in a multi-chain retail store and so on. In such cases, embracing the distributed workforce model helps to ensure these are all taken care of. 

While the benefits of distributed work models are apparent, managing and engaging a distributed frontline workforce can get challenging for you as an employer. 

What are the main challenges of a distributed frontline workforce?

Challenge 1. Controlling how distributed workers use their devices

Cybersecurity threats associated with using tech applications are rising. 94% of companies report email security incidents. With little control over how frontline workers internal comms applications combined with their limited security understanding, there can be significant damage in case of breaches. It can also lead to litigation and hurt brand image. 

Challenge 2. Difficulties in maintaining a solid company culture and fostering a sense of belonging

When employees work across distributed locations, their physical separation can make it difficult to instill belongingness. No surprise that 80% of frontline employees working across distributed locations complain about a lack of connection at work.  Distributed work also hinders maintaining a solid company culture, a crucial success factor. The lack of culture impacts direction, performance, and business revenue. It’s essential to note companies with top-quartile cultures post a 60% higher return to shareholders than those in the median quartile. 

Challenge 3. Communicating and collaborating with frontline workers

Smooth collaboration can get messy when individuals are working from distributed locations. For example, between the head-office and the factory. This can lead to incomplete information, poor collaboration, missed deadlines and reduced overall performance. 

Challenge 4. Keeping employees engaged

If your people operate from different locations from where the management works out of, it can be challenging to keep all workers adequately engaged. Issues like hampered communication and employees feeling unheard  can end up leaving the workers feeling neglected. This can lead to rising employee disengagement, with negative consequences like poor productivity and increased attrition rates.

Challenge 5. Training and managing frontline workers

Ensuring regular and practical training is essential to maintain your organization’s competitiveness. However, implementing homogeneous training for all can get challenging if your workers are not physically present in the same location.

Challenge 6. Using multiple technological tools

Most organizations rely on several tools to streamline distributed work for their frontline employees. Often, using too many tools can impact your worker’s productivity. They may start suffering from the drawbacks of information overload and increased mental fatigue. Moreover, if the tool isn’t mobile-friendly, its accessibility for your  on-the-go frontline workers can be compromised. Frontline employees feel overwhelmed by constant flow of info across channels.001Despite the challenges, there’s a way out. You can easily overcome many of these difficulties associated with a distributed workforce model by using robust, secure internal communication technology. However, in addition to that, you also need to be careful to ensure that your employees are well engaged.

How to manage and keep a distributed workforce engaged? 6 tips & best practices to keep in mind

Keeping a distributed workforce engaged can be a practical reality if you follow the right approach. Here are some proven strategies you can incorporate to make sure your distributed workforce is motivated and engaged: 

Ensure clear communication

Lack of clear, two-way communication can hamper collaboration, interfere with performance, and leave a distributed frontline workforce disconnected and unengaged. To avoid this, use secure digital tools for internal comms that facilitate real-time and asynchronous communication - depending on the need. This will ensure everyone is updated, employees don’t suffer information overload, and work is conducted smoothly.

Prioritize employee engagement

Disengaged workers are less productive, poorly motivated, and at high risk of quitting. 56% of leaders felt engaged workers fetch a better ROI, whereas 25% of Americans consider quitting to maintain optimal mental health. To overcome this, build well-rounded employee engagement strategies and identify the necessary resources to implement them. Ensure you get leadership buy-in to invest in these, and regularly monitor engagement metrics to iterate as needed.

Implement mobile-friendly training resources

Regular training is indispensable for business success with the rapid evolution of the business world. While using LMS modules or more extensive HR tools can help you implement training, it may not be effective for everyone. For instance, frontline workers may not have the time to sit down and engage with lengthy content on a desktop like your desk workers. Implementing mobile-friendly training that allows the consumption of training content on the go is the most efficient way ahead for all.

Be transparent and accountable with your team

51% of frontline workers feel undervalued as employees, breeding resentment and a lack of trust. To overcome this, prioritize building transparency and accountability. Ensure you announce any policy changes to all using digital tools to avoid ambiguity. Also, regularly collect your team’s feedback, seek their opinions, and address their accountability concerns.

Organize team get-togethers

Recognize that engagement also requires forming human connections that do require face-to-face meetings, too sometimes. So, regularly schedule and organize physical events, get-togethers, and informal gatherings like offsites and town halls to build and nurture that. This way, your distributed workforce can meet regularly and interact with each other and their superiors. Doing so will reinforce positive relationships between everyone.

Implement employee recognition programs

Finally, ensure you recognize and appreciate your employee’s achievements to boost their motivation and inspire others. Small gestures like acknowledging good performance in front of others, announcing achievements in your internal communication apps, or sharing their milestones and stories can make them feel valued and push them to do better. You can also give away e-gift cards and digital badges remotely so that they don't have to visit the office to redeem their coupons physically. 

Look how this company used an employee engagement solution to fix problems with its distributed workforce

NexEye, a leading European optical retailer, has over 4,000 employees in five countries working across 700 stores. With such distribution, sustaining employee engagement and communication across the company was a natural challenge. They wanted to increase the reach and accessibility of company news and information while ensuring the smooth connection of frontline employees with the head office. 

They implemented an employee engagement tool to give their frontline employees a voice and allow them to participate in discussions. Using the tool, employees could connect in their language and share customs, stories, and best practices. This helped to create a recognizable, safe, and relevant environment where everyone was engaged. Management could also receive feedback from the frontline, allowing the company to stay agile and flexible.

Future of distributed workforce

Given the benefits of reducing expenses, boosting productivity, and increasing employee freedom and flexibility, it’s clear that the distributed work model will increasingly dominate work.  

To maximize outcomes from this win-win approach for employers and employees, make sure you stay abreast of the technological advancements supporting it. Alongside, be aware of changing workforce preferences and organizational needs over time. What’s needed at this stage is implementing a robust process to bring your distributed workforce together and keep them motivated and engaged, and you will indeed thrive! A simple way is implementing future-proof agile internal communication tools to streamline operations. 

Speakap is the most user-friendly technology for connecting your frontline and office workforce with a mobile-first employee app. It was named the Easiest to Use Frontline Worker Communication Platform in the G2 Spring 2024 Report. Find out how using it as a single source for all your company information can help boost productivity and engagement for your distributed workforce. 

Contact us for a demo today!