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More companies are embracing the fully distributed workplace model to exploit the operational, performance and cost benefits.
While remote work was a growing trend before 2019, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of hybrid and fully distributed workplace models, and the trend looks set to grow.
The most recent Upwork Future Workforce Survey found that nearly 28% of US workers will be fully remote by 2026, up from 22.9% in 2020, while Zippia research reveals that 16% of organizations are already fully remote.
While working in this way offers numerous benefits, the work-from-home (WFH) model also poses various challenges. As the CEO of a company that was an early adopter of a fully distributed workplace model, these are five lessons learned from the experience.
1. Tackle challenges with a positive attitude
No matter what industry, company or working environment you operate in, you will experience challenges at some point. Concerning a fully distributed company, the idea of a WFH setup may seem idyllic, but it comes with a unique set of challenges for business leaders and employees.
However, no matter how big or small the challenge, you can turn almost everything into an opportunity to learn, refine and grow, even fail. What matters at that moment is your attitude.
By embracing challenges, I have come to enjoy the process associated with finding solutions and adapting to circumstances. This willingness to embrace a challenge — even welcome it — and tackle it with a positive mindset is a hallmark of business leaders who follow an entrepreneurial path.
When you allow challenges to drive you to develop and improve, you continually learn, making you more resilient and adaptable as a business leader and an organization.
2. Learn to delegate
Operating a fully distributed company can give you access to a diverse workforce that boasts multifaceted skill sets and different work preferences and personalities.
While everyone has specific roles and responsibilities in a company, a fully distributed workforce can give business leaders and managers access to a broader talent pool, which creates opportunities to find employees who enjoy or are perhaps more proficient at specific tasks.
Delegating relevant tasks to these employees allows business leaders to focus on mission-critical or strategically important duties that drive the business forward or those they cannot delegate — like compiling company results and reporting to shareholders. And finding people who can perform a task more quickly and accurately boosts organizational performance.
Creating more flexible workflows can also give employees more personal control over what tasks they perform daily, which can positively impact their job satisfaction and happiness.
3. Company mission must inspire
For any fully distributed company to achieve its strategic objectives, business leaders must ensure every employee buys into the business strategy and understands the company’s mission because people need to understand the plan if they are going to execute it properly.
Without this understanding, you cannot get everyone moving in the same direction, which is when even the smartest strategy will fail to deliver results.
When staff clearly understand the business strategy, they can act autonomously and make decisions that they know align with the company’s objectives and execute them according to the organization’s North Star metric.
In this regard, it is important that the strategy is easy to articulate and understand.
What’s even more critical — the strategy should inspire. Only inspiration will align everyone to work towards this common goal.
4. Fail fast, learn fast
In today’s fast-paced business environment, more business leaders are embracing a ‘fail fast’ mentality.
This approach is vitally important when building a fully distributed company because you will make mistakes. While this is an important part of the process — because you need to make mistakes to learn – the key is to learn fast and move forward. Ruminating on a problem keeps you stuck in one place, which can prove detrimental to the business.
An area where this business strategy worked well when building our distributed workforce entailed making mistakes in who we hired. Ultimately, going through hardships with people gives you insights into who they are and highlights whether they have the right skills and traits to do the job you hired them for. Through this process, we learned what we needed to look for in employees and executives to align with our company culture and processes. It helped us better define roles within the organization.
As a result, we quickly started finding the right people for the job. We built teams with the proper dynamics to perform optimally and achieve the company’s mission and strategic objectives.
5. Connect with people to make them feel valued
While the fully distributed workplace model creates numerous operational efficiencies, business leaders must create opportunities for remote workers to connect and engage.
Combating social isolation is becoming a major challenge in managing remote workers’ well-being and, by extension, their output and performance. Without opportunities to work near co-workers and team members, business leaders need to create a sense of belonging and make people feel part of something bigger than themselves.
This requires a multi-faceted strategy, where the company’s mission creates a sense of purpose among employees, coupled with the innovative use of technology to foster collaboration and cohesion within teams and company initiatives like annual conferences that offer everyone an opportunity to meet and interact in person and offline activities that allow co-workers to engage in shared interests, hobbies or passions.
Furthermore, remote workers must be empowered to cultivate a healthy work-life balance by pursuing personal interests and meeting new people where they live. Workers need to leverage the benefits of remote working by using the freedom and flexibility it creates to build more meaningful social connections outside the virtual workplace to support their overall wellness and happiness.