Using distributed workforce means that you have to assemble a team from individuals living hundreds of miles away and make it also work. They will have to learn to put aside differences and work together towards common goals.
For an organization that targets continuous improvement, the aspect of creating and maintaining an efficient distributed workforce from people around the globe raises a series of challenges. The first obvious one is that the environment of a direct face to face contact is hard to replicate via technology, despite recent enhancements regarding communication. Team members are unfamiliar one with each other due to distance and a closer bond, based on a less formal approach, outside the office, is hard to create. Let’s not forget about other things that can divide us. Although tolerance regarding cultural differences was never higher, some remains of our inability to fully understand those that are not like us are still there. A team created from individuals who share different time zones can also face the problem of coordinating the effort during the working hours. It is hard to motivate and achieve employee retention when there are so many obstacles in the way of this kind of work.
In every scenario, communication barriers means that time and resources are being wasted and work efficiency is ruled out. The exchange of information is either insufficient, either troubled by the shortcomings of the communication method. Distance can help enforce the lack of initiative towards communicating. Social media and the Internet had though us that the harder it is, the less effort we will put. We have become accustomed with instant feedback and unlimited responsiveness both from our online companion and from the collaboration tools we use. Any delay or wait period has become unacceptable and will bring with it frustration towards our interlocutor and an eroded trust in the technology behind the communication method.
Errors are easy to slip trough, because the information is not bounced several times between the sender and the receiver, like in a normal situation. The constant exchange of information over long distances means that there are several intermediaries along the way that will play a role to handle it and the probability of malicious behavior towards it from third parties is higher. Enhancing security to reduce the risks should be a priority and a constant concern.
Although we may not like the idea, we have become technology dependent. The solutions for all problems previously mentioned can be found in the future, some in a future closer than we think. The concept of a virtual workspace is not far from our current possibilities, with chat rooms and videoconferencing being the most common solution for getting everyone together, regardless of location. Greater bandwidth will allow larger and smoother displays of remote co-workers, making their presence more similar to that of a face-to-face interaction. Centralized file storage enables faster and more accurate document access, while audited trail when accessing files, ensures accountability. Employees from around the world should find what they need in one single place, in a fast and friendly manner and, at the same time, those working on the same project should be aware of the progressed made by others.
However we put it, the future has two main ingredients for our endeavors: mobility and speed. The age of a central workspace is close to an end. We will be able to run our businesses or do our jobs while being on the go. Mobile devices are becoming more and more “smarter” and tend to win the battle against those less portable, anchored in our offices. It’s not hard to imagine that mobile devices will soon provide the environment for a complete and fully functional virtual workspace.
With the increasing speed in travel and communication and the exponential trend in technology improvement, long distances and traditional borders are becoming more and more obsolete. We have more to share and it is easier for us to do that. Bringing people together by using a distributed workforce will create many challenges along the way, but the rewards are promising. The market will always find solutions to help bridge the gap between our differences and achieve a more productive and efficient workforce.