Sep 6, 2022
Jan 2, 2024

What is distributed work and how can it benefit your enterprise?

Learn about the benefits and challenges of a distributed work model and weigh up if it’s the right choice for your enterprise.
Envoy logoAmy Kirkham
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Marketing Specialist
What is distributed work and how can it benefit your enterprise?

Not only did the pandemic blend the line between what is home and what is an office, but it also dispersed teams and coworkers geographically. In the US alone, 2.9 million people moved out of major cities between March 2020 and February 2021. Folks were able to work from anywhere–their bedrooms, coffee shops, or even in their vans. Now, as offices are back open, the work-from-anywhere culture is winding down. Organizations are getting comfortable in their return to work policies and calling people back to the office. It has given rise to a distributed work model for many organizations. But what exactly does a distributed work model mean? In this post, we’ll explore different types of distributed work models, including the benefits and challenges they can bring to your business.

What is a distributed work model?

A distributed work model refers to the distribution of organizations’ workplaces and workforce around the globe. This work model varies between each organization. It can be dependent on company size, the type of industry, and what work policy is in play. Some people may use distributed work and remote work interchangeably, given each model's flexible nature. But we consider the two distinct. A distributed work model refers to employees who visit the workplace. This might be part-time or full-time. It covers a workforce across different geographies, locations, and time zones. Remote work differs because it refers only to workers who can work from anywhere, workplace or not.

Types of distributed work models

Like any work model, there's more than one right way to do it. There are many different types of distributed work models—and it’s also possible for a company to use more than one type. Here are a few different models you might be familiar with:

  • Multiple HQ model. Enterprises have a headquarters in each country where they operate. This means folks must live close enough to be able to go into an open office.
  • Hub and spoke model. Enterprises have a centralized HQ and then dispersed satellite offices around the world. This offers flexibility for both your business and employees.
  • Coworking model. Enterprises have a mix of different offices around the world. This includes shared coworking locations. With this model, organizations have the ability to reach talent in certain areas without needing to open an office.
  • Hybrid model. Over 75% of organizations have opted for this model. A hybrid model is flexible. It’s a mix of physical workplaces and a remote/work-from-home setup for employees.

Challenges and benefits of a distributed work model

A distributed work model offers flexibility to many organizations, but it may not be right for everyone. Before you decide if a distributed work model is right for your enterprise, it’s important to weigh up the challenges and benefits. To help you, this section lists a few important pros and cons you need to be aware of.

Benefit #1: Broadens your talent pool

Enterprises with a distributed work model have the benefit of a wider talent pool than others. With multiple office locations and work policies, organizations can attract talent from different parts of the world. For example, enterprises operating a hub and spoke model could employ local candidates who live close to a satellite office. Enterprises with a centralized HQ could employ candidates who live near a HQ or regional hub, such as Tokyo or New York. With a distributed work model, geographical boundaries can often bend to fit your organizational needs.

Benefit #2: Optimizes your real estate footprint

A distributed work model gives your enterprise a unique element of flexibility. Especially when considering your real estate footprint and broader business objectives. For example, you can consolidate office locations based on a number of factors: the location of your workforce, where you operate from, or where you see potential to grow. You can also ditch your HQ office for coworking spaces if it makes more sense operationally and financially. Optimizing your real estate could help your costs by 12-20%. Businesses can also reduce their office space footprint by up to 40% by evaluating their real estate based on future headcount, growth projections, and workforce models.

Benefit #3: Gives your employees flexibility

87% of people enjoy having some element of flexibility in their work life. For enterprises operating with a distributed work model, employees have the option to move and work between offices. They can also visit different locations, too–for meetings, company events, and team activities. Enterprises offering a hybrid work model can give their employees flexibility to balance their time between working from home and the office.

Challenge #1: Heightens security risks

It's difficult to maintain high security standards the more locations you have to manage. In a distributed work model, employees will often visit multiple office locations. Although this helps people get more face-to-face time and improve collaboration, it does also come with security risks. Workplace threats, such as cyber attacks, workplace incidents, and access control, are common. In fact, 90% of organizations have increased their focus on external threats worldwide. Protect your enterprise from different security risks that can impact your global workplaces–especially as more employees come together from different geographies.

Challenge #2: Tricky time zone management

Hiring a global workforce in different office locations is a simple enough task. But then ensuring effective collaboration across these locations and time zones can be tricky. After all, coworkers or teams need some overlap to communicate and be productive. To tackle this, you want to implement a system that works for everyone. For example, some startups choose East Coast hours for everyone as a loose rule. For others, the consensus might be to have a certain number of hours overlap for key, collaborative meetings. Working across time zones makes it easier to separate focus time and meeting times. This can really benefit your employees and their productivity levels.

Challenge #3: Compliance complexities

As an enterprise, your distributed work model means folks are situated around the world. That means you must abide by different compliance, security, and tax laws depending on what country or state you operate in or have employees residing. Ensure you have the right workplace security policies and procedures in place to be on top of compliance, regulation, and data laws. One great way of doing this is having a dedicated compliance tiger team in place. This team will keep on top of any changes, such as updates in data privacy regulations or visa requirements.

A distributed work model can range from a work-from-anywhere policy to requiring employees to come into different office locations full-time. Like all flexible models, it comes with pros and cons. However, one key thing remains central to a distributed work model: the physical workplace must become a magnet. A place that welcomes people globally and continues to attract folks to work, socialize, and collaborate together.

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Amy KirkhamEnvoy logo
Amy Kirkham

Amy is a content creator and storyteller at Envoy, where she helps workplace leaders build a workplace their people will love. Outside of work, you can usually find Amy exploring new places, planning her next trip, or enjoying a coffee and croissant in her favorite cafe.

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