Distributed and remote working has grown during the pandemic. It isn’t going away either because it enables companies to fill the skills they need to thrive.
James Milligan has worked in the technology industry for 21 years, but he’s never known a time like the last 14 months. “Organisations have had to change so much in such a short period of time,” he says. “To cope with this crisis, they’ve had to innovate new processes and deploy technology more quickly than ever before. Those businesses that haven’t been flexible enough to change don’t exist anymore. It’s as simple as that.”
Milligan — who is Global Head of Technology at recruiting experts, Hays — believes that this type of working is here to stay. After all, the pandemic has shown that not everyone has to be anchored to a physical office environment for their work to be carried out efficiently. So, expect distributed workforces and remote/hybrid working to grow in the coming years.
The progressive outlook of distributed organisations
It is, however, important to stress the difference between the ‘distributed workforce’ and remote/hybrid workers, says Milligan. As the name suggests, hybrid workers combine some remote working with work in an office; while organisations with fully distributed workforces utilise technology to employ staff from anywhere in the world. “Distributed organisations are the ones that are most progressive,” he notes. “They were working beyond borders before the pandemic and will continue to do so. To them, this is ‘business as usual’ and everyone else is playing catch-up.”
It’s no use organisations saying that people can’t work efficiently in a distributed or remote way, because the pandemic has put that idea to bed.
The fact is that distributed and/or remote workforces can help bridge the skills gap, says Milligan, because being able to employ people from around the world gives an organisation access to a much broader talent pool, possibly at lower cost.
When it comes to recruitment, Milligan argues that a person’s skills are more important than their location. “Only those organisations that are prepared to be flexible and open-minded about where they get their talent from will be able to close the skills gap,” he says. “I think we’re going to see tech functions becoming increasingly fully distributed, because tech is an area which has a huge challenge with regards access to talent.”
The tech sector has been ahead of the flexible working curve
That’s why more organisations should offer distributed or remote working to those staff who are able to work in this way, says Milligan. Those who don’t are asking for trouble. “They will be left behind because they won’t have access to the talent they want. Almost every job candidate expects to have some form of flexibility now. It’s no use organisations saying that people can’t work efficiently in a distributed or remote way, because the pandemic has put that idea to bed.”
The tech industry was an early adopter of distributed/remote working, harnessing the power of communication technology such as Teams and Zoom, plus technical testing and whiteboard platforms.
Of course, (non-tech) organisations quickly took a leaf out of this playbook at the start of the pandemic. “But the tech sector has always been ahead of the flexible working curve,” agrees Milligan. “Partly that’s because it understands the technology and what it’s capable of; and also because technical roles often don’t need to be tied to the same physical location as the rest of the organisation.”
If you want similar flexibility for your company, Milligan advises talking to an organisation that has been operating in a distributed way for some time. “Ask them how they create a ‘sticky’ culture when their staff are connecting digitally, rather than physically,” he says. “Find out how they adjusted their recruitment strategies, such as onboarding staff in remote locations. And if you don’t have a policy — a clear framework related to either fully distributed working or remote working — then get one. Because there’s no turning back the clock now.”