Sunrise view of San Francisco

Connecting the Increasingly Dispersed Workforce

By Keith Kitani | 2-min read

Recently, the San Jose Mercury News reported on the increasing number of Silicon Valley start-ups opening satellite offices outside the Bay Area. The central message of the article is that the Bay Area’s rapidly rising cost of living and its housing shortage are driving companies to look elsewhere. While it’s certainly true that the region’s high cost of living presents a hiring challenge for employers, that’s not an issue exclusive to the Bay Area.

GuideSpark is headquartered in Redwood City, with other offices in San Francisco, Boston and New York – areas that all exceed the national cost of living average. Beyond these business centers, we also opened a Portland, Oregon office. In all of these cases our goal was to access the best talent for our business. We have established offices in these cities –undeterred by living indexes– because it makes good business sense to go to where talent is concentrated. We are not alone. Tech giant Amazon has outlined metro qualities in their highly publicized wish list for its second headquarters. Cost of living didn’t make the cut, while a diverse population and a good university did.

At most companies these days, workers are increasingly spread out. And this isn’t limited to the office. Employers are also increasingly offering work-from-home options to provide flexibility for employees and access talent from remote locations. According to a recent survey by Gallup, 43% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time in 2016. And the Society for Human Resource Management has reported that the number of companies offering telecommuting benefits to their employees has tripled in the last twenty years.

As William Arruda recently reported for Forbes, the days of everyone working 9-5 in side-by-side cubicles are over. Instead, most companies now have a mix of employees working in their headquarters, in regional offices, and at home. And that mix may change from day to day. To stay competitive and access the best talent for their business, companies are spreading out.

The big question isn’t whether this is happening but how we, as employers, are adapting to it.

Technology has enabled the dispersal of the workforce and perhaps fueled its growth, in ways that many people can easily recognize. Video conferencing software enables staff to have face-to-face conversations and build relationships from a distance. Messaging and collaboration apps make it seamless to share information with colleagues in real time. And turnkey co-working spaces have made it easier for companies to set up local offices and provide a great employee experience without making huge investments in infrastructure.

Yet, despite the benefits afforded by these technologies, there are additional challenges that employers face with a distributed workforce. One of the most pressing is employee communication. Aligning an organization around the company’s mission, vision, values, and culture is more difficult with a dispersed workforce. That’s because reaching employees with information requires a solution that works across a variety of time zones, devices, worksites, languages, and routines. In this new age of global offices and remote workers, keeping employees connected to the company is increasingly important. Yet, often companies rely on old-school one-and-done messages, face-to-face meetings, or lengthy documents.

Employees are bombarded with information in their personal and business lives, and important company information can easily become out-of-sight/out-of-mind. Important messages that are meant to align employees and increase productivity aren’t getting through. As employers, we need to cut through the noise.

As companies like Amazon and others continue to expand, they will need to find better ways to connect with their workforce or face the consequences. Technology has the potential to solve the challenge of communicating with dispersed employees, and forward-thinking executives are leveraging it to do just that.