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Distributed teams are here to stay due to COVID-19

Here’s what this change means for companies & professionals.

COVID-19 has accelerated the widespread adoption of remote working arrangements. This, in turn, has turbocharged the embrace of distributed teams by companies of all sizes. 

Experts estimate that, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, anywhere from 3.6% to 7% of the U.S. workforce worked at home more than half-time. 

These same experts estimate now that anywhere between 30% and 42% of all employees are working remotely. This is a massive change, and one that’s unlikely to go away. 

Below, we dive into what this shift means for employees and employers moving forward, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This guide will cover: 

Why COVID-19 will accelerate the shift to remote work & distributed teams

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, office workers were already keenly interested in remote work benefits. In a 2019 survey at Hana, 70% of employees listed the flexibility to work remotely as a must-have benefit when considering a new job. 

Yet, only 7% of U.S. companies offered regular remote work benefits to most or all of their employees in 2019, according to Global Workplace Analytics

COVID-19 has upended this dynamic, making remote work the reality for a great swath of office employees. 

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, many companies were hesitant to enable their employees the flexibility to work outside the traditional office,” says Brian Harrington, the Chief Experience Officer at Hana. “There were a number of misheld beliefs about what a shift to remote work would mean for companies — chief among them was the idea that productivity would take a hit.”

Businesses have largely been pleased with the results of this great work-from-home experiment — nearly 75% of executives report it has been a success. Employees are also happy: 80% now say they would turn down a job if it didn’t offer flexible working arrangements. They also report feeling more productive overall. 

In fact, a PwC survey found 72% of office workers would like to work remotely at least two days a week after COVID-19. In the same survey, 55% of executives said they expected to extend options for their employees to work remotely at least once a week moving forward. 

This is a significant shift — and it has ramifications for the way employees, teams and companies operate moving forward.

As more companies build out the infrastructure to support this explosion of remote work, there will be fewer obstacles standing in the way of giving employees more flexibility about where they work, and a greater drive to hire the best talent regardless of geography — making distributed teams more the rule than the exception. 

How distributed teams will make the workplace more employee-centric

As the number of employees who work remotely part or all of the time increases, many companies are considering downsizing their office space requirements. But this doesn’t mean the office is going away. 

Instead, a post COVID-19 workplace will be more employee-centric, offering activity-based workspaces equipped for intentional in-person collaboration, and more decentralized with central hub offices and satellite spoke offices.  

Ask anyone who works remote part- or full-time and you’ll hear one of two things: Virtual collaboration tools aren’t a perfect substitute for in-person connection and there is a benefit to having an office environment to work in, at least part of the time. 


Research backs this up. PwC found the number one reason employees want to go to the office after COVID-19 is to collaborate with their colleagues. And in our latest survey, 92% of employees said they would value having an office to go to after COVID-19. 

Companies are now in a position to rethink how they leverage and best utilize office space for their employees — and the pressure is on to create more employee-centric working environments. 

“We anticipate two trends shaping a post COVID-19 office,” says Harrington. “On one hand, we anticipate companies to leverage smaller, more flexible satellite offices that offer remote workers and distributed teams a place to work outside the home. On the other hand, we are already seeing a heightened demand from enterprise occupiers to think through ways they can rework their existing and future offices to enable more intentional collaborative work.” 

The onus to create work environments that are supportive of intentional teamwork with workplace perks is on employers. And one perk that employees are unanimously clamoring for is flexibility. 

“The new world of work is defined by something we’re calling ‘scatter and gather,’” Harrington says. “Employees realize they don’t need to be in an office to be productive, and can ‘scatter’ to whatever environment they feel most productive in. But we still see a strong need for employees to effectively gather in workplaces that enable in-person work that just cannot be replicated online.” 

How to attract and retain talent with a remote work policy

For employees, survey after survey has proven the value of remote work to be straightforward: less time spent commuting, increased ownership over their schedules, more time with family and friends and a better overall work-life balance. 

Now, employees have experienced the benefits of remote work for themselves — and there’s a severe reticence to give them up. 

32% of employees say they expect to work remotely for most or all of the work week moving forward, according to PwC. And 51% expect to work remotely at least part of the week after COVID-19. 

For companies, the edict is clear: remote work benefits are now table stakes for employees. 

But if the upside of the shift to remote work is clear for employees, it’s equally apparent for employers.  

Companies that embrace remote work and distributed workforces, for one, will have a larger and more diverse talent pool to pull from. The adoption of remote work policies is also poised to reduce expenses on traditional office space and help attract and retain employees. 

“Today’s employees are actively looking for more flexibility to determine where and how they work,” says Harrington. “Companies are now in the position to add flexibility to their real estate portfolios, adding flexible workspaces inside and outside of major metros to accommodate workers who need a place to work at least part of the week. They’re also able to turn remote work into a competitive advantage when sourcing talent outside of competitive labor markets.” 

Some companies such as Facebook are already adopting policies to bring in remote workers outside of the traditional talent hubs in metro areas. As more companies adopt these policies, they will be able to broaden their search for skilled workers by looking not just regionally or nationally, but globally. 

How to navigate different remote working styles

One of the biggest problems people report while working remotely is effectively communicating and working with colleagues. It’s easy to assume that everyone is approaching their work in the same way. 

But just as everyone has different working styles in traditional office settings, so too do people in remote settings. And in the remote work world, it’s just as important to figure out what these differences are in order to keep employees happy and boost productivity.  

Some remote workers are fastidious communicators — you’ll see them putting this skill to use by contributing to every Slack channel, volunteering to lead group projects and emailing out meeting notes before anyone else gets the chance. 

Others, however, may be more reserved in their communication style. 


When navigating different remote working styles and managing a distributed team, the key is to be patient with colleagues who may not be comfortable speaking up or leading meetings — if you notice that someone is having trouble engaging with the team, it’s worth setting up some one-on-one time to make sure they feel included.

Other differences in employee work styles may emerge when it comes to scheduling. Some may rely heavily on a regimented structure and are thrown off when things don’t go according to plan. The key thing to emphasize in a remote working environment is flexibility. 

Whatever the case, there can be unique challenges when managing distributed teams. That’s why it pays to check in regularly: A 2017 poll of over 1,000 workers published in Harvard Business Review found that 46 percent said that the most successful managers check in frequently with remote workers rather than just leaving them to work on their own. 

How companies can adapt to distributed teams after COVID-19

Wherever your workforce is logging on from, remote employees and distributed teams need support at the organizational level. And companies have a vested interest in making the shift to remote and distributed work comfortable for everyone involved. 

Here are some tips to help companies adapt to distributed teams after the COVID-19 pandemic, based on recent research done by PwC: 

  1. Be flexible when it comes to work hours: With a team scattered around the globe, it’s unreasonable to expect the employee in Dallas to have a morning meeting with a colleague in Tokyo.

  2. Equip your team with the right technology: Set aside a given budget for remote workers to purchase technology and furniture that helps them do their job effectively. There’s a pretty good chance this will cost less than it will to give them full-time office space, too. According to Global Workplace Analytics, “a typical employer can save about $11,000 per year for every person who works remotely,” even just half of the time.

  3. Set clear rules around when people need to be online and available: Knowing that there are set times where everyone can huddle will go a long way in keeping everyone on the same page.

  4. Leverage flex space strategically when possible: Distributed teams or departments that do share a locale can have the best of both worlds — using flex space such as on-demand conference rooms and private flexible offices allows distributed teams to take advantage of easy and affordable places to gather for those times when you need an all-team huddle.

  5. Help employees manage workloads, and promote work-life balance: With remote work, it can sometimes be hard to turn off. Check-in with your team regularly to make sure they aren’t taking on too much.

  6. Don’t leave them on their own — check in regularly, even informally: Doing so will help you keep an eye on workload and help your employees feel supported, leading to increased satisfaction and productivity. 

Take this with you

Remote work and distributed teams were already on the rise at the start of 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced employers to rapidly adopt these workplace solutions in order to keep employees safe. 

After COVID-19, they will need to continue embracing these models in order to be competitive.

But it’s a win-win: Distributed teams are helping companies save on office space costs, while employees are enjoying the advantages of one of the most sought-after workplace perks: flexibility.

As distributed teams continue to take off, the companies that get it right — by promoting flexible work hours, flexible workspaces, providing the best gear and offering employee support — will have the advantage in attracting talent. 

Learn more about the importance people place on meaningful connection at the office in our latest report, COVID-19 is accelerating the demand for flexibility and meaningful connection.

Jul 27 2020

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