Businesses rely on widely distributed networks of workers, be they at HQ, in branch offices, mobile in the field or working at some other external location. Whilst the office continues to be seen as the primary place of work, more and more staff are spending at least part of their working week somewhere else. Certain employees have always needed to be on the move; today they are better connected but the availability of connectivity means that other jobs that were previously confined to offices can now also be done from afar, which also means they can be more easily outsourced to third parties. This report looks at the degree to which the 21st century workforce is distributed and the issues organisations have with enabling this.
- Branch offices: the majority of European businesses still operate with a traditional structure of a headquarters with a number of smaller branches
The average number of locations for a business with over 1,000 employees is 33. In some sectors, like banking, this is decreasing; for others, like retail, it is increasing. In the future, carbon taxes may drive businesses to open smaller locations, relying on technology for collaboration between workers and reducing the distance that both employees and customers have to travel.
- Mobility: workers that have traditionally been on the move are better connected, and the communications technology used to enable this has freed others, such as those working in call centres, to work remotely too
70% of businesses say at least 25% of their staff are working remotely for at least part of the week.
- Outsourcing: if an employee can do their job from afar then so can someone else; businesses are allowing greater access to third party workers than ever before
Contractors, partners, suppliers and customers are all being given direct access to internal applications to automate transactions and allow day-to-day and non-core tasks to be outsourced.
- Distributed business index (DBI): taking these factors together-the enablement of branch, mobile and external workers-an index for the degree of distribution can be defined (see Appendix B)
Financial services organisations are the most distributed, partly due to their high degree of external interaction, public sector ones the least. Retailers lie between the two; the big chains still rely on a large number of branches, despite the growth in internet shopping.
- User experience: all businesses worry about the experience of HQ workers, but highly distributed businesses put more effort into ensuring a good experience for remote workers
Just worrying about the user experience is not enough. It must be measured, because the impact for organisations with a very high DBI, if access is unavailable for some reason, is palpable.
- Technology: a high proportion of information technology (IT) workers does not, in itself, create a distributed business; the technology first needs to be embedded in business processes
Even businesses with low DBI have a high proportion of workers that use IT. But those with a high DBI see IT as fundamental to their business processes rather than being a "nice to have".
- Drivers for distribution: the three main drivers for enabling distributed working are business efficiency, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction
As a whole, businesses are successful in providing the capabilities to support these drivers. For those with a low DBI, expectations are also low. However, those with the highest DBI, and are pushing distributed working to the limits, are not always able to meet their expectations.
CONCLUSION: There are many good reasons for enabling distributed working, but it will only succeed in the long term if there is a good enough underlying communications infrastructure. Businesses are unlikely to become less distributed in the future and those that embrace this reality will be the ones that thrive and endure. However, to succeed as a highly distributed business, and reap the benefits, requires that many business processes, such as supply chain management and customer support, are adapted to ensure they continue to operate optimally. Applications and a sufficient infrastructure should also be in place to support this.