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Event orchestration | 9 December 2016

Why Event Planners Should Embrace A Distributed Workforce

Brandon Rafalson

According to Gallup, 37% of the US workforce says that they have telecommuted at some point or another–that’s a 29% increase since 1995. Meanwhile, 3.7 million people now work from home at least half the time. What’s more, reports indicate that people actually enjoy working from home. With all of the pajama wearing possibilities, is that really much of a surprise? Buffer, Upworthy, Zapier, Basecamp, and Endless Entertainment are all companies that operate with a remote workforce to some degree, and many others are joining them.

With a new attitude towards remote working and an abundance of new project management tools that enable it, remote working is becoming an increasingly popular trend. As event planners think of building a team they should be aware of this new way of working called a distributed workforce.

Benefits

The benefits of working remotely go beyond working in your PJ’s. From having reduced overhead, to achieving a more diverse workforce, to being able to bring your work to your clients, there are a number of reasons to consider a distributed workforce.

High Demand

For starters, there is a high demand for remote working opportunities. While 50% of the US workforce holds a job that’s compatible at least partially with telecommuting, 80-90% of the US workforce says that they would like to telecommute at least some of the time.

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Many workers are looking to eschew the nine-to-five lifestyle in favor of one that puts them in control of their own time and ultimately productivity. Remote working empowers people to do so, which may make it easier for event organizers to attract top talent.

Cost-Effective

According to Flexjobs, remote workers save businesses an average of $2,000 a year and reduce turnover by 50%. Workers save money on commuting, pressing shirts, and coffee runs. Employers save money on office space and equipment. The benefits for both parties exceeds line items. Ninety-one percent of respondents said that they were in fact more productive while working remotely. This finding is in line with CEO of Endless Entertainment Will Curran’s observations: “I have people who are doing 4x the amount of work and feel way more energized. They are also working when they get the most amount of work done.”

Happier Employees

Reduced turnover is a strong indicator that employees who work from home are in fact happier. In a survey conducted by TinyPulse, respondents reported higher overall happiness in comparison to all other workers. It turns out that there is a learning curve to remote working happiness, as those who have been telecommuting longer reported enjoying it more. It may take some time to transition your office to working remotely, but when people get there, they usually do enjoy working more.

Diverse Top-Tier Talent

When you open up your enterprise to a distributed workforce, you give yourself the opportunity to pull from global talent that would otherwise be out of reach. Though Bizzabo is not a distributed team, roughly half of our team is based out of New York City, while the other half is based out of Tel Aviv. This puts us in the fortunate position of having access to two of the most competitive and diverse talent pools in the world.

Also, an around the world workforce means an around the clock workforce. While the New York City office is counting sheep, the Tel Aviv office is hard at work.

Going to the Clients

Even at standard nine-to-five jobs, employees find themselves traveling for events, conferences, and client meetings. Part and parcel of a distributed workforce is the ability to bring your company to your clients. “I like to say my house is in Phoenix but I live in hotels,” says Curran. “Working remotely helps us to better serve our clients.”

Flexibility

A distributed workforce is a flexible one. As we mentioned above a flexible schedule often does a happy worker make. “The greatest benefit of working remotely,” say Jon Comulada, a writer for Upworthy, “Is flexibility…If I wake up and it’s pouring outside or snowing it’s great to be able to just stay in.” This is especially helpful during major life events.

Maternity Leave

For many, maternity and paternity leave can be a difficult process. On the one hand it’s time to tend to one’s newest family members; however it’s also a time filled with numerous uncertainties about what one’s career will look like upon returning to the workforce, especially for women. Having a remote work system in place makes it easier for mothers (and fathers) to spend time with their children.

Keys to Success When Implementing a Distributed Workforce  

As you build out your distributed workforce for your events team, it’s essential to keep a few guidelines in mind to ensure that you and your team continue to work successfully even when people aren’t in the same office.

Clear Guidelines

Will your workers be working fully remote or will they be on a half-remote/half-in-the office system? What will hours be, nine to five, Monday through Friday? A few hours, seven days a week? Will people be expected to respond to a Slack message sent at 9pm? Having set guidelines on how you expect your distributed workforce to operate will keep everyone on the same page and will help to mitigate miscommunication.  

What are your rules of law?

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Hiring

Make sure that you spend the proper amount of time vetting hires. No matter how much you communicate with new employees, they will largely be out of sight. Making sure you select someone who is self-motivated enough to perform well in a remote setting is critical to success.

Overcommunicate

Speaking of communication. Make sure you don’t just communicate: over-communicate! When your primary means of communication are Slack, email and video conferencing, you’ll miss out on the simple luxuries of being able to drop by a colleague’s desk for an update. You also miss out on the subtle body language of person-to-person communication.

Try to minimize this with frequent video calls and updates whenever you think they might be relevant. “Recently I needed to leave and get my cat’s cat food,” says Curran. “I messaged the team telling them I was stepping out of the office for a second. It avoided people relying on me at the wrong time.”

Culture, Culture, Culture

As Jon Comulada puts it, “The biggest challenge is not being able to be as connected with my coworkers as I’d like.” With any company, culture is important, but with a distributed workforce, culture takes on a new sense of scope. It’s not just a matter of being in touch with co-workers for tasks and general work-flow, it’s about creating a pan-geographic esprit de corps.

Buffer utilizes a “buddy system” to help new hires feel welcome and oriented during onboarding and beyond. Plan personal meet-ups at least once a year. Zapier has their company meet-up for extended retreats twice a year. Even thoughtful GIFs and memes can go a long way in keeping things fun and light, but think about how else can you create a happy, productive, and harmonious team.

Consider holding regular all-hands teleconferences and sharing fun video updates periodically to keep everyone on the same page and to reinforce company culture.

Although your team should be held accountable for deadlines and should be on call during the hours you established in your guidelines, a remote workforce makes it more difficult to pull a tight turn-around. This is especially so if your workforce is distributed across other time zones. To counter this, make sure you have a solid pipeline of assignments to avoid last minute time crunches that can be hard to overcome when people work on different time zones.

Respect Time

Once you have hours established and a pipeline in place, make sure that you’re respecting those guidelines. Just because someone technically can work around the clock, doesn’t mean that they should. That is, unless you’ve already agreed on an around the clock schedule, in which case, bring it on.

The Right Tools

If you’re going to coordinate with your team, you’re going to need the right project management tools. These will vary depending on the particulars of your team. At Buffer they use Hipchat, Sqwiggle, and Hackpad. At Upworthy they use Slack. When it comes to maximizing your own work, there are several productivity tools to check out.

Wrapping Up

For event planners, remote working is very good news. A more distributed workforce makes the moments when everyone comes together (conferences, tradeshows, meetings) all the more meaningful.

If you work with a distributed workforce (whether you work in the events industry or otherwise), we’d love to hear about your experience below!

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