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The Five Pillars of Distributed Work: The CX Report 2020

The future of work is distributed. But how can companies refine their processes to get there?

John Maeda
John Maeda

Publicis Sapient CXO John Maeda outlines five pillars of creating a collaborative workforce – and how technology can help overcome common pitfalls today. 


1. Remote work isn't the same as distributed work

The concept of “remote work” has become a sort of buzzword, especially as companies are forced to quickly adapt to larger at-home workforces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maeda argues that though it’s easy to confuse remote work with distributed work, there’s one key difference that sets the two concepts apart. 

“You can be working alone, remotely; but need to work in a group to be distributed,” Maeda said.  

Think of the difference between remote work and distributed work as an arrangement versus an organizational mindset. Remote work is purely procedural, ie., the act of working somewhere outside the office. But distributed work requires a new way of company thinking on how things get done – one that focuses on collaboration. 

2. Collaboration is greater than cooperation

But what is collaboration, really? According to Maeda, cooperation is “working with another party at an arm’s length” where collaboration is about “having arms hugged around each other.” Distributed work mindsets tear down boundaries by creating inclusive workspaces, bringing teams closer together while working in groups. Digital collaboration tools can help bridge this gap. Instead of tools that create silos, work will be done digitally in real-time, utilizing features like live editing and real-time feedback for a more frictionless approach. 


3.	Change is always an emotional journey

Though there are a myriad of cloud-based collaboration tools available on the market, choosing the right tools to empower a distributed workforce boils down to a company’s ability to deeply understand their capabilities as well as their people. How do new tools align with personal needs, like time management, mindfulness, and productivity? By understanding effect on culture, companies can make transition to distributed work more fluid, while maximizing investments in tools that will be adopted and embraced by employees hesitant to change. 

 “Without psychological safety, no matter what conditions and tools are set for working together, not a lot will get done,” Wendy Johansson, GVP, experience, Publicis Sapient, said. “Consider the people first.”

4.	Place-making forms the grounds for work-making

According to Maeda, one impact on culture when shifting to distributed work is the definition of “place.” In traditional work settings, “place” is defined by the office that someone goes to, or the time zone they’re in. But in distributed environments, the idea of “place” becomes digital, as more people are connected across the globe. Setting a baseline foundation establishes a central location for your distributed workforce to thrive without boundaries. 

“Creating a sense of place is the starting point for work to happen,” Maeda said. “Built upon a stable foundation, it becomes possible to make that work more than just a ‘job.’” 

Augmented and virtual reality are only becoming more sophisticated, and have the potential to shape the future of distributed work as we know it. With the advent of smartphones and IoT devices, the line between physical and digital communication is already blurred. With AR/VR, a new type of 3D workspace could be achieved, with the ability to bring more visceral digital experiences to life – changing the future of work – and work culture – as we know it today.

The CX Report

The CX Report is now live. In the video, Publicis Sapient CXO John Maeda provides valuable insights on how tech and design are transforming the experience wars.

John Maeda
John Maeda
Chief Experience Officer
Named one of the “75 most influential people of the 21st century” by Esquire, Maeda draws on his diverse background as an MIT trained engineer, award-winning designer and MBA community translator to bring people and ideas together at scale.