The quote goes, “The tree that bears fruits gets the most stones thrown at it,” which precisely resembles Laurel Farrer’s 15 years of efforts when she founded Distribute in 2018. Ahead of its time, Distribute used the benefits of remote work to solve business concerns that extended into every industry and community. Laurel was publicly mocked by brands like Google, Slack, and LinkedIn for her advocacy; however, the tables turned, and today, working from home has been a global norm since 2020. The mockers are now ironically marketing their support for flexibility.
Laurel’s foresight is often praised, but she came across several challenges that pushed her forward, making her one of the influential women worldwide. As the CEO, Laurel leverages the power of workplace flexibility to impact business operations and socioeconomics.
Dive into her uprising story!
The Pointed-Out Norm
Remote work wasn’t always the viral, exciting topic it is now. Laurel’s decision to open a bootstrapped consultancy exclusively in this niche was perceived as an irresponsible risk. But now that there is global demand for her expertise, it adds to her existing challenges.
Laurel shares, “My small business is thriving for its size but is in direct competition with the largest consultancies in the world — multi-billion organizations with enormous workforces and unlimited funds. It’s surreal to be in proposal negotiations, and the client says, “We’re trying to decide between Distribute and Deloitte. Why should we choose you?” I think we’ll be fighting this David-and-Goliath battle (and the imposter syndrome that comes along with it) for a long, long time.”
Harnessing Virtual Workforce
Distribute is an internationally-renowned management consulting firm and think tank pioneering the concept of virtual organizational development. Its services empower business and government leaders to start, strengthen, and leverage virtual workforces to solve corporate and socioeconomic painpoints, such as workforce discrimination, job accessibility, business continuity, talent retention, workforce diversity, economic development, company profitability, and environmental sustainability. It operates through change management consulting, content development, and operations analysis.
Denting the Universe
Laurel states that resistance from mid-level management is the number one barrier to success when adopting a workplace flexibility model. It is because managers often feel smashed in between the demands of their team members below them (who want maximum levels of flexibility) and senior leadership above them (who are concerned about the financial impacts of workplace transformation on the organization).
Both parties are looking to these managers to provide solutions and guide the company through the change management process, but there is no training on how to do it. Thus, they naturally feel stuck and overwhelmed until they finally revert to the familiar and comfortable — working in an office.
At Distribute, the team believes that for sustainable workplace flexibility, it’s essential to equip all levels of leadership with comprehensive training on various topics. From observing working styles and non-verbal behaviors in virtual team members, to measuring productivity based on results instead of time, building trust without spending time together, reducing meeting volume (to prevent the infamous “Zoom fatigue”), and much more.
Astute Technological Clout
Laurel expresses that consulting is an infamously expensive and challenging business model to scale. She adds, “As a bootstrapped, lean small business, we knew that we would have to break tradition to meet the overwhelming demand for remote work expertise.” Thus, Distribute challenges and analyzes traditional consulting methods to find opportunities for delivering content asynchronously through various mediums that include: video messaging, automated analysis tools, templating resources in cloud docs; all of which enable less dependency on human capital and in-person services delivery to fuel more efficient scaling.
Waving the Magic Wand
Laurel knows that remote work is a revolutionary opportunity not only for businesses, but for communities too. The rise of distributed businesses can turn traditional economic development on its head. Historically, economies grow based on workers moving to places where jobs are available. “But now, with workplace flexibility,” she says, “we can reverse that and bring stable jobs to workers, wherever they are. I’ve helped design incredible programs with governments and universities around the world that have rescued ghost towns and isolated communities from economic collapse.”
Laurel continues, “I think that this is what makes me a true pioneer — not only that I’m helping to carve the path for a new industry, but that I am a first-hand example of what I advocate. I am proof that the virtual business world can offer unprecedented opportunities for diversity and inclusion — it’s where a young, rural mother can have an international voice and make a global impact with nothing more than a $100 laptop and free wifi at the library.”
Expecting Shifting Tides
Laurel mentions that workers have gathered together in a single location since the Industrial Revolution to produce results together. Everything humankind knows about business and teamwork is built on the foundational assumption that people will be together as they collaborate. Even the concept of a manager is built on the objective to supervise the production process physically. So, now, with the rise of hybrid workplace models and distributed teams, people have hundreds of years of unlearning to do in order to operate in a way that isn’t dependent on proximity. She asserts, “Every professional in the world has the challenge of understanding that work is something we do, not somewhere we go. Here at Distribute, we’re helping business leaders adopt that new mindset and transform their operations to be as flexible and location-independent as their staff.”
Above and Beyond
Distribute is doing phenomenal work as a consulting firm. However, the world needs more than management training and change management resources to build a strong foundation for the new normal of hybrid workplace models and location-independent workforces. It would be Laurel’s dream and honor to expand her business into a comprehensive international think tank — a source of research, training, books, and software that teaches the world about the power of virtual organizational development.
Hey! Here’s a Piece of Advice
To prevent some pain points of building a new business, Laurel advises aspiring entrepreneurs to start with personal experience. Since the global rise of working from home in 2020, she watched hordes of ambitious visionaries see the “gold mine” value of remote work and try to eagerly capitalize on it with flashy product pitches and business proposals. However, their ideas were hollow and inflexible because they had never experienced the pain and stress of solving these problems themselves first-hand as the manager of a distributed team. She says, “Ambition alone means you can’t sympathize with the client, so it compromises the credibility of someone’s expertise and their ability to deliver genuine customer service. So, work in a field for at least a few years before trying to build solutions for it as an expert or thought leader.”