Devising a Distributed Enterprise Strategy

Becoming a distributed enterprise is challenging yet highly rewarding, especially if you do it right. For that to happen, you need a proper strategy, which you can design following these recommendations.
April 14, 2022
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This article is part of our Distributed Enterprises Series

The distributed approach to work has been gaining a lot of momentum over the last couple of years. In fact, distributed enterprises are now a hot trend that’s unlikely to go away. So, it’s only natural that more and more companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon. Sadly, many of them do so without strategizing about it, which often leads to a failed integration.

To prevent that from happening to your company, you need to truly understand everything about distributed enterprises. We already covered what a distributed enterprise is and why you should care. Now, we’ll go over an equally important step in your path towards embracing the distributed approach—learning how to plan your strategy around it.

So, given that BairesDev has been a distributed company since the moment it was born, here are some of the most important things you need to keep in mind when devising a distributed enterprise strategy.

The Challenges of Distributed Enterprises

I think that the best way to start planning a strategy to become a distributed enterprise is to consider the challenges that come with it. It’s highly likely that if you’re reading about the distributed approach it’s because you’re familiar with its benefits or because you read about how it can better prepare you for the post-pandemic world. But getting there takes time and a clear roadmap to avoid falling trap of the many pitfalls brought about by such a switch.

That’s why I think that’s best to start by listing some of the most common issues with the distributed approach so you can then use them as guides for strategizing. Thus, the most common challenges with distributed approaches include:

  • Communication problems. Even when a distributed company has offices scattered in different cities, countries, or regions, real-time communication and collaboration can quickly become a problem. Without a set of ruling principles that include expectations, policies, and tools, then any distributed approach is doomed to fail.
  • Cybersecurity threats. Given that your distributed teams will be working from many places at the same time, your corporate network will be more exposed to threats. That’s especially true if you ask your team members to use their devices and shared connections, which increase your attack surface.
  • Operational hazards. Anyone making a switch from traditional in-house work to distributed work should know that operational tweaks will need adjustments ranging from minor to radical. That’s because a distributed company works differently than a traditional one, so it’s impossible to use the same methodologies and processes.
  • Company culture. Working with distributed teams often leads to a highly diverse workforce that brings together people from different walks of life. That’s an amazing asset to have but it can also take its toll in your company culture. Additionally, the lack of a shared space can lead to brewing disagreements and an overall disconnect from the company as a whole. 
  • Cultural and language barriers. While a lot of distributed companies often resort to English for their communications, you might run across problems with how each team member uses that English, something closely related to their language proficiency and their culture’s own mannerisms. Without proper care, you can end up with people seemingly speaking the same language but having issues getting their points across, which can end up generating discontent or even offending someone.

Putting Together a Strategy

While the challenges above don’t cover the entire spectrum of problems you might encounter when going distributed, they’re the ones with the most disruptive potential. That’s why I propose you should start devising your strategy by determining how you can address those challenges. The way you do so will mainly depend on who you are and what you do, but there are some considerations and general pointers you can follow.

Here are the most important ones.

1. Build up your infrastructure

One of the most important things to tackle the challenges of a distributed company is having the optimal infrastructure. This means a couple of things. First, it implies that you have the technical structure to empower your operations. In other words, you need the assets to guarantee that everyone has what they need to do their jobs, be it proper devices (such as notebooks and tablets), applications or networks. 

And then, it means you need to consider your approach to that infrastructure. Traditionally, companies wanted to keep their data and systems in-house, which led them to develop their own server infrastructure within a closed network. While that can certainly be an option, cloud computing allows you to enjoy the same benefits of a private network but without the hassles of managing it.

By thinking about infrastructure and everything that comes with it, you’ll be addressing some of the issues I’ve mentioned above. The right assets should help you ramp up your cybersecurity, boost your operational efficiency, and bridge your communication gaps. While not enough, the infrastructure is the foundation for everything you do in a distributed environment, so you need to really think about it.

2. Adapt your operations

Infrastructure may provide you with the basis but you won’t go anywhere without the proper processes to guide your team members. And, like I said above, your current processes might not be ideal for a distributed approach, mainly because you don’t have the office dynamics that support them.

Thus, you need to analyze your current processes and define which ones need to be altered, which might work as they are, and which ones may have to be replaced by a different process altogether. Think of your communication processes, for instance. In-house teams often supplement their digital communication with face-to-face communication. The distributed approach doesn’t give you that chance, so you need to establish a process to ensure that your communication is optimal.

Adapting operations doesn’t end with communication policies. You also need to establish protocols for cybersecurity, reporting, collaboration, data management and storage, and execution, just to name a few of the areas you’ll need to review. Truth be told, it’s best if you take a deep look across your entire organization to see what you need to do differently while working distributedly.

3. Redefine your management style

I could have included this in the operations section but I think it calls for its own, basically because you won’t be able to lead your teams in the same way as you did while working in the office. There are plenty of things to consider here.

First, there’s the issue of establishing clear roadmaps and goals for everyone. Then, there’s the problem of following the progress of all those tasks without getting caught up in micromanagement practices. Finally, you need to lead in such a way that people feel connected to the company and share its goals.

Doing such a switch won’t be easy. If you’re coming from a traditional company, you’ll need to ditch the idea of measuring how much time each team member works to focus on results. You’ll need to guarantee enough flexibility for everyone to feel comfortable while working but without giving too much leeway. You might even have to redefine roles and responsibilities, hire new middle managers, and institute new management policies and solutions.

4. Adopt new recruitment strategies

How you hire people will also change in a distributed enterprise. Since you’ll open up your positions to more people regardless of where they live, you’ll need to engage with them from the get-go to show them who you really are and what the company stands for. This will have you redefining your job postings, the platforms you use to engage with candidates, the questions you have in your questionnaire, and even the onboarding process.

You might argue that you can use the same recruiting process you’re already using, especially if you were already leveraging online recruitment with remote interviews. While that may be true to some extent, I urge you to review your hiring process nonetheless. You surely have some blind spots that need to be aligned with the current wants and needs of the workforce.

This might mean, for instance, that you need to adjust your target audience to attract the right talent in other regions. It can also mean that you need to go looking for that talent in regions you’ve never looked at before. It can even mean that you need to rethink the perks you offer to make a position attractive to candidates, especially if those perks depend on going to the office.

5. Don’t plan the strategy on your own

When a company is taking such a crucial decision it often happens that executives and top managers are the only ones involved in it. While that’s understandable from a certain standpoint, the reality is that the process of embracing a work approach as different as the distributed approach will go over better if you get everyone involved.

By “everyone” I mean people all across your organization. Conduct meetings, ask for feedback about your ideas, and open up the discussion about the company’s future. When doing so, you’ll be easing the transition and preparing your team members for such a drastic change. Additionally, you might run across new ideas and perspectives that might help you with the switch.

There’s an additional step you can take here. If you still feel somewhat lost or need further assistance planning the transition, don’t hesitate to look for external assistance. Strategy consultants, software developers, digital transformation experts, HR professionals, and many others can really pave the way for a smoother transition into the distributed world.

The Way Forward

You should know that the 5 suggestions above are just part of the work you’ll have to do when devising your own distributed strategy. You’ll have to define many more details than the ones listed here and you’ll surely run into some unforeseen circumstances along the way. But don’t let any of that discourage you.

Becoming a distributed enterprise is challenging yet highly rewarding, especially if you do it right. So, if you’re determined to go down that route, here you have a map for your initial steps that will take you closer to your goal.  

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