This article is part of our Distributed Enterprises Series
If you’ve been following our Distributed Enterprises Series, you’ve realized by now that the model has specific challenges we must address in order to truly profit from its many advantages.
Throughout the last couple of weeks, we’ve already covered the different distributed enterprise models and how to adopt them, some of the most pressing security concerns, as well as the main issues, and infrastructure requirements. Today, we take a practical look at the day-to-day operations and how implementing best management practices can help make your strategy a success.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. At the end of the day, each company must take stock of its processes and understand what makes sense in its own context. That is also something important to keep in mind: context changes and something that worked for your company a few years ago may be switched for another strategy that is more suited for the current situation.
Here we outline some of the best management practices tailored to the everyday operations of distributed enterprises considering some specific concerns.
The Onboarding Process
It all starts here. Onboarding has always been a delicate process. When conducted correctly, it can efficiently get your new employees up to speed on everything that is required of them and every tool they have at their disposal.
When done poorly, it can become a slow and inefficient process that the new staff drags its feet to complete on time—if they complete it at all. When we consider the onboarding process in a distributed environment, there’s an extra set of challenges we must turn our attention to.
The Case for Zero-touch Deployment
Several enterprises that leverage remote work as a strategy choose to provide their employees with all the appliances they need to perform their duties. The rise of Device as a Service (DaaS) hasn’t only made this possible but also turned this strategy into actual profitable business solutions for some companies.
Evidently, there are some that prefer to use the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model. Oftentimes, however, the cybersecurity concerns that come with it may leave management feeling exposed and what was supposed to facilitate the everyday processes becomes an unnecessary concern.
Providing staff with company laptops was always a simple task. New employees would come in and receive their new devices freshly configured by the IT department, who could also demonstrate any complicated or specific functionalities that are part of their daily duties, such as using a VPN or an ERP. Albeit the most common process, this often isn’t feasible for a distributed enterprise. That’s where zero-touch deployment comes into play.
This technology allows IT professionals to program beforehand any and all configurations that a device needs to go through once it’s unboxed and plugged in. You can preemptively select the applications that must be installed and the patches that must be downloaded and applied and. Once the device is active and connected to the internet, the configuration process can begin.
Asynchronous Training Sessions
Every company has its particularities and its own internal processes that an employee must be introduced to and become familiar with in order to properly do their work. Training is a crucial part of the onboarding process. But if in a traditional in-house setting we could set aside an afternoon for the whole group of new employees to meet in a conference room with an instructor, under the distributed model that’s simply not an option.
So, as to not overburden the newly arrived employees, an interesting strategy to consider is developing a series of training sessions they can complete on their own and at their own pace. With the help of an instructional designer, it’s possible to develop practical and efficient training interventions hosted on a Learning Management System (LMS) that will be available to the learners, alongside evaluations to assess performance.
Ramp-Up of Activities
Another pitfall is the risk of overwhelming new employees from the get-go. I understand the importance of hitting the ground running, but there’s such a thing as overburdening your staff before they had the suitable time to get familiar with their new position.
Developing a ramp-up strategy that gradually increases the workload of new employees, as well as the responsibilities and urgency of those tasks, is a way to meet the position’s demands while contributing to making them feel confident they can actually perform their duties.
This is similar to a strategy used in the adult learning world known as scaffolding. As the employees advance, you remove the metaphorical training wheels and leave them to fend for themselves with increasingly complex tasks, instead of throwing everything at them from the start.
There’s no use in getting your new employees up to speed and feeling ready to tackle any possible scenario if your everyday activities don’t meet their expectations and leave them feeling lost and disconnected. For a distributed enterprise’s routine to sail smoothly, it’s important to pay attention to a few points.
Well Defined Structure
Working in an office setting has a way of making you feel like you belong. Everyone around you is working with the same purpose and you’re part of a team with shared goals. When you’re at a remote location, this sometimes gets lost, and it gets especially difficult if you need something and you don’t know who to turn to for help.
Disoriented employees won’t only feel frustrated and unmotivated but also lose productivity and waste precious time searching for answers they could easily get if they knew with whom they should talk.
Solving this is at the same time easy and complicated. Let me explain. The solution is having a well-defined and clearly communicated internal structure. That, however, isn’t that simple to architect and maintain.
Start by outlining the basics and clearly defining the responsibilities of each department, so that there aren’t tasks no one seems to be sure who’s responsible for. As new things start coming up, department heads must immediately define the detailed processes and assign them to specific staff.
Once you have the outline of your structure, it’s time to communicate it. You can do this either by making it available to your employee or by defining a specific department as the focal point for this kind of information. Maybe you find it more interesting to centralize demands on your HR department. The important thing here is making sure that every member of the staff is aware of where they should go if they need to clarify something that’s not on their manager’s scope of work.
One of the keys to making a distributed enterprise work is to constantly be in touch with your staff. Maybe we should borrow from the famous North-American playwright David Mamet and state that the secret for success in a distributed model is ABC: “always be communicating.”
In addition to the traditional teamwide weekly status meetings, managers must schedule frequent one-on-one calls with members of the team. That way, everyone feels like they have a space to debate specifics, voice concerns, and feel like what they’re doing is being seen. These don’t have to be long meetings that take up a lot of the staff’s precious time. It’s more fruitful to meet constantly for a shorter amount of time than to spend hours on a conference call.
Another way to contribute to keeping the lines of communication open is using company-wide communication tools. There are several applications that allow employees to reach one another in real time, create dedicated and private groups, and keep the conversation exclusively during work hours.
This is an important step in avoiding employees to work 24/7 and preventing the dreaded burnout. So, stay away from the apps we most commonly use for our personal lives, no matter how practical it may be to adopt something most people already use.
Now that you have got yourself well planned and organized operations, you can be confident your day-to-day procedures will run smoothly. But what about when they don’t? Being able to provide quick and efficient support when something isn’t working as it should is paramount to keeping things afloat.
More often than not, a well-staffed IT department will be able to tackle any everyday issue that arises. A few details will make a huge difference in how they operate and also make them feel empowered to be the best they can be at their job.
Gone are the days when we needed to either march down to the IT department with our laptops or ask for a member of the team to swing by our station and see why something wasn’t working as it should have been. Thanks to remote access, anyone can provide the necessary support by gaining control of your device, running the necessary diagnostics, and making the required changes.
There are several tools that can provide such functionality, which goes beyond screen sharing for simply demonstrating what’s going on. In a distributed scenario, this is indispensable since no employee other than the ones from your IT department is obligated to have the expertise to keep everything up and running and solve any hiccups that will inevitably appear along the way.
Robust Team And Unified Platform
Depending on the size of your organization, you may be faced with an astoundingly high number of appliances and devices to upkeep, and it’s not easy juggling every single demand that may require the IT department to step up. Making sure they meet the demand of the company will keep things from falling apart due to a long line of unresolved tickets. There are two things to consider here.
First and foremost, you need a sizable department. There’s no point in believing that a small group of people will be able to handle everything that’s thrown at them, especially when we’re talking about IT support. Oftentimes things don’t go as anticipated, some issues take much longer to solve than others, and since the rest of the company won’t stop to wait for the demands to be met before you know chaos has ensued.
Additionally, the team needs to leverage a centralized platform that unifies the demands and allows everyone to track the progress of their tasks. There are several off-the-shelf options, and you can always develop your own to meet specific needs.
The important thing is that whatever solution you choose empowers your IT professionals so that they can be on top of everything that’s going on and also keep the rest of the staff up to date on their demands.
More related articles on our Distributed Enterprises Series