This article is part of our Distributed Enterprises Series
One of the crucial aspects of getting a distributed enterprise going is laying down a robust and solid infrastructure. Given that the team members of such a company will mostly do their jobs remotely and separated from one another, providing them with the necessary tools for them to be successful is key.
Fortunately, we are living in an age where there are plenty of platforms and devices that can help people work from wherever they are. In fact, the increase in speed and quality of internet connections, as well as the appearance of numerous cloud-based platforms, paved the way for the distributed approach.
That’s why, as a part of our series on distributed enterprises, I’ll be going over the critical tools and solutions you’ll need on your journey to becoming a distributed company.
Hardware, the oft-forgotten part of distributed companies
I’m starting with hardware because some people seem to forget about the importance of giving employees the right devices and physical tools to do their work and mostly focus on offering them software solutions. While that’s a possible approach, the reality is that hardware and software need to be top notch for a distributed enterprise to work smoothly.
When talking about hardware, that means making sure that your team members have access to the latest technologies and devices. Those may be laptops, tablets, smartphones, monitors, cameras, digital pens, or whatever else your employees might need. It also means that your internal hardware infrastructure (the one you have in your central and satellite offices—if any) has to be at the top of the line, too.
First, let’s focus on the hardware for the team members. Here, you have three possibilities with distinct pros and cons:
- Let the team members take care of hardware. Basically, this means that you ask your employees to use their own devices to do their work. This is the most effective method budget-wise, but has several disadvantages, mainly related to how secure those devices actually are.
- Provide hardware yourself. In this option, you equip your team members with whatever hardware they might need to do their jobs. It might get costly, depending on the number of employees and their needs, but you can rest assured that they’ll get secure and up-to-date devices.
- Use DaaS. We already discussed what Device as a Service means, so if you want a more comprehensive take on it, you should read this article. Enough to say that you can pay a DaaS provider to equip your team members with any device you need, thus freeing yourself from everything related to hardware maintenance, support, and updates and upgrades.
Of course, it’ll be up to you which one of these options works best for your distributed company. However, our experience at BairesDev has shown us that it’s always better to provide the equipment yourself, be it through your own IT area or through a DaaS provider. That’s because employee hardware might not be as secure or up-to-date or might be shared with other people that shouldn’t have access to your company’s work.
The hardware part of the infrastructure doesn’t end there. You should also consider the hardware that needs to power your offices (should you have them, of course). This goes beyond providing the equipment for the people that may work in-house.
You also have to consider if you need, for example, a private cloud to store and process some or all of your data. If that’s the case, you’ll need dedicated servers and connections. Naturally, this doesn’t apply to all companies, so you need to clarify your requirements before planning your in-house hardware infrastructure.
The implications of developing an in-office hardware structure exceed what I’ll cover here. The suggestion here is simple: consider the requirements of the team that might work in house and your own strategic needs to define what hardware you’ll have to install in your premises. You might find that you only need the devices for your employees or you might find out that there’s more to it than that.
6 types of software solutions for distributed companies
Aside from the hardware, the other crucial aspect of a distributed enterprise is software. Now, there are many types of digital solutions out there that can empower a distributed company. Which ones you’ll end up adopting will depend on the type of work you do, the size of your team, and the particular needs of your operational processes.
That means that you’ll have to pick the cloud-based platforms that better suit those specifics. There are, however, certain types of solutions that are virtually unavoidable for distributed companies. By that I mean that they have proven to be necessary for these types of companies. But even if they don’t feel necessary for you in particular, you should consider them nonetheless, as they can enhance your day-to-day activities and boost your team.
Thus, there are 6 types of software that all distributed companies should adopt:
- Collaboration tools. One of the first things you’ll have to worry about is ensuring that your team members can work smoothly and efficiently with one another even when they are apart. The best collaboration tools are the ones that bring together features that allow users to talk with each other (either via text, calls, or video), share files, create groups, and even serve as a record log of sorts. The best example of this type of tool is Slack.
- Project management tools. While collaboration tools mostly focus on establishing fluent communication between team members, project management solutions are all about providing support for accomplishing business goals. These solutions often include ticketing systems, reporting features, follow-up options, organizational settings, and time tracking capabilities. Two of the most popular project management tools are Jira and Basecamp.
- File storage tools. It’s true that collaboration and project management tools offer their own file sharing and storage capabilities. However, they might not be efficient enough to store certain kinds of data. That’s why you need to provide your distributed team with file storage platforms, so they can organize all of their files in cloud-based folders to easily share and work on them. There are many options here, but Google Drive and Dropbox are among the most popular ones.
- Productivity tools. Adopting some of the tools mentioned above will surely have a positive impact on your productivity (as long as you use them correctly and to their full potential). However, there are more specific tools that can help you with that, improving your processes and making your entire company more efficient. Take Blink, for example. This productivity solution offers calendar management, discussion boards, employee directory, news feed, and even customizable apps to better fit your own processes.
- Billing and invoice tools. An essential part of conducting business remotely is being able to create invoices, manage payments, and even automate your billing. Fortunately, there are specific platforms that can help you with all your accounting needs and serve multiple team members wherever they are. There are many good billing solutions available online, including Square and Invoice2Go.
- Time zone management. This one might not apply to you, especially if you work with a distributed team within the same city, state, or even some countries. That’s because your entire team is in the same time zone. But if you have people scattered across different time zones, you need one of these solutions, which help you track team members across multiple time zones to better organize meetings and calls. There are many options here, including Timezone.io and Every Time Zone.
Following these bullet points, you might be tempted to think that you’ll need 6 software solutions and you’ll be ready to go. The reality is far more complicated than that. Depending on your company and your activity, you might need less or more than these solutions—there’s no way to tell in advance. Thus, you need to sit down and determine your needs, requirements, and possibilities.
Additionally, you can always sort your software requirements by hiring a software development company to work on customized solutions for your distributed enterprise. While more expensive than adopting off-the-shelf software already available in the market, you might find that a single, well-developed platform covers most of your needs in a centralized place. It’s up to you to decide.
The Optimal Performance
A distributed enterprise absolutely depends on its infrastructure to operate properly. That’s why you need to laser-focus your attention on it when you’re on your way to becoming distributed. You need to completely understand the requirements of your team and your offices (if any). The idea is to adopt only the solutions that will satisfy your specific needs.
Doing so can be tricky, especially if you haven’t done that before. Things get more complicated when you consider that requirements change over time, and you might need to change your infrastructure in the future. However, you won’t be able to thrive as a distributed company if you don’t do so. Use this article as a guide for the first drafts of your plan and adjust as you move along to ensure you get the optimal performance from your tech environment.
More related articles on our Distributed Enterprises Series