This article is part of the Distributed Enterprises Series.
Adopting a distributed business model has multiple potential benefits, but it also comes with various challenges that need to be overcome. These obstacles have been previously highlighted, especially during the initial phase of transitioning to this model. Moreover, there may be additional hurdles that could surface even after the complete embrace of this approach.
The primary culprit behind the common challenges encountered during the shift to a distributed work environment is the presence of team members in different locations. Dispersed enterprises undergo a range of hurdles, including a diminished sense of personal connection and team cohesion.
We have assembled a catalogue of the most common five difficulties along with potential solutions.
Reduced Levels of Management Control
The key apprehension with remote or flexible work is that managers may feel uneasy about losing control over their teams. This unease could arise from mistrust of team members’ competency or difficulty in monitoring their advancement closely.
Solution: It is essential to understand that certain managers may feel apprehensive about implementing remote work due to a perceived loss of control over their staff. Nonetheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that excessive supervision is largely counterproductive. As a result, shifting to a distributed system might not lead to better control over teams.
Supervisors must acknowledge that managing a remote team demands a distinct approach from traditional methods used when all team members were working in the same location. Utilising cloud-based platforms can be effective in monitoring activity and progress, and success should be evaluated based on concrete outcomes instead of the duration spent on work.
All in all, supervisors need to embrace a fresh management style that centres around whether the team is meeting its established goals and how they are utilising their time.
More Team Members Are Drifting Away from the Team’s Objectives
The geographical dispersion of team members increases the likelihood of them losing sight of the team’s overall direction. This can occur when supervisors, leaders or organisations fail to communicate their objectives and plans clearly, or when there is a decline in informal interaction amongst them.
Studies have revealed that a deficiency in direction can cause employees to feel disengaged from the company’s broader objectives. This can result in the development of silos within the team, as individuals are unable to comprehend the wider context of their work. Without a clear sense of purpose, team members may experience lower motivation and commitment to their tasks, thus undermining the chances of success.
Solution: The distributed approach has the ability to enhance efficiency, which could be advantageous for any enterprise. However, this benefit can only be reaped if all team members have a clear understanding of their designated tasks and how they contribute to the organisation’s overall projects. To achieve this, unambiguous and direct communication is paramount.
Sustaining candid and productive communication is one of the most powerful strategies for achieving success. It is suggested to set up regular meetings to guarantee that everyone is well-informed and in agreement. It is crucial to specify the objectives and provide frequent progress reports to the team. Lastly, it is essential to make all team members feel appreciated by sharing the final outcome, engaging in discussions about the results, and expressing gratitude.
Lack of Face-to-Face Communication
As mentioned earlier, a dispersed approach could potentially reduce the frequency of accidental encounters. Opponents of this model often cite the disappearance of such interactions as the primary reason for their hesitation in transitioning to a distributed business model.
In a remote model, team members encounter difficulties in emulating face-to-face interactions as non-verbal communication is prevalent. This poses a challenge in terms of building significant ‘micro-moments’ for employees to interact, exchange ideas and establish relationships.
Solution: It is advised that all types of communication utilise video as a compulsory feature. Video calls cannot replace physical meetings, but they do enhance team communication by incorporating non-verbal cues. Although video conferencing cannot replicate spontaneous meetings, it could be a useful instrument in such a scenario.
Providing opportunities for team members to connect beyond the workplace is crucial. Online team building activities could be facilitated through virtual meetings or even in-person. Allocating time for these less structured gatherings is necessary to maintain high staff morale.
Inadequate Company Culture
It seems that the team’s inability to integrate the company’s culture could be attributed to their lack of connection. This is linked to the first two problems, as a fragmented business culture without a unifying sense is likely the outcome of an inadequate leadership approach consisting of insufficient interaction and the absence of a well-defined communication strategy.
Defining and communicating your brand’s policies and standards is vital to establish a well-defined and coherent image of your organisation to staff, clients, collaborators, and suppliers. Day-to-day activities play a vital role in shaping the company culture, but it is the duty of leadership to mould and influence the essential components of that culture.
Solution: Virtual team-building events and online games can contribute to building team spirit and values, but they are insufficient. Dedicate time to participate in enjoyable activities that bring people together, as well as those that encourage team and personal development and help achieve professional goals.
By complementing casual team interactions with professional-oriented ones, we can reinforce our company culture and values in the minds of our team members. This can be accomplished by arranging training sessions to enable reskilling and upskilling of staff. Moreover, implementing mentorship programmes and pairing employees for specific assignments may be advantageous.
Inefficient Business Operations
Lastly, the speedy implementation of a dispersed approach could negatively affect the project’s operational facets. Complications may arise due to the team’s geographical dispersion, which could result in issues with technology, established protocols, and even cultural aspects, such as language, communication style, and time zone synchronization.
There is a possibility that team members may be unable to attend in-person meetings and discussions due to a lack of schedule overlap. Additionally, some regions may lack access to necessary services, and language proficiency differences could lead to misunderstandings. To prevent further inefficiencies, it is crucial to plan ahead.
Solution: Prior to transitioning to a remote work environment, we emphasised the need for a comprehensive plan. However, if you believe that you may have overlooked any crucial information, there is no cause for concern. It is vital to review and improve upon your initial strategy.
To offer your users the best possible support, you may want to shift to a new platform or even develop your own. To ensure that some staff is available 24/7, you could limit the locations for recruitment. Furthermore, if you have gifted individuals who could benefit from language training, you could provide them with language courses. Although it is possible to face operational difficulties, there are also many methods to resolve them.
The Right Attitude
While there are several reasons against implementing a dispersed strategy for your company, it is not recommended to dismiss this approach. A distributed strategy has numerous advantages, and employees frequently support it.
Instead of opposing the move of your business to a distributed model, consider how it could be tailored to suit your requirements more effectively. Starting with a basic approach is a good starting point, but you should also anticipate the most common obstacles associated with it. Although too numerous to mention here, the ones below would aid in providing a clearer picture and allowing for a seamless transition to this model.
Our series on decentralized businesses contains additional relevant articles.