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How Today’s Startups Can Adapt to a Globally Distributed Model

How Today’s Startups Can Adapt to a Globally Distributed Model Reuben Jackson / 08 Sep 2020 / Culture / Entrepreneurs / Startups globally distributed model

The world of work is transforming. Although it’s tempting to blame it all on the coronavirus situation and its formidable ripples, the pandemic only accelerated the processes of globalization and digitization that have been underway for decades.

Among its many implications, the digital office means that jobs don’t necessarily need to be done in-person, and today’s startup leaders are realizing that many projects can be done at a lower cost remotely, without any drop in quality.

Still, COVID-19 helped tip the balance towards a globally distributed model.

Factors that are tipping the scales

Government restrictions and fears of infection pushed companies that had previously held out to accept remote working, and many discovered that it’s more manageable than they had expected. Managers realized that there’s little difference between employees working from home on the other side of town and employees working on the other side of the world.

What’s more, outsourcing projects and ongoing operations to offshore teams on a contract basis is a more flexible model that’s easy to scale. A flexible model is especially helpful for startups that can’t always predict what talent they will need when, and have low budgets that force them to hire for project work instead of filling in-house positions.

Given the economic fallout from COVID-19, more and more companies are falling into this category, with an estimated 41% of startups nearing the end of their funding runways, according to Startup Genome.

And finally, running subsidiaries and offices in numerous countries push business owners into overcoming mental barriers to global expansion.

A globally distributed business model allows you to hire the best talent wherever in the world it is. For example, the best R&D teams for your needs might be based in the Ukraine, whereas the best designers may be in Germany.

Transitioning to and managing a globally distributed model isn’t plain sailing. Obstacles to success include enabling collaboration and communication between geographically and culturally distant teams, handling multiple HR and tax requirements, and managing multi-faceted operations around time zone differences.

As with everything in startups, making this change is easier when you plan ahead, but companies that had globally distributed working forced upon them by COVID-19 can still make life easier by following these suggestions.

Automate as much as possible

When you’re running a globally distributed business, you have to adhere to multiple regulations. Each country has different requirements for healthcare and social services contributions, tax obligations, and classifications for types of companies and their obligations to others. Some of these differences are dramatic, while others are nuanced.

For example, you may think you’re hiring a freelance outsourced team that doesn’t receive health benefits, but in your new worker’s home country, she may be considered a contracted employee, with all the rights that go along with that relationship.

In these complex situations, the more you can automate, the better. “Moving to remote work is more than simply changing from an office environment to a distributed workforce,” Papaya Global’s Alex Margolin reminds us. “In the long run, taking advantage of the opportunity remote work offers means building a global vision. This starts with implementing automated tools that will allow your company to grow.”

Automation also helps overcome the dreaded impact of time zones on scheduling. Automated scheduling platforms and smart shared calendars convert meeting times into local time for each participant – and help you check the time in different time zones before you accidentally schedule a meeting for 3am in India.

Create a cohesive team

Whether you’re hiring workers for a short project, setting up a long-term outsourced team, establishing an international partnership, or connecting with a third-party vendor or supplier, it’s vital to support effective communication and collaboration. The various branches of your business can have different work practices and cultural assumptions that can lead to clashes unless you facilitate a smooth working relationship and personal interaction.

As IBM CIO Fletcher Previn puts it, “Some of the biggest challenges for employees revolved around simple human-to-human interaction. When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to have impromptu interactions with colleagues and build friendships.”

You need to help everyone connected with your company to feel part of a global team instead of a group of collaborating clusters and individuals. People crave a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves – this depth of cross-functional engagement boosts satisfaction, decreases churn, and increases productivity across the organization.

Previn’s recommendations are to “Define clear guidance, rules, and policies. Train employees on remote etiquette and provide tools for teams to collaborate and contribute.” And no, email is not enough; you’ll need many communication and collaboration channels, including messaging apps and video-conferencing platforms.

Establish policies that promote connection, like a virtual happy hour or fun conversations. Celebrating every holiday in every culture and country where any of your workers are located can also strengthen the sense of being part of a diverse, global team.

Open up access to information

When business lines stretch across countries, time zones, and continents, data can easily get lost along the way.

Remote workers, outsourced teams, distanced managers, suppliers, and more can all struggle to access the information they need at the right time. Time differences can leave knowledge workers waiting 24 hours or more just to get access to one file.

Data is the lifeblood of every business, so it’s vital to set up practices and platforms that enable everyone to get timely responses to questions, find documents, and more. Embed data and analytics in a way that allows all employees, workers and partners to access them and draw actionable insights, without compromising on security, and data protection compliance.

Support agile working practices

Succeeding with a globally distributed business means decentralizing the hierarchy into a flatter organization.

The fast-paced business world favors small, nimble teams that support agile decision-making. C-suite executives must devolve responsibility onto team managers and experts on the ground, giving them the authority to take the initiative and make decisions – otherwise, your global business will be stifled by bottlenecks.

This intersects with the need for good communication to build trust relationships and remove the urge to micromanage. In the words of Owen McGab Enaohwo, CEO and co-founder of SweetProcess, “Micromanagement derails active and ready-to-work employees — ensure that you maintain a certain level of trust, and you randomly check in on your team from time to time. This will help them perform efficiently and productively.”

Delegating authority to your distributed workers makes them more productive and happier. Slack found that 86% of people who enjoy working remotely say that they have a great deal of autonomy at work, while 77% of people who don’t like remote working say they lack autonomy.

A globally distributed model is attainable

Invest in advanced tech to automate awkward processes and improve communication and trust; support free access to the necessary data; and give all participants in a globally distributed business the responsibility they need to do their jobs effectively.

Globally distributed companies are the future for business, but they require the right mindset.

Image Credit: ketut subiyant; pexels

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Reuben Jackson

Reuben Jackson

Ruben is a blockchain security consultant currently living in New York City. He helps organizations fundamentally redesign experiences to create new sources of value also digitally reinventing company's operations for greater efficiency.

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