At my company, Anywhere Consulting, we have a simple walkthrough process during which we help you to evaluate your business and assess whether implementing distributed business models can bring value. It is indeed not for everyone. There are three possible outcomes of the evaluation.
IT IS A NO
It’s not right for you. Simple is that. You don’t have any processes that can be done remotely, and you won’t benefit from the new approach, even more, it would create chaos within your current setup which will cost you a massive setback. Only 10-20% of businesses fall into this category, mostly because their model is entirely offline – this is what makes them successful; therefore there’s no need to change. Another explanation is that the manager’s mindset is incompatible with the new model.
IT IS A MMMMM YEAH
You can implement some techniques, but you can’t go fully distributed. The majority of the businesses fall into this category. Your company still needs local or regional presence, but you can split your team into offline and remote groups, based on production cycles. Mainly the core team can be local or the account management or sales, areas where the very personal touch and networking are still helpful to get new business. However, anything else that is supportive or production can be treated as a distributed leg of the company. It is much more like outsourcing as we’ve said it ten years ago, although outsourcing does not involve good integration to the core team, therefore can’t be as productive as needed. The key in this scenario is to identify those points where distributed techniques can be introduced into the business and help business managers to implement these techniques.
IT IS A 100% YES
You can go full remote. Only a handful of companies can do that. In this category, even the managers of the business are fully distributed around the globe, along with their team. Tech startup companies are an excellent example of this, but I’ve seen traditional advertising agencies and digital development companies to ditch the office and create a fully distributed team. At this level, everything depends on the managers of the business. If you make a full commitment to your decision, this will work. If you hesitate and don’t feel confident about the distributed model, this setup will be doomed.
Setting your goals and expectations
As every business is different, there are general screening options where it can be determined if the distributed business model can play a crucial role in the business transformation. Details matter but the very first question I would ask any business owner who’s interested in this topic would be about their goals. Short and long-term business goals. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you are a digital advertising agency, based in Wichita, Kansas. You have a couple of clients, you enjoy your work and business is stable, but you want to grow. If you're going to expand around the region or open up a shop in the nearest bigger city, a distributed business can help you by first hiring people there online but managing them from your hometown. You can open a new office as soon as your team is profitable enough. This way, you can reduce risk and keep cash flow intact when moving to another city or region. If you have bigger plans, and you are convinced that your services are cutting edge, and you can stand out from the global market competition, then you can go almost entirely distributed. You can build up a global team online and market your services around the globe, but still, keep a core team in Wichita. In the first option, you are slightly distributed, on the second option, you are almost entirely distributed. Each option needs different approaches and a different focus from the managers. It is why goals matter.
Evaluating your current setup
Apart from goals, the second most important thing is your current setup. How do you find new business currently? What’s your method? If getting new business involves a lot of personal connections, you can’t ditch the personal touch. You still need to network offline. If your services can be visualized, reproduced and sold online, you might not need anyone to stay in an office. Most businesses keep a core account management and strategic team together in a smaller office while managing a team of distributed employees around the globe.
After new business, production comes. How do you serve your current clients? If your work involves a lot of repetitive, low added value processes that can be a) automated b) outsourced to a cheaper workforce, you should consider distributed business to save money and allocate on more important parts of your business. If your current team has some weak links but you are struggling to find new talents, and the work can be done online, you should look into the options as well. In my experience, digital production, digital marketing, coding, software development, sometimes graphic design and UX, and certain parts of sales can be entirely outsourced to a distributed team. However, of course, that depends on your current setup and level of comfort to outsource.
A company I used to work for, RebelMouse, is based in New York. They offer a social media CMS solution for media companies and brands. Initially, they had a big team in NYC and an even bigger one around the globe. The office team was made up of strategists, sales and account management, and all the senior people. The distributed team included a squad of developers and production. Eventually, they ditched the office entirely and went full remote. RebelMouse was a startup company with massive investments – but they turned profitable only when they went full remote. The business is still operational, and they serve clients in the US with this fully distributed setup. The new structure allowed them to become more flexible, agile and they managed to accomplish their development sprints more efficiently.
Another company, KISSPatent, which helps startup entrepreneurs to protect their ideas with patents, was fully distributed from day one. They have a team of lawyers outsourced to handle patent filings, while the owner is based in Chicago but travels extensively. Every other member – including me, the marketing director – is part of a distributed team around the globe, while the company serves mainly EU and US clients.
How distributed structure can help you is entirely up to your current goals, setup, and level of comfort to go full on with it. If you are not comfortable or confident in making this journey, there are some tests which you can do before committing.