As we were entering the third year of the pandemic, the world saw renewed lockdowns as Omicron cases doubled every day since December 2021. This made business leaders rethink how work will evolve in the coming months.
Last year, businesses were preparing for some degree of stability as they prepared for hybrid work arrangements, putting up work policies and expecting for a smooth rollout this year. But now, the nature of work remains uncertain.
Remote work is “set to accelerate and become a more permanent fixture as of 2022,” as reported by NBC News. “By the end of 2021, the number of available permanent remote positions doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent,” and that “could increase to 25 percent by 2022,” according to experts.
There is also a growing “call for shorter workweeks and condensed hours” which are “gaining traction around the globe, with companies and entire governments alike already exploring this alternative,” as reported by BBC.
With these renewed uncertainties, business leaders need to rethink how to future-proof their business, considering the permutations around hybrid work and remote work. This is where the concept of a distributed enterprise will come into play.
A distributed enterprise is an evolution from the traditional location-centric organization, where both staff and customers are spread geographically due to remote work and travel restrictions. It consists of a central office space with localized information technology (IT) staff and networking facilities. It can also include several other remote or branch sites that have few or no IT staff but have similar needs as the central office but varying degrees of scalability.
The distributed enterprise concept is nothing new. It’s been around for several years and has been implemented by global and national companies with multiple branch offices. Developments in cloud computing have allowed branch operations to mimic the central office’s capabilities.
But as the pandemic situation remains uncertain, there is growing pressure for organizations to provide tools and applications to enable workers to carry out their daily tasks and be more responsive to customers wherever they are.
To adopt a distributed enterprise strategy entails investments in technology and people. Some technology investments include enterprise-grade security, SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) and cloud computing.
Enterprise-grade security is the process a business uses to protect its informational or national assets against cybersecurity attacks, integrity infringement or availability issues. This includes data, servers, storage and workstations.
On the other hand, SD-WAN is a software system and a virtualized service that connects and extends enterprise networks over large geographical distances. It uses a network technology to communicate over the internet between different locations using encryption.
Lastly, the accelerated adoption of cloud computing during the pandemic has set the stage for the rise of the distributed enterprise, where it will allow businesses to deploy applications through varying hosting models and use SaaS (software-as-a-service) or IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) platforms that utilize the cloud.
Apart from these technologies, the distributed enterprise will require workers that adapt to the new tools and new ways of working. Collaborating virtually with remote teams, distributed problem-solving and empathy toward colleagues and customers are skills that need to be developed, apart from the technical skills in using digital tools.
While the move to a distributed enterprise model is a way of adapting to the uncertainties of the pandemic, organizations can also reap benefits from its deployment. For one, many remote workers report an increase in productivity, backed by several studies. According to Gartner, a dispersed workforce is the most effective way to build a 21st-century business because it allows for greater worker autonomy, increased productivity and better engagement.
Another is that distributed enterprise technology solutions are also relatively inexpensive to maintain, given the subscription model of these technologies.
The distributed enterprise model will be the new approach to building a resilient organization amid the precarious prospects ahead.
The author is the founder and chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org