Working on the Cloud: What conventional businesses can learn from office-less firms

April 26, 2020


2 min read

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What's going on here?

Whilst industries reliant on “brick and mortar” or a physical presence struggled to adapt to fast-moving conditions, distributed businesses have adopted a “business as usual” attitude in the middle of a pandemic. 

What does this mean?

In short, distributed businesses operate with a team located in multiple locations and they generally do not have formal office or headquarters. Distributed businesses are not a “new” trend that start-ups have adopted– they have been around since the internet existed. This is made possible due to the emergence of technology designed for collaborative work. 

For example corporate messaging tools like Slack (a popular workplace messaging application) and Zoom (best known for video and audio conferencing). Planning tools like Trello and Process Street additionally allow remote teams to manage their workflow and keep track of what’s happening. The popularity of distributed businesses has additionally introduced a slew of firms offering organisational scaffolding services like Rippling, an app that manages payroll and employee benefits.

What's the big picture effect?

Given distributed businesses often have open-source origins (i.e. software jointly written by groups of people who are geographically distant), it is unsurprising that a similar philosophy is incorporated into its business model. For instance, WordPress (a software used to build websites) and Gatsby (a start-up helping websites manage content in the cloud) operate in a dispersed manner, serving clients who are themselves dispersed around the world. Being early adopters of this model means they are well placed to weather a hard-hitting crisis or disruption like COVID-19. 

Hence, with this new standard of work becoming the norm for brick and mortar businesses, upper and middle management can learn a thing or two from this way of work. In particular, questions around building trust in tight-knit teams, especially breaking in new team members in an unfamiliar non-traditional manner. For trust to be established, systems of transparency and documentation in making business decisions will need to be in place. Management will also need to recognise a helicopter-style of monitoring will be highly ineffective, and a lighter-touch approach will need to be adopted to ensure staff productivity. 

Unfortunately, this will be a difficult learning curve for traditional businesses, but more so for those without the resources or manpower to cope with the digital switch. For those who have already outsourced operations to the cloud, an all-remote team will likely lead to the shearing off of certain offices. Given all of these structural changes, it will certainly be interesting to see what the new “business as usual” will be like!

Report written by Roslyn Lai

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