Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

The workforce is changing – a dispersed workforce combined with a decentralised management structure means change is unlikely to slow down soon.

The concept of a decentralised business has been around for many years and it traditionally refers to the idea of decentralised decision-making. Rather than always letting head office call the shots, a decentralised business grants greater autonomy to its branches, such as entrusting regional managers with more decision-making authority and allowing business units greater freedom to govern themselves.

Decentralised businesses tend to think fast on their feet and respond quickly to local conditions, because the entire organisation isn't beholden to the wheels of bureaucracy turning many miles away, and empowers workers to make decisions that are in the best interest of their immediate area.

Of course, the trade-off with decentralisation can be inefficiencies such as infrastructure duplication and sacrificing the bargaining power of business-wide purchasing. Rather than go to the extremes, most businesses take a blended approach that balances the efficiencies of central management with the benefits of on-the-ground localisation.

A man drinking a coffee with his laptop

A decentralised workforce

Decentralisation might only seem relevant to big businesses, but talk of decentralised business extends beyond management structure to incorporate the idea of a decentralised and dispersed workforce empowered by new technology.

Business size and the tyranny of distance become less relevant once your staff can function effectively as a decentralised workforce – taking advantage of online collaboration suites, project management systems and communication tools such as videoconferencing.

These technologies help level the playing field letting big businesses act more like a nimble small business but also letting small businesses punch above their weight by tapping into affordable and scalable enterprise-grade services.

Large or small, a decentralised workforce lets you make the most of the talent within your organisation. You can bring together virtual teams spread across offices, oceans and time zones rather than putting people together because they happen to sit near each other. Once productivity is no longer tied to proximity, it paves the way for flexible concepts like jobsharing, working remotely, telecommuting and follow-the-sun global workflows.

Small businesses can also leverage the flexibility of a decentralised workforce and new technology to attract and retain talented people in search of workplace flexibility – regardless of where they're based. This helps you compete on the global stage regardless of where you're located.

The rise of the decentralised workforce has even seen the birth of virtual businesses with employees who aren't tied to a physical office. This offers the ultimate flexibility while eliminating expensive overheads like office space, giving a major advantage on less-nimble competitors.

The virtual business ties back to the original decentralised business concept, moving away from micro-management and granting team members greater autonomy while leveraging the power of videoconferencing and other communication tools to coordinate your efforts. Eliminating the daily commute can also add several productive hours to the day or help foster a greater work life balance.

Get mobile

Decentralising your business seems quite daunting, and it won't always be practical. But there are steps that any business can take to capitalise on this shift in the way business is done.

Equipping staff with mobility tools, and embracing the workflow changes required to make the most of them ensures your people can remain productive while they're away from the office.

There's no blanket rule – the freedom of mobility obviously won't benefit every staff member in every business – but there's more to mobility than just getting work done while sitting in the airport. It can offer small businesses flexible work arrangements and even the benefits of enterprise-style business continuity plans should an incident put your premises out of bounds.

Anything from a burst water pipe to a public transport strike could see your office temporarily out of reach, and an empowered decentralised workforce left standing on the footpath can keep the lights on while the business gets back on its feet and makes alternative arrangements.

There's a lot more to decentralising business than simply easing the reins on your head office decision-making. It's about reimagining your business as a fluid and dynamic organisation that’s well-equipped to embrace change and face any challenge.

Looking for ways your decentralised business can stay productive?

Check out our five tips to stay productive on the road. 

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