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The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the way for remote work and distributed teams. This hybrid work model transformed how people can provide value to a company wherever they are in the world. But as we face issues with a looming economic downturn — from the Great Resignation to the waves of layoffs and hiring freezes hitting the tech industry — the current business climate calls for companies to adapt fast to more fluid work models that can drastically improve handling and managing teams, as well as increasing work efficiency and productivity.

From big companies to startups, the U.S. tech industry has suffered numerous layoffs throughout 2022 as the current economic slowdown is fueled by fears of an upcoming recession. But this is why companies need to be more agile to survive. Outdated systems such as traditional hiring, team management strategies and the 9-to-5, 40-hour work week are not enough to catch up to the ever-evolving work demands

But it isn’t just simply telling your employees that they can work from home. Organizational changes are needed to effectively assemble and manage distributed teams to get the most out of the new opportunities they provide.

Change-resistant companies must continuously improve in light of economic downturns

Companies and organizations globally, even those previously resistant to change, have no choice but to evolve and keep growing amid the post-COVID challenges. By adopting the distributed teams model, they can go beyond the current talent shortage by finding different kinds of talent and skillsets around the world. Companies can leverage the value that freelancers and stay-at-home workers can offer to come up with superior and innovative products, services and solutions for their businesses. 

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However, there are management challenges when your distributed teams become more complex and when managers have less visibility of their team members. Our company worked with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley to study “discursive diversity” between team members, which points to their differences and how these different viewpoints can help shape ideas, plans and strategies for the success of a project. This is just one of the dozens of factors that can contribute to the success or failure of a team or project.

Indeed, distributed teams are complex and it is very difficult to manage teams when you don’t see them, especially with traditional firms. But there is a way to manage and monitor distributed teams efficiently. 

Advance innovation with AI: Measure hard and soft skills, align teams, and track and manage projects

Measuring team members’ hard and soft skills, assigning them to their respective teams and managing and aligning those teams requires processes and dozens of data points. Managers can no longer poke their heads into a cubicle to check on team alignment, but they can use artificial intelligence (AI) to bring all of these factors into harmony.

Within our organization, we have teams comprised of talent in different parts of the world who work really well together, have met deadlines, and have higher levels of productivity and rates of success in the projects they take on. Using a project management platform powered by AI, we can track data about all our freelancers and hundreds of decision points across the project roadmap. The AI tracks the entire project, processes data and alerts the project managers accordingly. 

For example, we track the presence of discursive diversity within distributed teams at each stage of the project. AI helps in assembling freelancers into teams based on the discursive diversity data points that were processed, thus optimizing project fit and team chemistry. It then tracks the level of alignment or divergence at each stage — allowing project managers to increase diverse thinking during ideation stages and support better alignment during project planning and execution stages.

Depending on the goals of the project, the teams now have higher chances of getting the project done on time and under budget. Project managers can effectively manage freelancers and teams, and help prevent issues before they arise and affect the timeline or the budget.

Web3 and organizations: How decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) can help improve the way we do work

Another flexible work model that can be adapted is the decentralized autonomous organization or DAO. DAO is a blockchain-based democratized organizational structure where people gather, working on a shared goal with a shared financial account. It is likened to a digital cooperative but with all the members having voting rights and equal governance.

DAOs use blockchain technology and smart contracts to make rules that are automatically enforceable once conditions are met. Companies can harness a DAO’s value as it can support asynchronous and elastic work and empower teams wherever they are in the world. 

We see that the largest areas of success using models call “hybrid DAOs” which take the best parts of traditional management and augment them with features of a DAO. 

DAOs don’t have to replace traditional corporations. They can be adapted as an organizational structure for a company’s dedicated team of like-minded people working on the same project or goal. The structure can be time-limited and dissolved once the project is done and complete. This creates something like a mini-company inside a company, which supercharges the rate at which a project is done. Every member of the DAO has a stake in the project, has the same voting rights and weighted responsibility as every other member, and then can exit the project when it is complete.

This idea is completely contrary to the traditional belief that employees need to work with a company for decades to provide real value. Instead, the DAO model can attract freelance and contract workers interested in contributing to the specific project and then moving on. This is a perfect example of the value distributed teams can offer and how they can attract project-specific talent.

As we move forward in an uncertain global economic climate, companies must be quick on their feet and explore more fluid work models that can meet their business demands and ensure the longevity of the organization. Adapting innovative models for work, and using new technology to properly execute those models, will help any company stay afloat even in dark times like recessions.

Cory Hymel is director of blockchain at Gigster.

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