We live in an emerging globalized mobile world of dispersed cloud workers. More than ever, we see individuals and organizations trading their traditional offices for work from home, coffee houses, and nearly anywhere in the world with Internet connection. This isn’t a trend found in the for-profit space alone; nonprofit organizations are seeing tremendous growth in remote workers as they seek to keep pace with the changes that surround them and align the best talent for their organizations.

Leading the modern nonprofit with a dispersed workforce brings its own challenges and requires new attitudes, approaches, and technologies. It requires leadership to be willing to step out of the comfort of the corner office and explore rich new possibilities of workforce engagement. It requires a higher degree of understanding in communication, culture, collaboration, and empowerment.

A cloud-based workforce is nothing more than distributed or remote employees who are not bound by geography, time zone, or national boundaries. These employees connect to colleagues via technology, enabling them to work more flexibly.

As the new-century organization continues to seek greater flexibility, organizational leadership must evolve to the pressures and realities of a globalized economy. Leader flexibility is the key to creating an atmosphere where each employee can become more excited about where they work and, more importantly, what they are working on. As the world becomes more globalized, the need for a flexible cloud-optimized workforce is more evident. This remote workforce requires leadership to be re-imagined and retooled.

While traditional leadership relies on formality, power, and proximity to followers, the new dispersed organization is emerging as a nontraditional structure in which authority is not vested in positions. Organizations of different types are beginning to abandon traditional leadership for leaderless, self-led, and an empowered autonomous workforce. As hierarchies begin to collapse, leaders must learn to adapt to new realities and what it means to lead a more culturally diverse dispersed workforce from a distance.

As organizations continue to evolve, based on the needs of their members, leaders must learn how to communicate more effectively, engage human capital differently, embrace cultural nuances with diplomatic precision, and empower employees.

Communication requires a clear and concise flow of information. For the new-century leader to be effective there must be a free flow of information at all times. Effective communication keeps an organization aligned and focused through a philosophy and culture of interaction. Communication requires a commitment to transparency and clarity in messaging. Misunderstanding and unproductive conflict is a direct product of poor communication.

Engaging human capital requires listening to employees, empowering them, and getting out of their way to get things done. Micromanagement has no place in the new organization. Employees need to feel valued. Engaging human capital in a distributed system requires them to be heard. They need to know that what they have to say and what they have to contribute is valuable to the overall goals and direction of the organization. They also need the power to get things done. Because distributed employees are likely located far from leadership, they need the authority to make decisions. The bottleneck of hierarchy will strangle the effectiveness of remote workers. Therefore, they need the power to get things done and they need leadership to get out of their way to do what they know best – their jobs.

Understanding cultural nuances in the 21st century is critical to the success of any organization. Navigating these nuances becomes even more critical in a distributed setting. Leaders must know how to cross through and operate within differing cultures. Understanding cultural differences creates emotional connections with their followers.

Things are shifting and organizations are changing. Engagement of employees will change. We can either prepare for the inevitable or bury our heads in the depths of a 19th century hierarchical structure. In the end, you can change or you can become irrelevant. The choice is up to you.


Dr. Philip A. Foster, a thought leader in business operations, organization and strategic leadership, is a writer, international lecturer and author of The Open Organization. Philip is certified in both leadership and coaching, and is the founder and CEO of Maximum Change Consulting. Twitter: @maximumchange, email:


This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!
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