Office Optional: Q&A with Larry English, Author of Office Optional

I’ve been a believer in remote work ever since I co-founded Centric Consulting more than two decades ago. My co-founders and I wanted to form a new kind of consulting firm, one with a great culture. Being remote seemed like the best way to improve employee happiness.

We were right: Today, Centric has more than 1,100 employees across the U.S. and India. In 2020, I took everything I’ve learned about leading a remote organization and published a book, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams.

I was honored to be invited to speak on a recent COE webinar about remote work, the steps organizations can take to permanently adopt remote work after the pandemic, and what the future of work will look like. Employees at COE member companies can view the recording in the COE Members Only Digital Content Archive from March 23, 2021. If you don’t have an account, you can create one here (additional instructions / guidance here).

Below are my answers to some audience questions we didn’t have time to cover in the webinar:

Remote work may become the new norm and not a market differentiator. That said, what’s the best way to market remote work in a job description?

There are still many companies lagging behind the times – I think you have six months to a year before the option to work remote becomes a must-have for job seekers. For now, include “the ability to work remote” prominently in the job description. This has been effective for Centric’s recruiting efforts.

Virtual work expands the talent pool. Does it also limit opportunities to people who don't have a professional environment and high-speed internet at home?

The digital divide is a huge issue for our country. I’ve been donating the proceeds of my book, Office Optional, to LaunchCode, a nonprofit that trains disadvantaged groups to become knowledge workers. My work with the organization has convinced me this is a solvable problem. Internet shouldn’t be an issue: Broadband is already available in urban centers and will be extended to rural areas, as well. If individuals lack the room to work remote effectively at home, companies can provide space or a co-working stipend. The bigger challenge is digital literacy and basic business skills. Nonprofits like LaunchCode can create training cohorts to help develop talent.

What are your thoughts on Yammer as corporate social media? Is it helpful or hurtful? What’s the impact on digital culture?

We’ve found that few companies have had widespread success with organization-wide Yammer deployment, adoption and use. Microsoft has passively admitted this by creating a way to surface Yammer through Teams – they realized that when an organization implements Teams, that’s the first place people go for communication and collaboration.

Companies considering adding Yammer need to ask themselves what they plan to do with it and whether there isn’t already a solution in place that could accomplish the same thing. Adding another platform for employees to navigate can be harmful to digital culture. You don’t want employees to get   burned out from staying on top of too many communication channels. One of Centric’s initiatives is to help make that experience easier for employees to navigate throughout the day. 

If you work for a company with offices across the country or around the world, how do you establish boundaries so you’re not always “on”?

There is onus on both the individual and management. The individual needs to have a routine to formally end their day and commit to not looking at work past that point. Many chat platforms offer the ability to set “quiet hours” where you can’t be notified. I’ve also turned off notifications on my phone so I’m not constantly bombarded after hours.

As a management team, you must communicate and set an example that it is okay and expected that employees will unplug and step away from their work – no one should be expected to respond to chats at midnight, for example.

What are your thoughts on enforcing a regular work from home schedule?

The closer you get to maximum flexibility for team members, the better. That said, designing a gathering strategy for when your team needs to get together is critical. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. There are a lot of factors to consider for each team. For example, if there’s a lot of team conflict, getting together in person more frequently would be beneficial. Same story if you’re frequently adding new members or kicking off a big initiative or project.

To get in touch with me, feel free to connect on LinkedIn, Twitter or email at larry.english@centricconsulting.com. For Office Optional related requests, including interviews and speaking engagements, email Stephanie Zeilenga at stephanie.zeilenga@centricconsulting.com.

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