“As I settled back into my car with nothing to do, it hit me—this was my first official stakeout! I’d seen them on TV but underestimated the complexity. Based on the awkward glances from passersby, I was clearly lacking the skills to look inconspicuous. Pretend phone calls and searching for imaginary objects in my car clearly wasn’t cutting it.”
– Jeff L.
So begins the modern-day, business-world saga, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams, by Larry English, President of Centric Consulting. While stakeouts may not fall under the umbrella of standard company procedure, the book kicks off with this delightful antecedent, as it addresses a primary concern among employers regarding remote workforces: employees won’t actually work when they work from home. And then it goes on to share the 20+ years of wisdom gained from this longtime pro. #legit Once I finished this timely and surprisingly amusing read, I sat down for a conversation with this remote workforce guru (remotely, as it only seemed right), so he could continue dishing out all the goods on leading a remote team. Y’all ready for this?
Balanced employees = effective employees
“We didn’t do it to save money on office space,” Larry informed me at the start of our Q&A. So why did they launch a virtual workforce two decades ago? They wanted to build a company that encouraged its employees to have a more balanced life. And despite the common concern that remote employees will work less, Larry observed that when you hire the right people, the opposite is the problem. Ironically, when new employees begin to work from home, Centric Consulting leadership checks in to ensure they are maintaining health work/life boundaries and don’t let the job bleed into their quality time with family and friends. The company is clearly invested in its employees living balanced and healthy lives, and in return the employees are very effective and invested in the company. “We’ve worked with thousands of workers remotely, and can count on one hand the number of times someone wasn’t intentionally working,” Larry stated.
Purposeful relationships = great culture
Larry believes that the biggest surprise about leading a virtual workforce is that “you can actually feel more connected to your coworkers in a virtual environment and have a better culture if you do the things outlined in the book.” A virtual workforce requires purposeful interaction. There are no casual check-ins as a manager wanders through the halls. This means that managers need to create a habit of regularly touching base with employees. You need to allocate relational one-on-one time (in-person or virtual) to check-in with individual employees. During this time, connect on a personal level and give them an opportunity to share any worries. This purposeful interaction can result in deeper and more genuine engagement than typical office conversation.
The right employees = well…. the right employees
The book also shares insights on business culture-building, such as this gem: “Half of your interview process should be spent determining whether the person meets the job skill qualifications. The other fifty percent should be spent figuring out if the person is a culture fit.” Another central tenant at Centric is trust. If you can’t trust your employees to work remotely, then you couldn’t trust them at your workplace either. In both instances, it is about having the right employee. Whether they are remote or onsite makes no difference.
Office Optional also covers leader-modeled vulnerability, crucial conversation training, robust feedback mechanisms and fully integrated operating procedures. Working from home is the way of the future. This is the tip of the iceberg, people.
Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.