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The Expanding Ban on Working Remotely: Is There a Way to a Less Radical Solution?

After many quarters of loss or decline, a few big tech giants have recently come up with a relatively surprising way to try and turn things around: employees, say hasta la vista to remote work! Given the simultaneous popularity of workplace flexibility, this move comes as a surprise. Not so surprising is the fact that the change has met fierce criticism and opposition. This type of “all-purpose solution” can be very damaging to the morale of a company’s employees.

The decision is especially confusing since, according to a 2017 Gallup study quoted by The New York Times, the number of employees who work remotely has steadily increased over the past few years. Gallup found, in a survey of more than 15,000 adults, that “43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. That represents a four-percentage point increase since 2012, a shift that meets the demands of many job seekers.” And another recent study from Stanford University shows that remote workers are 13% more productive.

It’s a confounding paradox.

The companies implementing the ban defend the move as an effort to get their business back on track.

“The thinking behind this move is to create greater moments of serendipity. In other words, the more frequent[ly] employees interact, the more likely they are to generate new conversations which lead to new insights which increase business momentum. The keyword here is ‘likely.’ The fact is, this strategy is another shot in the dark. It’s a hope for something new but it’s not a plan”, explains Jeff Boss in an article for Forbes.

John Simmons from the Wall Street Journal believes these changes might be part of a broader rethink of remote work underway at large companies. “Corporate leaders argue that putting workers in the same physical space hastens the speed of work and sparks innovation. Employers tread a fine line, however, since workers rate flexible-work programs highly.”

Other factors, too, bring clarity to the issue. Managing remote employees is no easy feat. In fact, it’s much more complex than coordinating a team within the office. Also, employees who work remotely require extra attention from management to do a top-notch job.

The Advantages of Working Remotely

The shift is even more thought-provoking because, as we all know, working remotely has some undeniable advantages for both the company and its employees. For one, it opens up the global talent pool. To attract the best talent, offering the possibility of working remotely is a prerequisite. Especially if you want to pull in millennials.

“Some of our best employees and our greatest thinkers are remote. Within my own team, we hire the most qualified people. We don’t hire based on location. It would be foolish to do so,” says Logitech’s Scott Warren.

It’s also worth noting that autonomy is one of three main drivers for people, along with purpose and mastery, according to Daniel Pink’s research on Motivation 2.0. If employees don’t feel their autonomous needs are being met, they become a flight risk.

Employees who work remotely, for their part, report easier lives, lower stress levels and a stable work-life balance.

“Ultimately, it’s my job to make sure that my team hits their numbers. I’m going to have a better chance at doing that if I keep my reps happy (a happy rep is a better-producing rep), and if working from home several times a month makes them happier about their work/life balance, then that is okay by me,” says Chris Snell of Care.com.

Solutions for Managing a Remote Sales force

While certain jobs might be tricky to manage when employees work offsite, coordinating a team of salespeople doesn’t have to be. With the latest advancements in technology, a remote sales team may well be more easily and more efficiently managed than an onsite team. Sales Performance Management solutions have created this new reality.

The benefits of using an SPM solution are numerous and well documented. The most important one to company leaders? Increased revenue. What helps increase revenue? The alignment between salesperson objectives and company objectives.

An SPM solution can help a company align its appraisal criteria with sales strategy, and connect appraisal results to compensation and coaching activities. This in turn maximizes the company’s ability to achieve goals. Moreover, the appraisal process can be improved by automating activities like defining skills and competency levels, writing reviews and giving feedback, and approving compensation changes, which, in the context of managing a large remote salesforce, can prove to be a godsend.

In terms of management, companies can learn to coordinate their remote sales teams more effectively by giving them access to the right technology. A cloud-based SPM solution that can be accessed by any employee, from anywhere, using any device helps set clear expectations and increases visibility into earnings/commissions. If your business is facing difficulties, consider an approach that puts automation to work and gets your salespeople selling. Automatic tracking applications and a mobile-friendly component enable sales reps to record their activity more accurately, even on the go. Combined, these features empower salespeople to focus on their next best step instead of worrying about endless trips to the office to check on their progress, record their activity, or accidentally record inaccurate data.

The human factor is also an essential part of the equation. According to a recent study from MIT professors, the most important ingredient of a smart team is the ability to “consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.” Establishing bonds of friendship and empathy can turn out to be complicated to implement, though, when managing a team of remote salespeople. However, an SPM solution puts cutting-edge technology to work to bring people together, and delivers the benefits of working together in one physical space. Social apps that are integrated into the platform apps, for instance, help remote workers feel included and connected to the organization. These types of apps improve communication and collaboration by facilitating direct contact between reps through features like instant messaging or push notifications. It can also be a terrific way to increase healthy competitiveness – the kind that motivates people to do more better – through features like virtual ‘pats on the back,’ live feedback and achievement sharing. All these characteristics boost engagement and motivation and make salespeople feel part of the team.

The Bottom Line

The ban on working remotely is a radical decision, and a risky one in terms of employee satisfaction levels. By no measure is it even close to ideal. A reliable SPM solution, coupled with an understanding of the fact that, as Jeff Boss puts it in his Forbes article, “Where people work isn’t as important as how or why they work,” can keep a company afloat. And even thriving.

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Chris Glass

Sales Director

Chris has nearly 30 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He excels in planning and executing high growth sales strategies of new and disruptive products and services into the EMEA market. Chris is highly regarded for recruiting and developing highly effective world class teams, while engendering a culture of collaboration and communication.

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