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Should My Sales Team Continue Working Remotely?

It's no secret that remote work arrangements have become more prevalent this year. As more companies are considering physically going back to work, many salespeople are asking the question, "do I have to go back to the office?" The answer? It depends.

Efficient Workspace

Some employees have been more efficient working remotely because the space they have at home provides the creativity, focus, and resources they need. However, if they do not have the right software, bandwidth, or tools to conduct business effectively, they probably need to head back to the office where resources are available. It all depends on the needs associated with their specific role.

One of the biggest reasons people come into the office is collaboration with other team members. In a smaller company, grabbing one or two people to communicate on a project is easy. But when you are in different locations, writing on a smartboard or whiteboard, conducting sticky note exercises or just riffing off of other people's ideas, it becomes increasingly more challenging over a web conference.

However, thanks to social and digital tools, long-distance collaboration is becoming more popular. According to an Alfresco survey, of more than 753 business professionals, it was found that "nearly 83% of professionals depend on technology to collaborate. 82% of the participants also felt that they would feel impacted if this technology to collaborate was lost." As things change, more and more people are starting to support the use of social tools for workplace collaboration.

In fact, The Queens University 2019 survey found that "31% of baby boomers (1946 – 1960s), 40% of Gen X (1960s to 1980s) and 49% of millennials (1980s to 2000s) support social tools for collaboration." That brings up another factor – the styles of the people who need to collaborate. Some are happy doing it over the internet. Others feel more creative and collaborative when they are in the same room and can play off the energy of others. You need to gauge how frequently you need collaboration to happen and whether those collaborating can thrive in the environment you provide.

Trust Issues

Allowing your sales team to do their work elsewhere and outside your eye line can be challenging. Many owners and leaders have the perception of "if I can't see them working, it means they are probably golfing or fishing." That is a distinct lack of trust. In response, ask yourself, "If they are hitting their goals, do you care where they are working from?"

Research shows that owners and leaders who cannot "see" their direct reports sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are working. According to Business Mirror, 1,200 people in 24 different countries completed a survey of 92 questions to investigate how Covid-19 affects managers' and employees' work, well-being, and productivity. The survey states, "Quite a few managers reported not trusting the competence of their employees, with 29% questioning whether their employees had the required knowledge to do their work, and 27 % agreeing that their employees' lacked essential skills."

Not trusting your salespeople could be a personal issue but could also be an accountability problem. Are your salespeople hitting their numbers? Their goal? Their activity levels? If so, the trust problem may be a personal preference that you may need to move forward from, which can be difficult. If they are not meeting expectations, then you may be justified in having them at the office where you can help them get back on track.

Keep your Remote Salespeople on Track

When you have salespeople, who want to continue working remotely, you will want to keep them on track and successful. Here are a few actions you can take to support them and keep them on task. 

Note: we are not recommending ALL of these but provide these as options to customize your own Sales Operating System.  

Structured daily check-ins

Many successful remote managers or owners establish a daily call or email with their remote employees. This communication could include a goal for the day, what they plan to accomplish, and what they've achieved from the previous day. This call or email is structured, predictable, and allows you to keep them on task.

Weekly one-on-ones

This action seems obvious, but it's essential not to let it fall off. The weekly one-on-one should be done via video and cover the salesperson's plan for the week, what they are working on, what they have accomplished so far, their goals, and any issues. 

Rule of engagement

Set expectations around the technology you use. For example, using video for daily check-ins or chat for quick questions. Maybe you use calls for urgent matters. Also, let your team know the best way and time to reach you during the workday.

If you want more tips on helping your salesperson structure their day check out our blog on "Time Management – Take Control Of Your Day."

Social remote

To keep the company's culture positive, make sure you have some time at the beginning of team calls specifically for non-work items. Like asking about how your teams' week was or if anything exciting happened. You can organize virtual pizza parties or happy hours. You can also send out a care package to your team members and open them simultaneously.

Hybrid Remote work

If you have an employee who wants to work remotely, but you are not sure how they will perform, try a hybrid method. Have them work three days at the office and two days remote. Monitor closely and see how they do. According to the Airtasker study, telecommuters or remote workers "worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year" than people who worked in an office. But that is not the case with everybody. If they perform well, maybe you add a day. If not, you tried it out, and now you can bring them back with evidence of why. Make them earn the privilege of working from home by consistently achieving their goals. 

Working remotely not only benefits employees by eliminating their daily commutes most times, but it also can increase productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles.

When they do Come Back

If you have team members, going back into the office, or having to face face-to-face interactions, make sure you are following your company's policies or the CDC's policy for returning to work. A few measures from the CDC to keep in mind are:

  • In general, the more closely you interact with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • If you return to work, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions.
  • Keep these items on hand when returning to work: a mask, tissues, and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.
  • Create a simple rule that people can remember: no more than four people in a conference room or two people in an office. 

Allowing your salespeople to work remotely is not appropriate for every company or every individual. Consider the challenges of managing remote employees, their level of accountability, and determine whether your business is comfortable, allowing them to continue this. 

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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