Disappearing Telecommuters

Saleshq.com offers up tricks for telecommuters in this article.  There are some solid points like this:

5. Communication

It’s very easy to forget the outside world when you work from home. While you do get to avoid the intricacies of corporate politics, it also means that you have to be your own advocate.

Make sure there are multiple ways for your boss and colleagues to contact you. Check your email frequently, and respond as immediately as you can. Keep your phone at hand, and make sure you call if there’s an office meeting. An instant messaging service works well for open communication if something changes last minute. For more long distance projects, make use of free video conferencing tools like Skype.

This fact is mission-critical.  One of my customers has a remote salesperson who works in the same small town as the office, but she telecommutes.  I’m not sure why, but that is a topic for another post.  Anyway, one of the things she has expertly established is her lack of availability during the work day.  What I mean is that the office can never get her on the phone during the day.  Cell phone, home phone…it doesn’t matter, their calls always end up in voicemail.

I find this fact appalling, but my customer tolerates it.  What I believe this does is free her up to do other activities during goal time for selling.  The office has now become accustomed to not reaching her on the phone so they think nothing of it.

If you manage telecommuters, you must have a communication channel (cell, text, IM, etc.) that always allows access to them.

Hard Numbers On Telecommuting

The Herman Trend Alert newsletter (sorry, no link) provides some interesting statistics from a Cisco survey:

Now the international technology giant Cisco Systems has just released a study of its own organization demonstrating these benefits and more. Using telecommuting, Cisco estimates annual savings of USD $277 Million. In its in-depth “Teleworker Survey” of almost 2,000 company employees, the company evaluated the social, economic, and environmental impacts associated with telecommuting.

The study found that telecommuting significantly increased employee productivity, work-life flexibility, and job satisfaction. In addition, the report cited that “a majority of respondents experienced a significant increase in work-life flexibility, productivity, and overall satisfaction as a result of their ability to work remotely”.

The productivity gains were impressive. Approximately 69 percent of the employees surveyed cited higher productivity when working remotely, and 75 percent said the timeliness of their work improved. Sixty-seven percent reported work quality improvement. Telecommuting can also lead to better employee retention; more than 91 percent of participants said telecommuting was somewhat or very important to their overall satisfaction and 80 percent believed they enjoyed an improved quality of life.

Couple things here – the study does appear to be self-reporting – “…of the employees surveyed cited….”  This type of reporting is always a bit of a concern.  It would be more helpful if there was a technique for putting an objective metric to their productivity.

Second, the value of telecommuting in a candidate’s eyes is noteworthy.  91% said it is very important to their overall satisfaction.  When it comes to hiring salespeople, this is a crucial fact to keep at the top of your mind when designing a compensation plan.

Best Companies To Work For

I think in this economy you could simply state “any” as the best.  Well, that may be a bridge too far, but you get my point.  Fortune magazine released their annual list of the top 100 companies to work for.  Here are the top 10:

10. Nugget Market
9.  Goldman Sachs
8.  Methodist Hospital System
7.  Genentech
6.  Cisco Systems
5.  Wegmans Food Markets
4.  Google
3.  Boston Consulting Group
2.  Edward Jones
1.  NetApp

How about this excerpt on the number 1 company NetApp:

Typical of its down-to-earth management ethos, NetApp early on ditched a travel policy a dozen ­pages long in favor of this maxim: “We are a frugal company. But don’t show up dog-tired to save a few bucks. Use your common sense.” Rather than business plans, many units write “future histories,” imagining where their business will be a year or two out.

I’m green with envy over that travel policy.  Oh, and the company has over $2 BILLION of cash on hand.  It is a new employment world these days and I would say the management team at NetApp has it figured out.

10 Ways To Help Out Your Employees

ManageSmarter has a good article that provides 10 ways that you can help your employees through the economic crisis.  There are some simple ideas on the list that a manager should do regardless of the economy.  What better way to retain your employees than to show your appreciation for their efforts?

  1. Shortening the work week to four days with extended work hours will increase productivity and give a welcome break for people.
  2. Consider giving turkeys to employees for Thanksgiving and accompany the gift with a card expressing appreciation for what everyone is doing.
  3. Facilitate a car pool, coordinating rides or give a gas cards.
  4. Hold regular one-on-one meetings with employees to learn of their financial situation and their stress levels.
  5. Giving employees movie passes or restaurant certificates for excellent work.
  6. Boost morale by having senior leaders conduct regular communication meetings with all employees to share what is going on with the company and to solicit ideas on how to help each other deal with economic uncertainties.
  7. Bring in childcare services or set up a day care opportunity close to the office to lessen child care travel time and expenses for employees.
  8. Make exercise programs and gym equipment available so they can stay trim and fit without paying monthly membership fees.
    Work with your downtown business association to see what after-hours shopping discounts can be arranged to assist employees with saving money.
  9. Take some time now to write an individual thank-you card to each employee expressing sincere gratitude and appreciation for sticking with the company and thank them for their contributions.

Actual Excuses For Missing Work

CareerBuilder.com usually runs some sort of “unusual reasons for missing work” story every year.  This year’s offering is refined down to 8 entries, but is still fairly entertaining.

  • Thanksgiving karma  |   Employee hit a turkey (yes, a turkey) while riding a bike.
    Author’s Note: Animals turkeys in particular – seem to be a hot topic this year. See our “Unusual Jobs” survey results for more on this phenomenon.
  • Near-death experiences  |  Employee said he had a heart attack that morning, but that he was “all better now.”
  • Just can’t find a thing to wear  |  Employee’s wife burned all his clothes and he had nothing to wear to work.
  • They don’t have rifles, so…  |  Employee got kicked by a deer
  • Paging Dionne Warwick  |  Employee’s psychic told her to stay home.
  • Lightweight  |   Employee’s toe was injured when a soda can fell out of the refrigerator.
  • Driving the dog to drink  |  Employee’s dog was stressed out after a family reunion  
  • Kissed and unfortunately told  |   Employee contracted mono after kissing a mailroom intern at the company’s holiday party – and suggested the company post some sort of notice to warn others who may have kissed him.

That second one made me laugh.

Psychological Recession

I’m not one to head into a weekend with a downer of a post, but this article from CNNMoney.com is fascinating.  The author is explaining how the US economy is not in a recession.  The twists begin early with this stat:

After all, most of the CFOs questioned in a recent poll agree that the U.S. is in a recession; among the general public, 76% said the U.S. was in a recession six months ago, and other polling suggests most people believe things have grown worse since then.

I have seen this belief firsthand which always catches me off-guard.  I have even heard people talking of another depression.  I suppose it could be possible, but this strikes me as hyperbole.

But there is an answer:

A more profound reason that people believe we are in a recession can’t be found in the GDP tables at all. It’s in their minds, what psychologist and author Judith M. Bardwick calls the psychological recession – “an emotional state in which people feel extremely vulnerable and afraid for their futures.”

Read the entire thing – it may cheer you up.

Just 5 Minutes

Something to make you think, from today’s JustSell.com enewsletter (sorry, no link):

Just five minutes a day…

What if you came to work five minutes early and left five minutes late every day for a year?

(5) x (twice a day) x (roughly 250 sales days in the year) = 41.6 hours a year.
That’s a whole extra work week. And possibly…

  • Another project successfully completed
  • Another deal closed

Another prospect turned into a customer.

“Technology has destroyed time and space boundaries.”

The Wall Street Journal offers up an interesting read about work/life balance from Dr. Henry Cloud.  Every time I receive a call from one of our customers at 8:30pm I think of this topic.  Here is the full text of the quote referenced in the title:

I think the first thing is to be aware that you basically have two things available to you to create your vision — in work and in life. First, you’ve got your time. Second, your energy. The second thing, energy, you might not be aware of because of people and activities getting the best of your energy, or the wrong people and wrong activities taking more of your energy than you might be aware of. There are interpersonal issues that cause this. You have to become aware of those and work through those and regain some structure. Technology has destroyed time and space boundaries. We’ve got to put some practice into place to regain them. The way to address it is to clarify goals. My contention is there are a lot of people running around with time-management software and planners and all that stuff, but they are so fragmented and out of control that they don’t understand that they have issues that make them unable to do what their planners tell them to do.

I love the last sentence in that graph.  The vast majority of highly successful salespeople we encounter have specific, written goals.  These salespeople tend to have laser-like focus on these goals and they stay committed to achieving them.  In a sense, they have a defined purpose.

The other group, so to speak, tends to get bogged down in meetings, mind-numbing research, personal tasks or other such “distractions.”  At the end of the day, top salespeople view goal time (approximately 8am to 5pm) as their most precious allotment of time.  They guard it diligently and use it efficiently.

Telecommuter-Friendly Companies

A few months ago I posted on the rising trend of telecommuting.  The percent of companies that allow working from home has gone up dramatically over the past few years.  From our experience, that trend has been accelerating in just the past few months.  More companies are offering salespeople the option to work form home a few days a month once they are through their on-ramping process.  We are also being asked by sales candidates early in the process if telecommuting is an option.

Not all companies and positions have that flexibility, but that shouldn’t preclude you from looking for alternatives.  A recent article from the Workforce Management newsletter lists 7 companies that have done something about the concern of rising costs of transportation by offering help to their employees.  From giving them bus passes to cash rebates for buying hybrid vehicles to running shuttle services, these are just a few of the examples of what some companies are doing.  Some of the companies are large, like Microsoft, but here is what one small, 75 employee company is doing:

STS Telecom: The Cooper City, Florida-based provider of conventional and hosted Voice over Internet Protocol phone service reimburses employees for a portion of their daily commute—about $2 for each gallon of gas they use. In addition, the 75-employee company offers $250 toward the lease or purchase of a gas-electric hybrid car.

Let me give another example of a local, mid-sized company located here in Minnesota.  My sons bought a Mazda RX7 earlier this summer from a friend that lives in Southern Minnesota.  The previous owner decided to get rid of the car for several reasons.  First he & his wife were expecting their first child and a 2-seat sports car is not ideal for a family of 3.  The second reason was that the car only gets around 20 to 25 miles per gallon which isn’t bad, but there are a lot of cars available with better gas mileage.  But the final reason that motivated him to sell the car was the fact that his company was giving rebates to employees that bought hybrid or high miles per gallon vehicles.

You probably know that we are big proponents of telecommuting options for salespeople.  We speak to companies regularly that have not made any changes to help out with this hot topic.  Some of the questions to consider:

What jobs can you have telecommute on a full or part-time basis?
What is keeping you from allowing employees to telecommute?
What can you do to help out those that cannot telecommute?

This topic is going to become more prevalent, not less, in the near future.  If you plan to hire any salespeople in the near future, be prepared to discuss this topic.

An Electronic Leash

You just knew this was going to happen – companies are using technology to monitor remote employees.  The Wall Street Journal provides this article that illustrates what approaches are used by employers:

They’re taking photos of workers’ computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They’re plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers’ home-office calls.

That seems quite invasive, but it appears telecommuters are generally willing to trade the invasiveness for the work-at-home option.  I’m not certain I would be so eager to allow this type of monitoring into my computer.  However, many companies do monitor employees in the office both electronically and directly (manager).

Sales is a bit simpler in that it is easy to know how well a salesperson is performing based on their revenue production.  Monitoring could be beneficial in ramping new hires, but success is still easily measured.