While technology, comprising everything from laptops and software to bandwidth and the Internet, make remote working easier and more feasible than ever before, it’s taken the COVID-19 pandemic to bring the virtual office into reality. For almost a year, to control the virus, many inside sales reps made home their base of operations.
And it turns out, at least 60% of all employees prefer working virtually from a home office.
Now, however, as lockdowns are lifted and social distancing is easing, we need to scrutinize both office and virtual work environments to determine the best option for both employees and companies.
Which work environment is more efficient? Which is more practical and cost-effective? Where are employees most productive and innovative? And are there real benefits from engaging face-to-face, sharing ideas and collaborating on work?
In the last couple of years, dozens of studies and surveys have asked both employees and business owners what they think. Depending on which survey you read and the focus of that study, it appears there are pros and cons.
Most employees are happier and feel more trusted when allowed to work at home, and being at home can increase their productivity. However, being isolated from their co-workers leaves employees feeling lonely. Plus, employees working on home-based computer systems are more at risk for cybersecurity and data breaches. Finally, there are likely more distractions when working from home.
In-Office Employees Easier to Motivate
These studies, however, don’t get to the heart of the issue. So let’s look at the question another way. According to a Gallup study, when it comes to overall job engagement, it’s a virtual tie between the fully remote and fully in-office workers. Only about 30% of each group is fully engaged.
But rather than blaming the problem on the work environment, Gallup researchers pointed to the managers. Or, more specifically, they felt that managers that can effectively engage employees (whether remotely or in-office) are the key to success.
Of course, it’s easier to interact with inside sales reps, mentor them, motivate and provide feedback when they are working just down the aisle.
As a company that has weathered the pandemic and measured the effectiveness of inside sales reps working remotely and at company locations, we believe there are real advantages to working in the office. It isn’t easy to build a sense of company culture and teamwork when reps are only connected via email, chat and video.
Managers who stay fully connected—even digitally—certainly can lessen the challenges of the virtual workforce. But we found increased benefits from bringing our inside sales reps back into the office as quickly as possible after lockdown. In particular, we found that reps with access to the office enjoy:
System software is more easily updated and cybersecurity better overseen. From a human perspective, it’s easier for managers and reps to engage and interact when working face-to-face.
Ability to leverage knowledge transfer
You want your younger, newer reps learning from the senior sales reps and managers, and that knowledge transfer (either organized or informal) happens naturally in the workplace.
Heightened quality control
One manager, even with good digital connections, has more trouble overseeing a department of virtual reps than that same manager who can wander a department, chat with people and observe work firsthand. It’s also easier to catch an issue in the early stages and fix it quickly than wait until something’s a clear-cut problem.
Improved team building
Whether as a team, department or company, you can build a culture of teamwork and shared goals easier when you have a physical workforce. A virtual sales force too easily loses the sense of company and begins to focus on self. Regular Zoom meetings and Chat can help, but they cannot replace the camaraderie that develops among a sales department working together.
The Hybrid Compromise
As much as we believe in the benefits of having inside sales reps work from the office, we have to be realistic. As with many other things, the work environment is not going to return to pre-COVID models. We have to compromise and exercise greater flexibility. After all, almost 30% of the remote workforce admit they will quit their job before returning to the office.
A study performed for Cisco makes a case for the hybrid workspace becoming the new normal. Our own experience suggests that this may be the best compromise. As a case in point, sales reps who were with us before the pandemic and were trained and comfortable with our corporate culture found it much easier to work remotely, engage with other remote employees, and share the overall culture and sense of teamwork. On the other hand, employees brought on during the lockdown never showed that connection or ease of communication.
If you need to be more flexible in your work environment, give reps the option to work at home several days a month. Use time in the office to encourage teamwork and the sharing of knowledge. Urge managers to use office time to observe, motivate and engage one-on-one with employees.
And to help ensure the success of your hybrid model, give reps good incentives to work on site:
Make the office a nurturing environment
Give reps flexibility during work hours
Reward sharing and innovation
Select office space in neighborhoods with restaurants and shopping
There are pros and cons to both remote and in-office work environments. However, you can get the best work out of your inside sales reps when you understand the challenges, help your managers connect and engage with reps and use time in the office to build teamwork and instill company culture.