Lessons learned

April 5, 2013
Working from home sounds great, but we have offices for a reason

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer surprised people when she recently decreed that the tech company’s employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. Never one to miss a chance to grab a headline, Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, reacted by calling her decision “old school thinking.”

In the transportation industry, the topic of working from home seems to start and end with the sales department. In most organizations, salespeople are the only employees with the leeway to wake up in the morning and decide whether to work from their backyard patio or their cubicle. Frankly, there are no clear winners in the worker mobility debate. Ultimately, employers have to decide what’s best for their own organizations. A few years ago, I had the notion that I could be more productive chasing skids by spending less time on the commute and more time working from home. Here’s what I learned:

Who’s home?: At the time of my “experiment,” I believed I had the perfect setting: a quiet, empty house because my three teenagers were at school all day. I quickly discovered that school days are shorter than I thought, holidays and “test-itus” days are plentiful, and kids eat lunch in large packs. Bottom line, my darling children were a massive interruption. It’s hard to accomplish anything when your kids think they have a taxi, bank machine, referee, and tutor at their beck and call.

Homework rules: Given the price of dirt these days, very few of us have an extra room that we can turn into dedicated office space. For me, Plan A—working from the kitchen table, the epicenter of my family’s existence—quickly proved to be a mistake. Plan B was to spend some dough and convert my basement “man cave” into a workspace. Within weeks, however, my office became everyone’s office, with a distinct pecking order: kids’ homework first, Dad’s business work second. I went back to Plan A and my limited productivity at the kitchen table.

The technology devil: I was naïve to think I could replicate the reliability and speed of the office “machinery” at my house. LMAO! I’m now convinced there is a computer devil that puts curses on every piece of equipment I own. I learned that cell phones don’t work in basements, and when they do, reception stinks.

New age of collaboration: Today, selling involves a team of “experts” collaborating and working as one. It’s essential that you draw on every ounce of expertise within your organization to educate your customers and provide innovative, compelling, win-win solutions for them. Sales reps don’t have the expertise, facts, or often the proper incentives to drive the company sales bus alone. Working from home further isolates them and builds barriers between themselves and the rest of the team. It’s hard to collaborate with people whose names you can’t remember because you have zippo relationship with them.

If I gained anything by working from home—aside from an extra hour of sleep and 15 lbs.—it is a new appreciation for a corporate environment. An office is more than simply a place where you can do your job. It’s a tool that supports your sales efforts with reliable technology, dedicated space, and a collaborative environment. Great ideas still stem from informal meetings around the coffee maker. When it’s just you, the drip of a pot brewing won’t help you get a stick of freight.

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