There is a push for more people to work from home, the proponents suggesting it is better for the company, better for the employee, and better for the quality of their outcomes. They suggest that people who work from home have fewer distractions, that they are happy, and that companies can save a lot of money by eliminating what they spend on office space. When someone is sincere in their beliefs, we can accept that their premise includes some partial truth, but when they don’t also describe the negatives, you can be sure they are significant and painful.
Too Little Interaction with Other Salespeople
Were you to derive a plot to ensure a group of young salespeople never learned to sell effectively, you would start by isolating them, keeping them away from other salespeople, and especially mature, successful salespeople. You would provide them with a territory, having them continue to work from home. By doing so, you would ensure that they have very little interaction with better salespeople.
There is a transfer of knowledge between salespeople when they are in the same place, call it a bullpen, that doesn’t happen over web-meetings, and especially not the sales-manager-led calls where salespeople report in on their progress. Much of what successful salespeople know is gained through osmosis. A young salesperson who sits next to a successful, experienced salesperson gets to listen to what and how they communicate with their clients. They hear the side of the sales conversation they are going to need to have with their clients, providing them with the talk tracks and strategies that work in their space.
Sitting a young salesperson at home by themselves is to deprive them of the development they would only get by spending time with other, more experienced salespeople. You stunt a young salesperson’s growth when you remove this method of growth. You also make it more difficult for them to learn how to solve the challenges they encounter as they learn to sell.
Too Little Interaction with Their Sales Manager
Recently, a young salesperson shared with me that he has never had a face-to-face meeting with his sales manager, nor has his manager ever joined him on a sales call. It turns out that it is inconvenient for the manager to travel to see his team, so he doesn’t. They talk on the phone twice a week, with a one-on-one call on Monday, and a team call later in the week.
Were it not for LinkedIn and the photo the sales manager uses on his web-meeting profile, the salesperson would have a tough time identifying his manager in a police lineup. No matter what feedback the sales manager provides the salesperson, they will never know how best to coach the salesperson, having never seen them in front of a customer. This is something that would teach the sales manager more about how to help the salesperson than other possible methods.
When it comes to performance, there is no such thing as benign neglect. Depriving a person of a leader who cares about them and their growth is malevolent. When someone doesn’t know you well enough to understand how you need to grow, they will not have an easy time improving your results.
No Culture or Tribal Knowledge
Homo sapiens are social creatures. We organize ourselves into tribes. Our tribes dictate our beliefs, our world view, our values, and our behaviors. The tribe dictates our norms and provides guard rails that prevent deviance. There is no evidence that Peter Drucker ever said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” but someone said it, and though that someone may not have been a Drucker, they were wise enough.
There is a certain type of knowledge that is only transferred through interactions with others. To describe the new cultural norms being driven by technology, the best way to describe it would be “transactional.” A deep sense of community, mission, purpose, and belonging is replaced by “efficiency.” A misuse of the word, as it eliminates the denominator, the outcome, looking only at the numerator. Working from home is to belonging what prostitution is to love.
When people have acquired the mindset, the skill sets, and the cultural norms, it’s much easier for them to be successful working from home. When they are highly competent and disciplined about their work, it doesn’t matter so much where they work, even though removing them from an office also eliminates the opportunity for them to teach younger salespeople how to be more effective in sales conversations and how to be more valuable to their clients.
In the future, companies with offices where people gather together to work are going to have a distinct advantage over those who believe that gathering together is unnecessary. They are going to have stronger cultures. They will have a faster transfer of knowledge, a greater bond between the people who work together, a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and better results. They are also going to have a much lower turnover compared to those who believe relationships are transactional.
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