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Sales Teams: Are They Better in the Office or Remote?

The ‘in-office versus remote work’ debate has become a hot topic since rules about social distancing were relaxed.

If the pandemic could be said to have any benefits, then an improved work-life balance for employees is one of them. A large proportion of the workforce now has the freedom to work remotely.

Many organisations have chosen to carry on a remote-first or hybrid approach to attract talent from further afield. In today’s economy, working from anywhere in the world is now possible.

But, on the other hand, some job roles, industries and business activities benefit from in-person interaction.

The ability to bounce ideas off a colleague next to you, sparking innovation and creativity.

The ability to observe your senior colleagues in the workplace and learn from them. And for them to get the chance to observe and recognise your hard work.

And for the extroverts among us, being in the hustle and bustle of a busy working office can boost motivation and drive productivity.

So what’s the right answer? Should you be at home, or in the office?

We spoke with 2 sales leaders, Ryan Reisert and David Bentham, to find out where they stand on this subject in the context of sales teams.

A change in perspective

Before the pandemic, the majority of managers would probably tell you that in-office work was essential.

Before 2020, only 5% of employed people in the UK worked primarily from home and about 65% of workers had never worked from home. During this period, the concept of remote work was largely unexplored, and change management strategies were not a focal point for many organizations.

During the pandemic, the number of people working remotely rose to 46% and many organisations reported improved employee well-being, productivity and innovation.

Since then, the numbers of remote workers have dropped. Some businesses have decided to bring their workforce back to the office, while others remain at home.

But it’s safe to say that both employees and management have had a taster to see what a fully remote workforce could look like, and they can see it works in practice.

Ryan Reisert tells us:

“Back when I was a VP of sales at a start-up a few years ago, I’d have said ‘nah, you’ve got to be in the office’.”

“Just for the cultural side of things, the stand-ups we’d do, the access to information, being close to the product team, and for leadership in general. I used to really believe that was the only way to do it.”

“But then I went into a bigger organisation which had offices all over the world.”

“I mean, that’s remote, if you think about it. Yeah, we have our internal team but the idea that everyone has to be in the room with one another isn’t true in that instance.”

This is one of the wonderful things about the progression of technology and digital work.

Global teams can work together from the comfort of their own home country.

Meetings can be held ‘face-to-face’ over video calls without having to commute an inch.

The movement towards remote teams had already started.

Ryan adds:

“I started a company which was built completely digitally, so it was fully remote. My business partner and I only met in person about 4 or 5 times throughout that process.”

“We ran digital training, check-ins, stand-ups and celebrated wins - all the cultural stuff, just online.”

“What I came to realise is that there can be a lot of wasted time and distraction involved with in-person interactions.”

“So fast-forward to today and my perspective has totally changed. I don’t really understand why you would need to have a sales team on-site, ever.”

Benefits of on-site teams

On the other hand, David Bentham, Director of Sales Development at Cognism, feels very strongly that B2B sales teams, specifically SDRs, should be in-office.

For the sake of attracting talent and showing willingness to be flexible, he offers 5 days a month when SDRs can work from home, but for the remaining days, they’re in the London-based office.

Why does David believe his team benefits from working together in person? He has a long list of reasons:

1. Better for performance

David ran a test where SDRs were allowed to come into the office as much or as little as they wanted for a period of time. He then reviewed their performance.

And the results?

“There was a stark correlation between those who came into the office the most performing the highest, and those who stayed at home the most having the poorest performance.”

2. Better for onboarding

Before the pandemic and government work-from-home orders, SDR onboarding would take about a month (meaning SDRs getting fully up to speed).

David found that during remote work, this process would increase to about 3-4 months.

He said:

“Our best measure for SDRs getting up to speed optimally was passing probation first time.”

“Our probation period is 3 months; you have to hit full target at least once for you to pass your probation first time round.”

“Before lockdown, we had a 90% pass rate within the 3 months. After work-from-home orders, this pass rate dropped to 20%.”

“That meant there was a significantly larger number of SDRs having their probation extended to 6 months. This proved to us that working from home was an issue preventing effective onboarding.”

After lockdown ended and SDRs were brought back to the office, this pass rate jumped back up, and the length of time to get SDRs up to speed dropped back down to a month.

3. Better for employee wellbeing

Being an SDR isn’t easy. And being an SDR early in your career isn’t easy either.

Generally, reps tend to be entry-level hires. They’re still getting to grips with the world of work, while also often having the phone slammed down on them.

It’s not unusual for an SDR to be feeling a little battered and bruised by sales objections and rejections, so it’s good for line managers to be able to keep an eye out for them.

David says:

“Sales is an emotional rollercoaster, so to have 39 therapists sitting next to you to help you through it is an important factor.”

4. Better for company culture

In an office, the team can quite literally see the company culture. They can see what the company is driving towards and they’re constantly reminded of the organisational goals.

There’s also more opportunities to build a team atmosphere. The hustle and bustle of people on cold calls next to them. The competitive energy when a team member is making better numbers. The collective celebrations when someone secures a meeting.

David says:

“I believe sales can be a bit like a team sport. If everyone is together in the office, they can push each other. They’re sharing best practices with one another.”

David also told us he believes this is one of the reasons why staff turnover is lower.

“The kinds of SDRs we hire are early on in their careers. They want to experience the London lifestyle, they want to be around other young people doing the same. They want to be able to go for drinks after work.”

“We can create that team unity and team atmosphere that you just wouldn’t get if everyone was on video calls. Because we have a better culture, people want to stick around for longer so attrition is lower too.”

5. Better for peer learning

As with many things in life, you can learn a lot from the people around you.

It’s the same in the SaaS sales landscape.

If a top performer is working from home, innovating and finding ways to work more effectively, then no one else in the team can see what they’re doing. No one will be able to copy them.

David explains this:

“The nature of sales is changing constantly, which means best practices are changing constantly.”

“If one of our SDRs finds a way of doing things that works better than what we were doing before, we want to know about it so we can share the knowledge with the wider team.”

6. Better for training

Of course, training can be done from home - but David believes training is more beneficial when it’s in person.

“First of all, you can tell people are engaged. If people are remote, they could have their TV on in the background, or they have a bad WiFi signal, or they could be scrolling through something.”

“If you’re running a big 10-person training session, I can only see 4 of them while I’m presenting. I can’t keep an eye on everyone to see how the information is being received.”

“I also think it’s less likely that people will interrupt me to ask questions. In person, you can easily raise a hand or something. On video calls, you’d need to unmute and awkwardly stop me talking.”

Benefits of working from home

Yes, the arguments David presents for working in offices are compelling, but let’s not pretend there aren’t some great benefits to having a remote workforce.

Undoubtedly one of the main reasons is the improvement to work-life balance.

1. Better for work-life balance

Something you can’t get around when asking employees to come into the office is the commute.

Even if you live relatively close to the office, commuting can take up a significant amount of time - enter ✨ rush hour ✨.

Generally, offices tend to be in larger places, like towns or cities. Let’s take London for example - traffic can make travel around London tricky at the best of times, but during rush hour? A calamity.

From an employee’s perspective, you can see why they might like the flexibility to avoid adding a couple of hours onto their working day at either end. And for managers - why get your staff to spend their time travelling when they could spend it making more calls from home?

Allowing a bit more flexibility to work remotely, even adopting a hybrid work approach, can be a sign to employees that you respect their time out of work (when they’re no longer on the clock!).

And that’s not to mention the cost of the daily commute.

With the cost of living rising dramatically, it’s unlikely that talent will be happy to spend their hard-earned money on the buses, trains or planes it takes them to get to work (unless you’re willing for your workforce to expense the cost of travelling to work? Yeah…we didn’t think so!)

2. A more trusting culture

In a similar vein, allowing employees to work from home shows you trust them to do their job without constant monitoring.

After all, if you hire someone who isn’t going to do their job properly...maybe that’s on you for not doing your due diligence in the hiring process?

Ryan explains:

“If you have to monitor each employee so closely because you don’t think they’ll do their job properly, then why are you paying them?”

“If you can’t get your job done in this remote environment, then you don’t have a job here. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

Instead, hire good salespeople who are driven to do the work. Then you’ll have a workforce you can trust to get the job done.

Ryan adds:

“Of course, management still has the responsibility to properly manage their team, so regular check-ins and stand ups are important to make sure everyone has what they need.”

3. Better, wider talent pool

The wider you’re able to cast your net when recruiting staff, the more likely you’ll be able to find the person you need to get the job done, and done well.

Ryan says:

“If success in business is ‘people first’ and you want the best people to get a job done, the chances of them all being in the same location are slim.”

“You now have access to literally anyone in the entire world. There are super-smart, super-talented, hard-working, ‘get after it’ kind of people in other countries. You’ll miss out on that talent if you don’t allow remote work.”

4. Better for attracting talent

Ryan shares an experience from when he was working in San Francisco:

“I moved to San Francisco because that was where you had to go for the type of job I wanted. That was where the VC funding was and that’s where the ‘smart’ people were living at the time.”

“I didn’t have another option back then. But if I had, I could have gotten into ad tech without the massive personal expense it cost me to move and live there for a decade.”

“I think that’s an important thing to be able to offer the talent you want to attract as it gets more competitive to get these people.”

Ryan also raises the point that if you can offer a working style that suits your workforce, not only do you attract the people you want, but you’re more likely to be able to retain them too.

5. Quieter than the office

Outbound sales isn’t exactly a quiet activity. When people think of sales, they usually conjure up something akin to The Wolf of Wall Street - everyone screaming on the phones and papers flying all over the place.

It’s an extreme example, but is there a grain of truth in it?

People making phone calls can be loud and distracting.

Whereas if you have a quiet home office that you can retreat to and make your calls from in peace, there’s no more ‘oh, can you hear me? Hold on, I’m going to find somewhere quieter to speak to you’.

6. Saves money

Not only can you avoid the cost of renting and maintaining an office space, but there are other costs saved too.

Ryan explains:

“When I was working for a large organisation a few years ago, they’d spend millions on travel. Back and forth to business meetings, flying people to service specific regions.”

“But the sales landscape has shifted again and less business is expected to be done in-person now. Some people are still pretty old school but you don’t need to be travelling hours for a sales deal anymore.”

“I wouldn’t personally ever hire people to work in an office again. As a business owner, I’d rather not have to pay for office space and be able to recruit talent from a wider pool.”

What’s Elon’s take?

You may have heard Elon Musk has recently said he wants all his staff to be back in the workplace.

Why?

Because he believes that if you work for him, your number 1 priority should be work.

He doesn’t want those who have other priorities working for him. He states his company is going to be doing big things, therefore he needs the most dedicated people in office.

David shares a similar ideology - while he respects some people have different priorities, he wants his SDRs to be hungry and devoted to their productivity.

“Most of the SDRs we hire are young, they don’t have children or other big responsibilities like that. They want to perform. They want to prioritise their career.”

The kind of people that David hires are those who move to London to pursue a career and have blinkers on for any other distraction.

Which also means he’s happy to pull from the talent pool in London, rather than requiring remote staff further away. For David, the people who tend to live, work and commute in London are the driven, career-focused individuals he needs.

“I feel fortunate that we’re based in London and the talent pool is so vast here. I’m able to attract the people that I want. I don’t need to be flexible with remote roles to get the talent I need."

AEs vs SDRs

At Cognism, David manages the SDRs; AEs are managed a little differently. While the SDRs are required to spend most of their contracted hours in the office, AEs are allowed to work remotely.

We asked David why:

“Experience is one factor. AEs have been through the process of being an SDR so they’ve learned the ropes.”

“But one of the biggest factors is that AEs have their diaries dictated to them.”

“SDRs have to do their work themselves, they need to be keeping their activity high and keeping themselves productive in order to keep the pipeline working. They choose whether or not they make a call.”

“Whereas for an AE, if they miss the scheduled meeting in their diary then it’s obvious. They could lose their job.”

One thing David has noticed with AEs - even though they’re allowed to be fully remote if they wish - if their pipeline is low and they need to do some of the SDR activity, they often bring themselves into the office and work alongside other SDRs doing the same.

Coworking spaces

Ryan also suggests that there’s scope to have remote people across the country, or in various countries, while still allowing for the structure of an office environment.

Say for example you’re the parent of some noisy children who are off for half term, but you’re working during this break - something like a coworking space could offer you the best of both worlds.

A quiet place to get the job done, but close enough to home that you’re not spending half your day commuting to the main office.“It’s 

Ryan says:

“It’s pretty affordable per head, and you wouldn’t necessarily need to provide it for every employee either. But if you can create the infrastructure to support remote work then it opens you up to a much wider pool of people.”

David has a slightly different point of view on this:

“I think if you were working on your own in a coworking space then you lose all the benefits. You may as well be working from home.”

“What’s important to me is SDRs being around the team, not an ‘office experience’. I’d be happier if there were a few SDRs sitting together in a coworking space, so a team of 3-4 SDRs in Manchester or something, versus one person alone.”

Office vs remote: the last word

So what’s the right answer? Remote or in office? Well annoyingly, we’re going to have to say…

We can’t tell you!

As we’ve debated above, it really depends on your role, where that role fits in your organisation and what your company culture is like.

While it might be beneficial for us at Cognism to have our SDRs in office and our AEs working more flexibly, that may not suit your business model or attract the type of talent you want.

We’ll leave the final thought to David:

“For us, the model we’re in and what we’re trying to achieve as a sales team, SDRs in the office works for us.”

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