Whether working from a cramped airplane seat, noisy coffee shop or a less-than-private hotel lobby, salespeople—the original business nomads—are more familiar than anyone with the challenges of staying productive while on the move.
The latest tech gadgets make it easier to stay connected, but even the most powerful PDA can't replace the resources a professional office environment provides. The dilemma is that the company facilities that provide an impressive space to host clients, a quiet office to finish an urgent presentation and assistants to help assemble sales materials aren't always available to salespeople who spend most of their working hours away from the office.
Rethinking old solutions
Some organizations address the problem by leasing and outfitting full-time sales outposts in every territory they serve. But the heavy start-up costs and risks associated with traditional real estate can easily outweigh the benefits, especially when the office space likely will be empty more than half the time. Every hour that space goes unoccupied, precious financial, human and natural resources are misspent. Some estimates put the nationwide toll of this wasted office space in the range of $250 billion a year.
Another response has been to eliminate the real estate expense altogether, designating fully mobile employees who are expected to work from home when they need an office. And in many cases, remote sales professionals have no "real" office at all, instead making their base camp at home. It's an ideal solution for some, but it doesn't work for everyone.
The truth is, despite all the tools available to today's mobile and home-based workers, most employees still depend on access to professional services and support—the kind only a real office can provide—in order to do their best work.
Finding a middle ground
So then, how can sales managers continue to provide their employees with the resources they need without blowing their budget? The answer may be found in a variety of flexible workplace solutions that give mobile employees the ability to work how, when and where it suits them best. Here's an overview of some of the most popular strategies:
The anytime, anywhere office. Forward-thinking employers are empowering sales teams to work without ties to any particular satellite office. This approach still includes supplying the usual toolbelt of wireless gadgets, but it also means granting employees access to more places where they can be productive.
In fact, today's mobile workers have more choices than ever for where they can work. So-called "third places"—such as public gathering spots, bookstores and copy centers with high-speed Internet access—are popular choices for more casual work. But when a more professional and private setting is required for your reps' purposes, fully furnished and equipped business centers fit the bill.
Worldwide networks of drop-in business lounges have emerged to serve mobile workers in airports and city centers, as well as next to major corporate campuses. Unlike isolated hotel rooms or busy coffee shops, sales professionals can have immediate walk-in access to private offices, copy and fax machines, the Internet, videoconferencing, meeting rooms and administrative support, as if they were back at headquarters.
For sales managers, equipping employees with their own offices becomes as easy as paying an inexpensive membership fee, which can be as low as a few hundred dollars per year.
Branching out. When companies do need to open a full-time sales office, move-in-ready business centers strategically located throughout metropolitan areas allow them to do it more efficiently, as these types of offices can be up and running in as little as a day. Strategically selecting "branch" offices closer to employees' homes or adjacent to important customers puts office amenities within reach, without the need to lease and outfit traditional space.
Smaller, more dispersed work sites are not only well suited for sales team members, but they also can provide a tremendous opportunity to reduce fixed real estate costs. By creating a network of non-owned offices with the ability to easily add or shed space as necessary, managers can help their companies reduce their dependence on cost-intensive corporate facilities.
Pick a desk, any desk. In any office environment, managers can meet their employees' needs for a desk and a phone while still cutting costs by maximizing the use of space. It's likely a rare occurrence that all sales employees are working at their desks at the same time, and innovative companies are recognizing that there's no need to allocate separate office space for every sales professional. Space and resources, when not in use by one employee, can be used by another.
That's the idea behind office hoteling. Just like travelers who don't need a full-time residence in the cities they visit, many workers don't need a full-time workspace at their company's office. So rather than every employee having a cubicle or office "held" for them at all times, a hoteling system assigns office space to team members on an as-needed basis.
Like travelers checking into a hotel, employees can make reservations for a workstation when they know they'll be in the office. This reduces the amount of physical space a business needs, lowering overhead costs while ensuring that workers still have the space and resources they need, when they need it. A less formal version of hoteling is hot-desking, a "sit anywhere" set-up where unassigned seating is available without the need for making reservations.
Virtually there. Despite the global nature of business today, some customers still prefer to "buy local," which leads many companies to establish local sales offices where they seek to penetrate new markets. But it may pay to know that leasing permanent office space isn't the only option. With a virtual office, a sales manager can establish a permanent local address and phone number at a business center in a prestigious location, implying his commitment to the area without investing in space that may go unused from time to time or paying a premium for a sought-after address.
Meanwhile, mobile salespeople remain free to work where it's most convenient to them—which could be in town or across the globe. And when the need for a face-to-face meeting arises at the new location, many virtual office programs also offer "real" offices and meeting facilities on an as-needed basis. In effect, sales managers pay for exactly what they need to win the business, and nothing more.
Whichever specific tactics companies choose to adopt, more flexible workspace strategies are especially well suited to provide sales teams with an attractive combination of benefits: increased productivity at lower costs. What could be better?