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Working Remotely (and Other Things That Drive Control Freaks Nuts!)

I may have already irritated some readers – aka the control freaks in and among us all – with the title of this blog posting. Sorry, but the truth can hurt. When I first heard that Marissa Mayer, the dynamic leader of Yahoo, let the hatchet drop on remote workers, I flashed back to a boss I had many years ago. When one of my top sales reps let me know her husband’s job was moving him across country, I quickly responded with, “Well, we’ll have to get your remote office set up right away, then!” I was delighted to not be losing a stellar sales person and she was equally delighted to forgo the interview process for a new job.

When I told my boss (the president of the company) the plan, he shot me down fast.

“She cannot continue to work for us remotely.”

Period. End of discussion. Well, end of the discussion from his point of view but I spent the next 20 minutes trying, in vain, to convince him that she would be just as productive in big sky land as down the hall.

“We track all of her calls and conversations and product demonstrations.” I offered.


“She has made or exceeded her goals the last two years and is 80% of this year’s goals with 4 months still to go!”


“Our clients and prospects love her.”

“Becky, we are not going to do it and start a trend. The next thing you know everyone will want to work remotely.”

Those were the final words on the subject – at least the final ones spoken aloud. My head was full of thoughts like:

–          Wouldn’t it save money if we didn’t need as much office space? I remembered the pride in my boss’s eyes when we expanded our offices due to our rapid growth.

–          Wouldn’t our team save on gas if they didn’t have to drive in all the time? I thought of his big car and wondered the last time he put $5 in the tank because it was all he had.

–          Didn’t we purchase a contact management system and send all of our sales reps to training and teach them the importance of tracking calls, conversations and product demonstrations so that we could help them  
           improve their attitude, technique and behavior
– oh yeah, I participated in 100% of that training with my sales team and knew the system inside out. He had not come to any of it.

We were clearly on different sides of this debate and despite my passionate plea, my next conversation with my sales rep was about her resignation. We both cried.

At that company, I never had the chance to manage someone who worked remotely. During my 11 years there, I had three children and worked from home for about 6 weeks each time. I was, after all, an executive. We never missed a goal while I was out. I did weekly sales calls with my team and product demonstrations while nursing. I heard later, that after I had left and the owner had brought in a new president to take over for him, several people – including one of the great sales reps who I had hired – had moved and were working remotely. I was delighted to know she had been trusted and wondered if the owner had needed more time to process the concept of working remotely. Maybe I had shown him it could work if you have the right people on your team. Maybe the new president was more convincing than I.

Trust – for me, that’s the key to working successfully remotely. Developing metrics to track is one way to verify that that anyone, whether remote or in the next cubical, is on track. What takes work is reviewing the metrics and key performance indicators and then having regular meetings to discuss them; i.e. managing! Sometimes those conversations are inspiring and sometimes they are no fun. A good manager is equally good at handling both scenarios and doing what needs to be done – cheerlead, coach or reprimand – early and often.

I don’t think that someone’s physical location makes a difference in their work ethic. I also don’t think that a title implies work ethic. Cheaters figure out how to cheat regardless of their location. If I had 5 minutes with Marissa Mayer, I would have a few questions and a suggestion: If you are allowed flexibility, why not others? What’s not working? You are a high tech company. What systems are you using to track goals? Are your managers unable or unwilling to see progress or road blocks and respond quickly? Or did you hire a bunch of cheaters who you need to fire? Fire the cheaters, but take the time to use the systems you have to keep metrics ‘out there’ and trust those people who do their jobs to do so from anywhere.

I read all about the free food and parking offered to Yahoo employees who are now required to be on campus and my response was that everyone would see through those “perks” right away – the message sent: we don’t trust you and we are cowards about managing you. We will, however, bribe you with food and free parking so that we can see you at your desk, where you must be working – after all, there you sit. And worst of all, leadership here is not going to walk the walk. We deserve special treatment unlike you. I’m not betting on Yahoo. I’m betting on the companies who are smart about it. They trust but verify and are open and honest about the real reasons behind their decisions and communicate them early and often.


– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO

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