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A huge swath of radio’s workforce shifted to working from home in late March and for many, this will likely continue for a long time, perhaps indefinitely as companies reevaluate where – and how – their employees work.

While plans are still being drawn up, subject to a host of moving parts, executives and sales experts envision a new hybrid approach to working, with sales forces and other departments doing most of their tasks remotely while occasionally traveling to downsized office spaces for a weekly sales meeting or to use station resources.

“I think we’ll see a very large percentage of sales departments say you don’t have to come in every single day, even after it’s deemed safe to return to the office,” says Matt Sunshine, Managing Partner at the Center For Sales Strategy.

It’s a model under active consideration at several companies. “We are currently evaluating the possibility of flexible and/or remote work options for the future,” says Darrell Brown, President of Bonneville International. “Some departments like sales and digital will likely continue to work from home through at least the end of the year.” Bonneville, which owns 22 stations in Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and other western markets, is following CDC guidelines and working with its local markets to decide what works best for their teams.

Shifting to a remote work model for sales, digital or other departments requires investment in technology and fostering a culture that allows for collaboration and accountability – even when co-workers are no longer just a cubicle away. Tools like Teams and Slack can help bridge the distance. “To help with social distancing, we plan to keep using Teams rather than hold large group meetings,” Brown says. “We are also reconfiguring workspaces.”

Sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) software can also help managers monitor the progress of their sales teams – without resorting to micromanagement. “They aren’t just selling from home, they’re selling from home during a pandemic,” stresses C. Lee Smith, CEO of consultancy Sales Fuel. “So adding more stress to the situation is not helpful.”

And while some managers may worry that remote working is an invitation to goof off, “when people work from home they don’t work less, they actually work more,” Sunshine insists.

In formulating plans, some companies surveyed their employees and managers for input. More than a third of Bonneville’s managers said that their teams are more productive in their current situation than when they were in the office, while 55% said they are just as productive at home.

Radio’s Evolving Toolset

Successfully working from home requires discipline, flexibility, patience and being responsive. And, critically, having access to the right tools. “I think the technology has advanced enough that people are a lot more comfortable on platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams so we will see a decrease in the need for business travel and even less travel between departments, floors and offices within the same building,” Brown believes.

“Sales people can effectively make more sales calls per day using tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting versus in-person visits, Smith says. “This will continue to be a key part of the radio seller’s toolset long after COVID-19.” An online survey of 820 media sales professionals in the U.S., conducted in mid-April 2020 by Sales Fuel, found 12% of sellers turned to video chat for 90% of their business, compared to only 1% in the pre-pandemic days.

“The role of virtual communications is going to become increasingly important, not just for internal communication but for the way we communicate with our clients and prospects,” says Sunshine.

Under scenarios envisioned by some broadcasters and sales experts, face-to-face appointments will happen less often and further down the sales process. Many first interactions will be in the form of a Zoom or Teams meeting, especially now that local businesses are focused on rebuilding and are strapped for time. Salespeople that get up to speed on these tools now will become far more productive and efficient in the long term, experts say. “You have to accept, adapt and accelerate, and the sellers that take the longest to adapt and accelerate are going to struggle the most,” Sunshine says.

That said, what works for one company, station, department or individual may not be a fit for everyone, so flexibility and adaptability are key.

On the other side, many employees are actually looking forward to returning to a traditional work environment. A recent study by Gensler found that after working from home for over a month, only one in eight respondents would like to work from home full-time after the pandemic is over. Most want to spend the majority of their normal workweek at the office, while maintaining the ability to work from home for part of the week.

One reason for this: Human beings are social animals and crave face-to-face contact and the camaraderie and spontaneous idea exchange that naturally happens when they interact. “Some employees have felt isolated and miss the daily interactions with colleagues. I also think you are at risk of losing synergy with a remote workforce,” says Brown. “A lot of ideas are exchanged and problems solved while standing around the soda machine or running into people in the hallway. You also don’t get as much interaction between departments.”

Of course, switching long-term to a large number of employees doing most of their work from home would also allow companies to reduce their real estate footprints at a time when cash flow has been greatly impacted by advertising cutbacks.

“Many of our employees told us they like the flexibility of working from home and not having to commute,” Brown said. “I believe we are heading toward more flexibility. People are tired of long commutes and fixed schedules and now that we’ve all taken part in this large-scale social experiment, we’ve discovered with the right technology you can get a lot done from home.”

Sunshine adds, “I don’t think things will go back to normal. Maybe we have to look for the next normal.” And says Brown: “Business as normal may never return to what it was, so we will strive for business as better.” – Paul Heine

How To Get The Most Out Of Work-From-Home.

For those accustomed to working in an office, remote working presents new challenges. Inside Radio asked a pair of seasoned sales consultants to share best practices for staying focused, productive and in touch when working from home.

Make It Look Good

Meeting with clients, prospects and co-workers via an online meeting requires preparation and practice, sales experts say. “If your seller is a candidate to appear on the A&E television show ‘Hoarders,’ they may want to reconsider the details of their video chat,” jokes C. Lee Smith, CEO of consultancy Sales Fuel. “When making sales calls from home, sellers should cleanse their background environment, so it presents as clean and generic. If they have station logo/branding that they can position behind them, even better. But a blank wall or blurred background is always preferable to distracting house clutter.”

Cameras On

“It’s not enough to just be on the phone; it’s a video call,” says Matt Sunshine, Managing Partner at the Center For Sales Strategy. “That’s uncomfortable for some people but cameras-on really, really works.” Let your client, prospect or co-worker know in advance that you’re going to send them a Zoom link so that no one is surprised.

Trust Your Employees

Fostering a successful remote work culture involves a certain amount of trust on the part of sales managers, says Smith. “No micromanagement, no monitoring, extra reporting or unnecessary check-ins,” he suggests.

Focus On Providing Value

While digital skills and how you look on camera are important, the key to being effective in today’s marketplace is to provide relevant value. “The most relevant value is an insight or solution tied directly to the business owner’s top goal, worry or priority,” Smith says.

Get In The Zone

The 9-11am hours are peak time when local business decision makers are most likely to return calls and emails from salespeople, according to a 2019 study of small- and medium-sized businesses. Says Smith: “Eliminate all distractions and make as many quality sales calls, video calls and emails as you can for these two hours.” Then take a break and re-energize for the rest of the day. “Schedule your most important pitches when they’re more likely to get proper consideration from advertisers.”

Draw The Line

It’s easy to let work time bleed over into family time when you’re working from home. “At the end of the business day, you still have to leave the work at work – even if ‘work’ is no longer a physical space,” says Smith.