Open Space Offices – Good or Bad Idea?

Open space office You are sitting at your desk trying to compose an important email to send to a client. You are on a tight deadline. You are trying to concentrate. Suddenly, your co-worker sitting next to you in an open space office loudly blows his nose. Or, another co-worker sitting across from you in the same open space gets into a heated conversation with his girlfriend over the phone. Or, another co-worker walks over an employee two desks down and starts up a conversation about weekend plans. Or, another co-worker two rows down is shouting at the sales manager to gain his attention.

Distractions. The price some of us pay for working in an open space office.

Is an open space environment a good or bad idea?

This question came up recently in my head while I attended a panel discussion on “What Can We Learn from Billion Dollar Startup Workplaces?” The event was sponsored by WorkDesign Magazine and it was held at a semi-open space office of WeWork Wonder Bread Factory in Washington, D.C. (I say semi-open space because start-up companies actually work in small offices with glass walls. Yes, you can see people working when you walk by, but the offices do reduce some noise and offer some privacy. In addition, I notice phone booths available for people to make personal calls).

It appears that the trend these days for start-ups and some well-established companies is to adopt open space. For example, during the panel discussion, Emily Hollan White, Senior Director of Talent & Culture at Optoro, showed us a layout and photos of the new open space for her company. Optoro, a company that helps retailers sell their excess and returned inventory, moved into its new location last year. Ms. White explained that the open space environment encourages more collaboration among their employees.

I have worked in open space, semi-open space (with high cubicles) and close space environments where I had my own office. I even worked from my home office.

Let’s outline the pros and cons of working in an open space –

Pros of Open Space:

1). Collaboration – working in an open space encourages collaboration and team work among employees. Lack of walls and secrecy generates more camaraderie and increases information flow.

2). More space – from an employer’s point of view, he is saving money by not having to build offices; thus, he can hire more employees and increase his usage of floor space. This is a win-win for everyone – open space encourages more job growth for employees, and employers benefit by increasing their profit.

3). Big brother is watching you – from your employer’s point of view, he can make sure you are doing your job and not playing Solitaire or reading porn sites on your computer. (And frankly, if you have so much time on your hands to be playing computer games and reading x-rated sites, you are in the wrong job).

4). Cost savings – again, from an employer’s point of view, he is saving money by reducing heating and cooling costs. Also, there is a more communal atmosphere where the company can save money by having employees share resources, e.g., copiers, printers, fax machines (yes they still exist) and office supplies.

5). Sales pitches – from a sales point of view, you can listen to each other’s sales pitches and lines, and adopt or tailor them to your own needs. For example, here is a video clip from the “The Wolf of Wall Street” where Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), pitches a penny stock to an unsuspecting and naïve investor –

You notice that several sales people in the background are listening to Mr. Belfort’s conversation. That actually happens more often than you think in sales. If someone is using a good line or phrase, you make note of it and use it with your clients.

(However, for the record,  I don’t recommend that you lie or mislead your clients).

Cons of Open Space:

1). Distractions – too much noise can make it difficult for employees to concentrate on their work, thus hurting productivity and increasing stress.

2). Lack of privacy – computer screens are easily visible and phone conversations are likely to be overheard. (However, my rule is this – always assume that your employer is monitoring your computer and phone activity, even if they claim that’s not the case. Sure, there is no harm in you checking the weather or the lunch menus at the local restaurants, but avoid sites that you know your employer will frown upon).

3). Germs – open space can encourage the spread of disease, especially colds, which could adversely affect attendance and actually hurt productivity for the company.

4). Not attracting good employees – some potential good job candidates may be discouraged from working in an open environment, because they don’t feel it’s a good fit for them.

There have been several articles written in recent years discussing the open space working arrangements.

For example, Buzzfeed.com published an article called “24 Reasons Your Open-Plan Office Sucks”. Based on the findings Journal of Environmental Psychology, the writer outlines several job dissatisfactions associated with open space including –

1). Increase distraction

2). Inability to have a private conversation

3). Perceived lack of visual privacy

4). Higher levels of distress, irritation, fatigue, headache and concentration difficulties

On the flip side, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, Paul Rosenberg and Kelly Campbell cited success in adopting open space at The Bridgespan Group in their article “An Open Office Experiment that Actually Worked”.

They reported that “the open layout has increased productivity, energy and connectedness.” But they admitted that “the journey from a traditional office to this new space where everyone shares work benches, tables, lounge areas, and first-come-first served private rooms took careful thought and planning.”

After much planning and design, they created an open space that included an open café, several small seating clusters for small group conversations, glass-walled conference rooms, and lockers for employees to keep personal items.

However, they did offer rooms for employees to use for private meetings, phone calls (but no private offices for management), and background noise masking, “so that conversations in the open are heard as mild hubbub rather than distinct, distracting words.”

The last two points are worth exploring more, because I believe that The Bridgespan Group may have found a possible compromise and solution to make open space more tolerable for everyone.

1). The need for private offices – sometimes you need some privacy. Maybe you need to discuss something personal with your manager, or you need to meet with your HR manager. Based on my experience, all open space companies that I’ve worked for have provided private offices for those reasons and more.

2). Background noise masking – I went on a job interview recently where my potential employer told me that their company uses white noise to reduce the noise level. I think that’s a great idea. I only wish that some of my previous employers had adopted the same practice.

Below is a list of some companies that provide background noise masking tools and systems –

Sound Management Group, LLC
Steelcase QtPro
Cambridge Sound Management SONET Qt® (for individual personal spaces)
Lencore
Speech Privacy Systems

Here are some other suggestions for improving working conditions in an open space environment –

1). Give potential employees a tour of your office – Do a “show and tell” of your office space with all potential employees when they arrive for an interview. Make sure they know upfront what type of office they are required to work in. Or better yet, have them sit with a sales person for a few minutes to get the feel of the office. Better to learn early if a new employee can handle and adjust to an open space, than to find out later that he can’t and have him quit. Let’s face it, not everyone can work in an open space. No shame. It happens.

2). Earplugs and Headphones – In sales, you can’t function wearing earplugs and headphones when you are trying to make calls. However, there are times when you need quiet in order to compose or respond to an important email, or write a contract or RFP. In those situations, yes, I would recommend wearing earplugs and listening to music of your choice while writing.(Personally, I can’t concentrate while listening to music, so earplugs are my solution).

3). Enough space – there is space, but then there is too little space.  I’ve worked in an office where I felt the sales people were sitting on top of each other. In addition, you were sometimes required to get up out of your chair to open the office door for deliveries or visitors, answer tickets, and do live chats  – all while trying to make and receive sales calls, and sending emails to your clients. At one job, I actually had to sit next to the company printer and got distracted by the constant churn of printing, while employees would walk to and from the machine. And to make matters worst, some employees would treat the printer like it was the proverbial company watering hole and stand around shooting the bull.

While I understand that some start-ups are running on tight budgets, you need to ensure that your employees have enough space to actually do their jobs. If not, the money you save on offices and utilities may be lost with high turnover.

sick woman in an office4). If you’re sick, go home – While I admire dedicated employees who are willing to come to work even when they are under the weather, you must be considerate of others – this is especially true in open space environments.  No one expects you to be a martyr for the cause – while falling on your sword is noble, you may end up slicing your co-workers in the process. Maybe employers need to give sick employees more leniency when it comes to docking their sick time, or offer employees the flexibility of working from home when ill.

5). Encourage Employee Feedback – if you are moving into a new office, or switching from a traditional closed office to an open environment, seek employee feedback and comments. When employees feel their opinions are being considered, this encourages high morale and retention.

6). Enforce good manners – sure, we are all adults, but sometimes we need to be reminded of that. That means if someone is speaking loudly or hovering over you while you are working, take them aside and politely tell them to knock it off. Of, if things are really going badly, speak to your manager.

However, speaking to your manager may not always be possible.

I once worked in a semi-open environment at another job that was so tense for me that I actually quit a week after I joined the company. I was sharing a small office with the sales manager and a senior sales rep. I found myself sitting in a corner with a nice window view overlooking a beautiful small pond and park. At first, I liked the arrangement. But after a couple of days, I began regretting my decision. My manager was a good ol’ Southern boy who talked incessantly all day long. He would talk about cigars, his car, his former jobs, his former sales reps, his wife, and basically everything under the sun except work.

Being a veteran employee, he had a solid pipeline, great contacts and he could squeeze sales to meet his monthly quota with no difficulty. However, being a new sales rep, I knew I would have to work hard during my first year to build up my pipeline. I had to concentrate and stay focused. But my manager just wouldn’t leave me alone. Being a new employee, I couldn’t just tell him to shut up. Finally, frustrated and angry that I couldn’t do my job, I quit.

(I found out later that other salespeople quit for the same reason I did. One guy actually sent my manager a video of Donald Duck to drive home the point. The manager was so dense, he didn’t take the hint).

Conclusion: Whether you think that open space offices are a fad or not, more companies than ever are adopting the plan. While I believe that most employers want their employees to be productive, they need to adopt some common sense approaches when considering office arrangements. No employer wants to see high absenteeism or turnover of employees due to poor working conditions. While the bottom line is earning a profit, you still need to attract and retain good employees who will help you achieve that goal.

I believe open space is here to stay. I believe the pros outweigh the cons. Just make sure your employees will  have a say in office arrangements, or the only open space you will be seeing are vacate desks and chairs.

What do you think? Please let me know if you have any comments to share.

Today is National Hand Shake Day!

business handshake for salespeopleToday is National Hand Shake Day.

All salespeople are familiar with hand shakes. In fact, it’s safe to say that you probably couldn’t do your job well or even get a sales job unless you know how to properly shake hands.

I couldn’t find the origins of National Hand Shake Day. However, it’s always celebrated the last Thursday of June.

No one knows the exact origin of handshakes, but according to Wikipedia, “archaeological ruins and ancient texts show that handshaking was practiced in ancient Greece as far back as the 5th century BC.”

As we all know, shaking hands is a sign of respect when greeting someone. Outside sales reps shake hands daily; inside sales people not so much unless they are attending a trade show or meeting a large client outside their office.

The Oatmeal.com website lists 9 types of crappy handshakes. They include the “bone crusher”, the “misfire”, the “limp, dead fish”, and the “never-let-go” handshakes.

If you feel you are guilty of one of those handshakes, have no fear.

Debby Mayne, Etiquette Expert, outlines “7 Tips on Proper Handshake Etiquette” in her column in About.com. Her advice includes shaking hands firmly but not crushingly, shaking hands for about two to five seconds in duration, and offering a greeting before and during the handshake.

If you still need help, the Australian Government Business Agency put together this funny video below that is posted on YouTube –

Recommend: Close.io “how to sell” video presentations on YouTube

Steli Efti, Founder & CEO of Close.io, has created an excellent 16 part video series on how to sell. The series is posted on YouTube. While the presentation focuses mainly on inside sales and start-ups, some of his advice can also help outside salespeople and those working for major corporations.

Here are some of the key takeaways –

Salespeople need to hustle1). Hustle –  you have to hustle if you want to make sales. Sitting on your ass and waiting for the phone to ring isn’t going to work. If you want to get into the money zone you need to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be proactive. While you hope your company has a good marketing department that can provide good inbound leads, you have to take responsibility for your own success. Remember – the marketing team isn’t working on commission – you are. So start calling.

2). Show up, follow-up and close – really, in summary, that’s what selling is all about. Just showing up daily (and on time), making your calls, following up with more calls and emails, and closing is the key to your success. It’s not rocket science. You just have to be consistent in your actions. Sure, there are certain techniques that you can learn along the way. There are a lot of books, articles and blogs to help you. But when you think about it, selling is like acting – you just have to bury your negative emotions and bad mood, and professionally play the role you were hired to do. You have a process, use it well, and you will be successful. But don’t try to fake it until you make it. Clients can spot a phony a mile away. Just make it work – now.

3). Rejection is your friend – Embrace it. If you are not getting a lot of rejections, you are not doing your job well. Don’t focus on just the low hanging fruit – go after the high hanging fruit  with the potential of bigger sales. Low hanging fruit is for order takers. Salespeople don’t take orders – they make orders happen.

4). Be a Journalist –  Ask good questions. Listen more and talk less. If you really want to help your clients and solve their problems, you need to dig deep by asking good qualifying or needs based questions. You want to be seen as a problem solver, not a sleazy salesperson trying to peddle his wares.

5). Value – focus on selling value, not features. When you do a feature vomit on your client, he will run, not walk, away from you. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about your client. What value do you offer that’s going to solve his problems? If you don’t have what the prospect needs, be honest, and move on. As the old saying goes, there are plenty of other fish in the sea to catch.

6). Lead generation – as I mentioned in other posts, there are many ways of finding leads. But before you start buying or developing leads, review your existing customers (if you have any). Create a client profile of your top 5 to 10 best customers. Who are they? Why are they buying from you? Do you see any patterns? Once you have a good idea of who your clients are, you can then start targeting prospects that fit the same pattern. It’s better to narrow down your prospects than waste time going too broad. Yes, a wide net will catch a lot of fish – but do you want big fish or minnows?

7). Objections – there is a lot of advice on how to handle objections. In my opinion, the most common objection is price. However, it’s always a good idea to list some common objections and have answers prepared for them. In short, it’s better to be ready and respond with one or two sentences, then fumble around sounding like a fool. Because if you sound like a bumbling idiot, the next sound you hear will be “click.”

8). Send emails – contrary to popular belief, cold calling is more than just making phone calls and leaving voice mail messages. You also need to send emails. Some clients respond better with emails than by phone. No problem. The key is to connect with your prospect and hopefully get the sale. Phone, email or carrier pigeon, do whatever it takes to make the connection. Get a response. If it’s no, OK…but don’t cross your prospect off your list too fast. Try to circle back later. Maybe he will be in a better mood or have budget to move forward. Based on studies I’ve read, you need to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts before a prospect will acknowledge your existence.

To help you learn more about selling, Close.io is offering a free 30 day startup sales success course sent to you via email.

Here is the link – http://close.io/free-sales-course

I thought the videos were on point. I have two criticisms – First,  I wish the Close.io would put the videos on an organized playlist on their YouTube channel to make it easy to follow each presentation. I found myself jumping around too much trying to find the next video in the proper order.

Second, Mr. Efti argues that start-ups shouldn’t hire traditional salespeople because they don’t know how to adjust in an ever-changing work environment. I disagree. I’ve worked at major corporations that constantly go through reorgs and other changes throughout the year. I also know salespeople who have worked at major corporations who had their compensation packages changed every quarter – if not every month.

For example, one of my friends use to work for a popular large car dealership in the Washington, D.C. area. Every month, the car salesperson with the lowest sales of the month would be fired – regardless of his seniority or his sales record YTD. Why? Because the sales manager wanted to keep his sales team “on their toes.”

Nice guy.

My point is this – any good salesperson has to know how to be flexible in order to survive. The business world – whether we are talking about start-ups or major companies – is changing all the time. If you are seeking a nice, safe conservative job, become a banker or an accountant. The sales process is constantly evolving – either keep up or switch careers.

Close.io has other videos I would recommend that you check out. Also, the company has one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read about selling. Yes, they are promoting their product to some degree (hell, we are all in sales). However, the blogs offer great sales advice that you can apply in any industry.

Below is a sample video from the 16-part presentation –

 

10 Places that can Help you Write Better

Help for WritersOne of the biggest challenges of working in sales, marketing or social media is the ability to write effectively. You just can’t rely on making cold calls anymore. You have to put pen to paper (OK, I really mean fingers to your keyboard) and compose e-mails, proposals and other marketing material to make the sale.

Yes, there are a lot of online courses you can take. But let’s say you want more individual attention. Where do you go? Surprisingly, one of the best places to consider is your local nonprofit writing center.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Aren’t writing centers just for aspiring novelists and poets? No. Many writing centers offer courses on nonfiction. And while it may be great to participate in workshops or classes, several writing centers also offer online courses.

Below is a list that I complied while working as a volunteer for the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. The list is based on research I was doing on membership programs at domestic and international nonprofit writing groups. Please let me know what you think.

1). 49 Alaska Writing Center – based in Anchorage, AK

2). Indiana Writers Center – based in Indianapolis, IN

3). The YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center – based in Syracuse, NY

4). The Loft Literary Center – based in Minneapolis, MN

5). Hugo House, a place for writers – based in Seattle, WA

6). The Writers Place – based in Kansas City, MO

7). San Diego Writers, Ink – based in San Diego, CA

8). GrubStreet – based in Boston, MA

9). The Writer’s Center – based in Bethesda, MD (near Washington, D.C.)

10). Hudson Valley Writers Center – based in Sleepy Hollow, NY

 

This is National Business Etiquette Week (June 7-13)

bad manners in salesSelling can be sloppy. The hustle and bustle of making sales calls, running from one appointment after another, or boarding a plane to this trade show and then another one, makes us forget our manners. We are so focused on achieving our sales quotas or goals, that we stop remembering there is a proper business etiquette when it comes to, well….doing business and selling.

We are rude when we don’t mean to be rude. It happens.

To help remind us about etiquette, the Protocol School of Washington (PSOW) sponsors the annual “National Business Etiquette Week,” which this year runs from June 7-13th.

Founded in 1988, the PSOW has trained more than 4,000 people from 70 countries. Trainers previously held positions at The White House, the Disney Institute, the Smithsonian and various major corporations.

In honor of National Business Etiquette Week this year, PSOW is sponsoring a contest. The “Business Etiquette in 2025 Video Contest” offers a chance to win complimentary tuition to attend any scheduled Train to be a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant course.

To apply, you must submit your video by June 13 in which you answer this question – “What will business etiquette look like in 2025?”

For more details about the requirements, how to win, and what your reward will be, please click here.

For more information, please visit the school’s website at www.psow.edu or call 202-575-5600.

Meanwhile, if you don’t have time or interest in competing in the contest, below are four (4) books on business etiquette to help you –

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by  Robert I. Sutton

Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top, by Dorothea Johnson and Liv Tyler

The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success, by Barbara Pachter

 

10 places to find sales leads

prospecting for sales leadsFinding sales leads or prospects is much easier today than when I began in sales. I literary had to use the Yellow Pages at one point in my career. Needless to say, I wasn’t very effective. Now with the internet, you have a much easier time finding leads. The real challenge is making sure you are using your time wisely to prospect and find the right leads to call on.

Below is a list of sources  to help you –

1). Industry newsletters – subscribe to as many industry newsletters as you can. You can always find leads to contact. Most newsletters are free.

2). Live Chat – set up a Live Chat box on your website. Sometimes people are shy about calling your directly, so at a spur of the moment they will send you a Live Chat to ask questions or obtain quotes.

3). Trade Shows – rent out an exhibit booth at a trade show. If you can’t afford a booth, consider speaking at a workshop or sign up as an attendee and make the rounds – both during the trade show and after hours at social events.

4). Customer Referrals – hey, if your clients like your products and services, it doesn’t hurt to ask them for a referral. You may want to consider offering a discount.

5). Good Marketing Content – providing useful content on your website will encourage prospects to visit your site, and hopefully, they will download your material and provide you with contact information, e.g., name, email address, phone number.

6). LinkedIn – since LinkedIn is a professional site, you should be able to find plenty of prospects to contact. Also, target discussion groups within your industry – there you should find a lot of potential buyers.

7). Twitter – you can find prospects by seeking buying signals. For example, if you sell bike accessories, type in “bike accessories” under search to see if someone is trying to buy those items. Or, look for a hashtag like #bike accessories.

8). Your Competitor’s website – believe it or not, many companies list their clients on their website. Big mistake. You may think you are impressing your clients and potential prospects, but all you doing is giving your competitors a list of your clients to contact.

9). Paid Lead generating tools – Below is a list of the most  popular ones:

Sales Genie (from Infogroup, Inc.)

InfoUSA (also from Infogroup, Inc.)

Hoover’s (from Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.)

USAData, Inc.

Data.com (formerly Jigsaw from Salesforce.com)

RainKing (used in the IT industry)

DiscoverOrg (used in the IT and Finance industries)

10). Your old expired trials or clients – Just because you haven’t heard from your expired trials or clients for a while, doesn’t mean they may not be interested in ordering from you. Give them a call. Drop them an email. Who knows, they may be glad to hear from you. Maybe they now have budget to make a purchase. Maybe new upper management came on board and now they are interested in speaking with you again. It can’t hurt you to swing back and see if they are interested again.

I hope the above list helps. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.