Whether you have been working for the last 50 years in professional sales or this is your first job out of college, it’s safe to say that “work” has never felt or looked like it has for the last few months during this global pandemic. Use whatever term you want to describe this time in the world – unprecedented, uncertain, unpredictable – they all apply. Everyone is experiencing something new right now – and the biggest change of them all, for most, is the reality of working from home.
Even for individual employees and companies that operate remotely under normal circumstances, the current state of the working world is different. Logging into your video conferencing platform of choice repeatedly for daily meetings, sales pitches, virtual lunches, happy hours, or to just stay connected with friends can be mundane or feel distant. And, while we are slowly emerging from a total shutdown, things may still feel disconnected and disjointed for quite some time. The sooner we choose to embrace our situation and make it our own, the better we’re going to be in the end.
For sales professionals, on the surface, it might appear that working remotely has little drawback. Many sales pros love working in a “lone wolf” manor, free of the burdens and distractions office life may provide and buckling down to nuts and bolts tactics. And certainly by now, everyone has seen hundreds of articles online about ways to keep busy during quarantine, new hobbies to pick up, internet challenges to latch onto, and endless hours of content to stream.
These are all positive distractions that we would normally find ourselves doing outside of the office, on the weekends, or whenever you get the time to relax, unwind and mentally check out of the stress sales jobs often create. For most of us, this down time comes when we’re at home, which has now doubled as our office for months. Dressers have become desks, the living room functions as a gym, and the dining room table has the puzzle you’ve been meaning to finish for the last few weeks.
Here are the simple facts: when you work from home, you’re working in the same place you’re used to using to unwind. You’re trying to divide your work self from your down time self without moving five feet in either direction. Potential diversions and pitfalls are everywhere around you.
How can a goal-oriented sales pro working at home create an environment built to aid in professional success, while not fully ignoring the dual purpose of the physical space they now occupy all day long?
Everyone finds their own ways to adapt, but there are a few easy things that we can do each day to maintain productivity and keep a sharp focus during business hours. Before I dive into specifics, I want to emphasize that these are habits that work for me. I’m not suggesting that they’re the only options or even the “best” habits that exist, but if you’re ever struggling with a remote work/work from home situation, these strategies can help long after Covid-19 is a distant memory.
The Importance of Scheduling
Schedule everything. If you’re an SDR like me, this means scheduling your dialing, prospecting, meetings, email follow-ups, lunches, family time, work out time and down time. I would generally recommend this approach even when there isn’t a global pandemic (or if you don’t typically work from home, once this situation subsides), but especially given the current state of affairs our time is valuable (and we have a lot of it).
In the office, we can all think back to a time where we found ourselves spending too long in the break room, taking an extended lunch, playing a game on our phone, or doing whatever it is you do to distract yourself from the project at hand. With increased distractions at home like our bed/the couch, children, roommates, and chores, it’s easy to find yourself putting each work task off and then look at the clock only to see it’s 4:30 pm and you have everything left to do for the day.
Maintaining a tight schedule can help cut down on some of this non-work “task creep” and let you hit your daily metrics and goals. In fact, if you’re effective enough, it might give you more time on the back half of the day to knock out a few extra items.
Making Use of Extra Time
For many, the new 30 second commute from bed to desk is one of the best features of working from home. Not having to sit in rush hour traffic or ride the metro twice a day provides us with a significant amount of time back in our schedules (and might relieve some stress too). This extra time back in your day provides you with the opportunity to get some more sleep, but it’s also a shot at adding some enriching activities to your world. My recommendation is to personally use it as physical exercise time, pick up a new hobby, or seize the chance to layer in professional development activities.
Most of us have books we’ve been meaning to read, skills we’ve been saying we’ll work on when we have more time, and opportunities to make ourselves more productive and effective at our jobs. Enjoy the lack of commute and find a way to help yourself grow professionally, and/or personally.
Carving Out a Work Space
Work from home has, for better or worse, made it more difficult to maintain the work/life balance so many of us talk about as a necessity. The commutes may be easier, but it’s hard to mentally detach from the office when you literally live in it.
Before now, we were able to physically and mentally step away from work when it wasn’t right in front of us. We could decompress on our commutes home, relax on the couch and enjoy the remainder of our day. Now that we live in our office, these luxuries aren’t truly gone, but they appear to be diminished, in some ways (from a mental point of view).
We need to adapt. Create a space in your home that is solely dedicated to work and only work as a first step. Make this space uniquely your own, much like your desk in the office. When you reach the end of your end your workday, make sure you step away from this space. Trick your brain into being hyper focused on work in that area of your home, which should give you the mental flip needed to relax and disconnect in the evening.
Dress for Success
This is the most controversial topic I’ve seen related to working from home. No one can seem to agree on what is and isn’t work (from home) appropriate. Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion here, as I do believe there is no set “right” and “wrong” answer. Do what works best for you and your company, and what helps you remain professional and productive.
That said, there are a few small habits I personally adopted that help me remain effective in professional sales.
- Wear shoes – No need to put on dress shoes, heels, or something super formal. But wearing some form of footwear, even if they’re comfy slippers, can go a long way. When we’re wearing shoes, we’re generally doing something, and we don’t wear shoes when we’re kicking our feet up and relaxing. If you wear shoes in your office, try wearing some at home.
- “Practice Like You Play.” – It’s an old expression, but one everyone has heard from a coach before. This doesn’t mean you need to be dressed to the nines, but throwing on a nicer shirt and real pants gives off a more professional aesthetic to clients and managers who see you, and actually makes you more productive. The idea of enclothed cognition highlights that the clothing we wear has a psychological impact on our behavior, and can drive more productive habits. The snowballing effect of the way we dress turns directly into behavioral habits.
- Change It Up – When every day feels like the last, and you’re wearing the same outfit for the 3rd day in a row, it might be worthwhile to switch things up. The same way you tweak sales emails, opening statements and questions to prospects over time, sometimes changing your outfits can help. Throw on a business casual outfit, and dress like you’re going into the office to get yourself in a normal headspace.
- When the Office Re-Opens – Think about the future. You’re a salesperson, so you’re constantly thinking about your pipeline and who you have to call in a few months, and what the future holds. At some point soon, if you have not done so already, you will be returning to your office. And while you may come back to some more relaxed dress policies, the casual work from home look may not be replicated. Adopting a habit of dressing up from time to time right now will help the impact of doing it every day in the future.
Leaping the Mental Hurdles
Each day can feel the same when working from home, and you may even feel trapped in an endless cycle of sorts. In short, it’s easy to become bored when the scenery never changes. It’s even easier to get bogged down in the repetition and hit a professional rut. Sales feel slower, the news is one bad thing after another, and you just want to go outside and see people.
One way to combat those feelings is to celebrate each minor victory. A successful conversation with a prospect, a booked meeting, hitting your quota, or even just a strong day of work can be motivating. Each little accomplishment, no matter how minor, should be celebrated like a bigger deal and provide the mental fortitude to preserve until the end of the day.
Sales is a roller coaster no matter what is going on outside your window, and now is no different. Celebrate the highs and remember them when you’re at your lows. Each one of us has had a successful day at work that we can think back to. Write that day down and when you’re feeling sluggish, or like you can’t succeed, bring yourself back to that day and remind yourself that the next sales success is one call, email, or message away.
Depending on where you live, you may already start to see offices reopen, and some sense of normalcy may begin to trickle back into your life. But many sales pros find themselves working remotely even during non-pandemic times, so these tips have legs well beyond this current situation. If you’re in a rut, or just want to try something new and break from the norm, try changing things up and test out something suggested above.
We’re sales pros – so we should be the last people on earth afraid of trial and error as a path to brighter days.