April 17, 2024

You’re the Boss Blog: The Truth About Working From Home

From the left: Jessica Johnson, Deirde Lord, Beth Shaw, and Susan Parker.Earl Wilson/The New York Times From the left: Jessica Johnson, Deirde Lord, Beth Shaw, and Susan Parker.

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

At the most recent meeting of the She Owns It business group, the owners talked about the pros and cons of allowing workers to do their jobs from home.

“I’m a huge advocate of having everyone together for the sharing of ideas and communication, but I think that, as a business owner, you need to be flexible,” said Beth Shaw, who owns YogaFit. She said she had had both successful — and unsuccessful — remote-work arrangements. Her chief financial officer worked remotely from 2002 to 2009. “It started to really not work at all to not have your main accounting person in the building,” Ms. Shaw said.

But YogaFit has found several positions can be handled effectively from outside the office. For example, the company’s hosting manager, who books YogaFit’s trainings, works from home four days a week. Additionally, the company’s conference manager and the person who manages YogaFit’s trainers work remotely.

Jessica Johnson, who owns Johnson Security Bureau, wanted to know whether Ms. Shaw required her remote workers to provide her with any sort of reporting or documentation.

“I mostly leave them to their own devices,” Ms. Shaw said, although she does require the hosting manager to report how many trainings the company has each month, how many people attend each training and how many sessions are canceled. She said these numbers provided “a really good barometer of whether she’s booking correctly.”

Susan Parker, who owns dress manufacturer Bari Jay, said the employees’ roles dictated where they could work. For example, her customer service staff must be in the office between 9 a.m and 5:30 p.m. because that’s when the phones ring. But Bari Jay’s designer has more flexibility. “If she says she needs to work from home, great, go do it,” said Ms. Parker, who added that she knew the designer would get her job done.

Additionally, Ms. Parker’s sales manager works remotely — and effectively — from Florida. “He’s calling me all day nonstop, so I know he’s working,” Ms. Parker said. “For someone to work from home, you have to trust that they’re going to do what they need to do.”

“I totally agree,” said Deirdre Lord, who owns the Megawatt Hour, an energy-related start-up. “I think it depends on the individual, your relationship with that individual, or the manager’s relationship with that individual. It’s very hard I think to set rules, but the issue is some people, if they see you making certain things work for some people, then they say, ‘What about me — why can’t I work from home?’”

That is a big concern, said Alexandra Mayzler, who owns Thinking Caps Group, which recently changed its name from Thinking Caps Tutoring — and got a new Web site. “I think there’s something to be said for set vacation days that you have to take and ‘set-ish’ hours to work because I think when you’re working from home, you start feeling like you’re working all the time,” she said.

“I’ve worked from home and had that experience,” said Ms. Shaw. In fact, she added, “I have that experience now.”

Ms. Mayzler said she struggled with setting different rules for different employees. She is currently dealing with this issue in her New York office, where she has found it can create friction when one employee has more flexibility than another. While employees may logically understand that different roles have different demands, “it’s hard to care when everybody went home and you didn’t,” she said.

She says she thinks the problem can be especially pronounced in a small business. “If you have 1,000 people, and people are coming in and out, that’s one thing,” she said. “But when you have three people, and you only have one person who’s constantly there from 9 to 5, it doesn’t feel good.”

Ms. Lord said that as her company, which has five employees, shifted from product development to sales and marketing mode, she and her colleagues were primarily working remotely. “I don’t worry about this group getting their work done, which is really nice,” she said.

Plus, Ms. Shaw pointed out, hours logged in the office are no guarantee of productivity.

Ms. Lord said her co-founder, with whom she has worked on and off since 1998, is “the definition of an effective remote worker.” He can always be reached, gets his work done, and is proactive when it comes to initiatives. “I think those people are quite unusual, to be honest,” she said.

“What I’m learning is, most people need structure,” Ms. Mayzler said — even if they think they don’t.

Ms. Johnson, who used to work in pharmaceutical sales, said the use of reporting and metrics could help provide structure. As a sales representative, she covered a large multistate territory, and her employers required daily or weekly reports from her. “They basically had a measure of security that the people in the field were doing what they were supposed to do and a level of accountability,” she said. Additionally, she and her manager reviewed metrics such as number of daily or weekly sales calls made. “You know how they say, ‘If it’s not measured, it won’t get done,’” she said.

“Right,” Ms. Lord said.

Ms. Johnson says she thinks it critical for companies that employ remote workers to determine the metrics relevant to their jobs and at least start them on some type of reporting system. While she said she disliked generalizations, she thought it was particularly important to impose structure on younger workers. “They’re so used to being independent but really don’t understand the responsibility that comes with being independent,” she said.

“I actually could not agree more,” said Ms. Lord, who recalled getting her very first job and thinking she couldn’t leave her desk for a second — not even to go to the post office. “I don’t think the world is ever going to operate that way again,” she said. “There’s a generation of people who are like, ‘I want to go kayaking. Can I kayak today, instead?’”

To harness the talent and creativity of this generation requires a hard-to-balance combination of imposed discipline and the creation of something they want to be a part of, Ms. Lord said. “I think actually that’s really what Marissa Mayer is trying to do,” she added, referring to the chief executive of Yahoo, which recently said it would require employees to work in-house. “It sounds like no one at Yahoo ever wanted to darken the doors of that place.” Which is why, she continued, Ms. Mayer “took the draconian route, and I don’t think I blame her for that.”

“Really shaking it up,” Ms. Mayzler said.

“She had to shake it up,” Ms. Lord said. “And then maybe she’ll create a culture that everyone’s really excited about — then she can give that flexibility back.”

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/the-truth-about-working-from-home/?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: After a Year, Business Group Members Discuss Their Progress

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

About a year ago, the She Owns It business group began meeting with the goal of exploring the day-to-day challenges faced by four women who own and run companies. Since then, the group, which now has five members, has gathered regularly to discuss topics such as hiring and managing employees, health insurance, manufacturing, growing pains, and customer service.

Over time, the group’s composition has changed. Former member Carissa Reiniger left because lof scheduling conflicts. New members Deirdre Lord and Beth Shaw stepped in, joining veterans Jessica Johnson, Alexandra Mayzler, and Susan Parker.

The women’s businesses have also evolved. This post provides snapshots of three of the original businesses, and the two more recent additions.

Owner: Jessica Johnson.

Company: Johnson Security Bureau provides security services to government and commercial clients.

2011 Sales: $1 million-plus (up from $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: 100-plus (up from 60 in 2010).

The 50-year-old company was founded by Ms. Johnson’s grandparents. Last year, it increased both its annual sales and employee count. Ms. Johnson attributes this success to factors including a focus on customer service, more time spent on the hiring process, and expanding operations into New Jersey.

She recently said job creation had been her most important metric for measuring her company’s success. But looking ahead she said, “I may need to consider different metrics because my focus for 2012 isn’t as much on growth as it has been.” It has shifted to determining which business opportunities make the most sense for the company to pursue. The new metrics Ms. Johnson is considering include rates of employee turnover and sales closed.

Owner: Deirdre Lord.

Company: The Megawatt Hour is an online subscription service that helps commercial and industrial clients manage, track, and forecast their energy use and expenses.

2011 sales: The company, a start-up, began operating in December 2011 and had sales of $2,000 that month.

Employees: five.

For now Ms. Lord, who founded an earlier company and has an extensive background in the energy industry, is focused on building the business and continuing to tweak its products to meet the needs of customers and prospects. For example, after some experimentation, the Megawatt Hour is offering three service models: a transactional model for businesses that want to use the product only when they are about to make an energy-buying decision, and free and premium models that allow customers to monitor their ongoing energy use and costs. The company is also exploring various sales channels and recently started working with energy consultants who will offer the Megawatt Hour’s product to their clients. The product will be marketed with the consultant’s name and the information that it is “powered by the Megawatt Hour.”

Owner: Alexandra Mayzler.

Company: Thinking Caps Tutoring offers study-skills coaching, subject tutoring, and test preparation to middle- and high-school students.

2011 Sales: about $780,000 (up from about $700,000 in 2010).

Employees: five full-time, 45 part-time tutors (up from four full-time and 40 part-time tutors in 2010).

Ms. Mayzler started Thinking Caps from her dorm room at New York University in 2003. To determine how well the company is doing, she said she tracked the hours worked by her tutors, the number of client families, payables and revenue, looking for annual increases in all. By those measures Thinking Caps had a good year in 2011, she said. Additionally, after opening an office in Austin, Tex., last fall, Thinking Caps expanded into Houston in January of this year.

Owner: Susan Parker.

Company: Bari Jay manufactures and sells bridesmaid and prom dresses to retailers.

2011 Sales: $8.3 million (up from $7 million in 2010).

Employees: 17

Ms. Parker and her sister became co-presidents of their father’s business in 2008, following his death. With no garment industry experience, it was rough going initially for the sisters. But they sought guidance from some of their father’s longtime friends in the industry and managed to increase sales by 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. To determine how well Bari Jay is doing, Ms. Parker said she considered revenue, profit margins, and booked orders. Revenue and booked orders rose in 2011, and margins stayed about the same — as planned, she said. Still, there are challenges, most notably finding a way to keep up with orders and addressing production issues that arise partly from the increased cost of manufacturing dresses in China.

Owner: Beth Shaw.

Company: YogaFit trains yoga instructors, entering into exclusive partnerships with yoga studios and health club chains. It also hosts fitness conferences, teacher-training seminars and retreats.

2011 Sales: $4.4 million (up from $4.2 million in 2010).

Employees: 13 at company headquarters and 60 trainers (independent contractors).

Ms. Shaw, a former magazine advertising sales representative, founded the company in 1997, after becoming interested in yoga as a hobby. To measure YogaFit’s success, she said she looks at revenue. “I always want to beat the previous year,” she said. But sales are down since their high of $5 million in 2009, a fact Ms. Shaw attributes to factors including a more crowded market and the company’s unprofitable merchandising division, which is being trimmed. To get back on track, Ms. Shaw said she hired a chief operating officer who has “dramatically cut expenses” and added an experienced fitness industry marketer to her staff.

In future posts, the group will continue to discuss the realities of business ownership. Are there any issues you would like to see raised?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/after-a-year-business-group-members-discuss-their-progress/?partner=rss&emc=rss