Remote Possibilities: Is WFH Flexibility a Non-Starter for Dealers, Employees?

In the office technology dealer space, a critical question arises in the hotly-contested employment landscape. With office dealers often competing against other industries that may offer greater flexibility when it comes to the ability to work from home (WFH), can it constitute a deal-breaker for firms that insist on having their employees largely on-premises?

In cases where prospective employees list WFH among their highest priorities in a potential employment destination, does a dealer’s inflexibility in this area preclude it from obtaining the best prospects within its market? Does the position remain open, or is the best available candidate (if not the optimal one) given preference?

Obviously, certain positions lend themselves to the ability to work remotely, namely sales and technical services, although office attendance for both can vary from dealer to dealer. Traditionally, both functions spend considerable time in client-facing engagements. Modern voice systems enable phone numbers to follow employees wherever they may go, but does a dealer want its customer service or admin functions working remotely?

For those answers, we turn to this month’s State of the Industry report on hiring and retention in the era of the Great Resignation. We asked our dealer panel to share its views on WFH flexibility and the role it may play in selecting viable candidates to onboard against the backdrop of historically low unemployment rates and a market that deeply favors the job seeker.

TJ DeBello, Stargel

While the trend is for most new hires is to devise a WFH structure, the practice runs counter to the culture embraced by Stargel Office Solutions. In order for a new hire to be successful with the Houston-based dealer, he/she will need to rely on the support of both management and their new teammates. That is difficult to accomplish if the bullpen is empty, with no senior reps to influence the new hires, notes TJ DeBello, vice president of sales.

Still, the dealer is sticking to its guns. Back in the spring, DeBello points out that the lack of a WFH option became a deal breaker for potential candidates.

“Potential sales employees will mention the rise in gas prices as one reason they want to work from home,” DeBello said. “I do believe this to be a legitimate concern, but it does send a red flag because most of these new hires will be required to cultivate new business, and I’m not sure how you do that effectively with working from home and not getting out in the field or collaborating with other reps in the office.

“We do recognize that a hybrid work from home can be successful, so we offer a flex plan that allows those that have been here a year, and at 80% of quota, to work from home on Fridays.”

Value of Flexibility

Brad Cates, Prosource

One of the lessons learned from the pandemic, notes Prosource President and CEO Brad Cates, is how much its teams value flexibility. Progressive companies, he feels, find a way to provide a balance between the lifestyle they seek while still reaping excellent performances in the service of clients. Thus, Cates prefers to err on the side of flexibility.

“I think that the employee-company contract has changed through COVID,” he said. “So companies can entrench in the old ways, or they can adapt. While we have seen remote working have an impact on our culture, that doesn’t mean going back to exactly like it used to be. Finding the right balance for your employees is what will help you retain top talent.”

Robert Woodhull, Woodhull LLC

In some geographic markets, an adapt-or-perish mindset has taken hold, particularly when it comes to finding and maintaining sales professionals. Robert Woodhull, sales supervisor and marketing director for Woodhull LLC of Springboro, Ohio, the scourge of headhunters picking off reps with anywhere, anytime flexibility promises, is a real threat.

“Sales has never not been remote,” he observed. “It’s a matter of if they’re doing their job, no one bothers them. It’s more a factor of getting the executive team and hiring team comfortable with saying partial remote or hybrid roles are available. We’re flexible with admin should they have a need, maybe in the office three days and from home twice a week. It’s a constant conversation, and we try to be flexible to whatever the need.”

Changing Needs

Joe Blatchford, Image 2000

One dealer that has rolled with the pandemic’s WFH influence is Image 2000 of Valencia, California. According to CEO Joe Blatchford, the company’s approach to hybrid work arrangements has shifted significantly in the last year, with sales execs afforded hybrid options that vary from branch to branch.

Blatchford has also taken steps to ensure admin functions are given some leeway as well. “While we prefer our administrative staff to be in the office, we’ve been able to adapt significantly to their changing needs and allow for greater flexibility if and when they need to work remotely,” he said. 

During the height of the pandemic, Wisconsin Document Imaging—like many others—provided the WFH option to its employees, and several exercised the option, according to President Cory Spice. The offices of the Green Bay dealer remained open for the majority of the time. Today, the flexibility is still open to employees for special circumstances, but largely, the preference is for employees to work on-site.

Cory Spice, WDI

“We recognize the world is shifting and remote work will play a larger role today and moving forward. That said, we still believe employees are most productive and collaborative when in the office frequently,” Spice remarked. “At WDI, our relationships between team members matter and we still feel like those working relationships grow stronger working together in person than they would on constant zoom calls or email interaction.”

Not a WFH Fan

Chelsey Bode, CEO of Pearson-Kelly Technology (PKT) in Springfield, Missouri, is not a supporter of exclusive WFH, and notes it is typically a deal-breaker for prospective employees. While PKT was able to carve out efficient operations during the pandemic, between collaboration and the culture boost gleaned from being in-office make it the preferred MO for Bode.

Chelsey Bode, PKT

PKT has made exceptions. When a long-term billing team member sought to maintain her job after moving to Texas, Bode weighed the employee’s value and her strong performance during the shutdown period in granting her full-time WFH. The billing worker continues to flourish in her role, and while it may not move the needle in Bode’s overall opinion of the practice, it has softened her resolve, even if slightly. Leaders and certain specialized positions have the ability to rotate one remote workday per week.

“We’ve also allowed employees with childcare issues or other one-off scenarios to work from home as opposed to using PTO,” Bode noted. “It’s a privilege, not a right and we communicate that this flexibility is approved based on position and productivity in these instances. We’ve gained a stronger work ethic and more productivity through our willingness to be flexible. We’ve also been told it’s helped with employees’ personal stress when life gets in their way.”

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.