February 13, 2013
How Often Should You Be At The Office?

It’s a dilemma leaders often face: you need to run your company, and be available to guide your team members. That means being in the office. On the other hand, you need to meet with customers, suppliers, and investors. That means being on the road.

So what’s the right split of time?

Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth, a financial e-newsletter and website aimed at women, says, “I think about 50 percent is ideal for a CEO – same for sales people. It’s easy to hide behind your computer, but as the face of a company you should spend as much time as possible with clients and others.”

She confesses that she doesn’t quite hit that perfect split. “I’m only in our offices 2 days a week, but that’s because I live in a different city from our offices.” She used to travel back and forth most days for family reasons, but “the four days of travel was just killing my productivity” and she was “always on a train or between the station and my home, so now I work from my Philly home office three days a week.”

Durval Tavares, CEO of Aquabotix, which makes underwater robots and cameras, also aims for the 50 percent split, though this is partly accomplished by making his in-office days quite long.

“Typically, I am in the office in the beginning of the week, working with the engineers on the assembly line, programming new upgrades, or conferring with the sales team,” he says. “I tend to get into the office really early on those days, well before everyone else. I get a lot accomplished in that early morning quiet.”

Then, by the middle of the week, “I am usually on the road, meeting with potential customers and investors, or showcasing products at industry events. Although I hate to be away from our headquarters, the face-to-face opportunities that I have in these meetings and at expos are so important in prospect and relationship building,” he says.

So how does he stay in touch? Any way he can. “If I’m on the road, I’ll roll calls through the office. When I’m lying in bed at night, I’ll go through the day’s emails. If the team has a programming question, or I need to look at something to explain it properly, we will connect via Skype.”

Peter VanLancker, president of Hunt Yachts, also leans heavily on technology as he shuttles between company headquarters in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the naval architects and design experts that he works with in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and customers all over the place. “I rely on my smart phone,” he says. “I am in touch with my team constantly, be it through email, text or Skype.” He also sets a (very tightly scheduled) team meeting on Friday mornings at 8 a.m., and no matter what time zone he’s in, that meeting happens.

That helps keep everyone on the same page, but as he points out, the reason his travel schedule works is that “people at Hunt know what their jobs are and how to do them well. We place a huge emphasis on personal accountability; that is what keeps our production flowing.” Management is about tasks, not hours or face-time, and meeting metrics that everyone understands.

Indeed, if you get this part of management right, you may not have to be in the office – or have an office – at all. Traci Bild, CEO of Bild & Company, which provides consulting services for senior housing companies, has a completely virtual organization.

“I go where the talent is and have team members all over the US,” she says. She brings them together once a year, and flies individual team members to meet with her as needed, but does everything else remotely. Working at home “allows me to stay focused, eliminates distractions and in truth, makes me happy.” She plays music. She makes coffee just the way she likes it. The reason this works is that her company is “very organized, strategic and focused. As a leader, my energy is spent on developing my next line of leaders.”

One day per week, she spends 30 minutes on the phone with each EVP or department head. On Monday, they send her their three ambitious goals for the week. She shares these with the rest of the company leadership. On Friday, she updates the leadership team on whether those goals were met. “Every person is working at maximum productivity with the three-goal focus,” she reports.

Free from office distractions, she can look at the big picture. “As CEO, if I am happy, energy can flow and I can think.”

Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2012) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She writes the 168 Hours blog for CBS MoneyWatch, is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors, and speaks frequently about time management and leadership topics. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Other Articles by Laura Vanderkam:

How To Give Regular Feedback And Still Get Work Done

Why And How Managers Should Help Workers Set Boundaries

Work-Life Balance Is Dead—Why That Might Be A Good Thing

It’s Time To Stop Asking CEOs How They 'Balance'

How To Figure Out Your Optimal Workload

7 Common Mistakes New Managers Make

The Right Way To Use Company Perks

How To Figure Out Your Most Productive Time Of Day

Why You Should Rethink That Morning Meeting

5 Ways To Keep Your Best Employees From Quitting