Expert View: Is Remote Working Viable For Your Business?

We sat down with Allison Mezzafonte, SVP of Operations at Bauer Xcel Media


Allison Mezzafonte is SVP, Operations at Bauer Xcel Media, the global digital division of the Bauer Media Group, which has 1,000+ products in 20 countries and an annual turnover of 2.5 billion dollars. Allison is an award-winning digital media executive who brings over 15 years of experience working with leading global publishing brands to drive audience and revenue.

Ahead of her presentation at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit this March 21-22 in New York, we sat down with Allison to discuss how her company handle digital strategy, and the industry more widely. 

It seems like over the past several years the pendulum swings between the value of flexibility and working remotely and face time. In your experience, what's the right balance?

My general rule of thumb is that you should be in the office more often than you are not, and that's the extent of our policy. I always say, if we have to create a stricter policy around flexible work, it defeats the purpose of this being flexible. Giving employees the ability to choose where they work from and when sends a clear message that you, as their employers, trust them and have confidence that they will not only get their work done but have the good judgment to know when it's acceptable to work remotely, and when it's not.

How do you keep a motivated workforce when people are remote? Are they likely to feel less engaged?

I actually find that when people are given permission to work in the environment of their choosing, that they usually are more engaged and more productive. Of course, we rely heavily on Google Hangouts for meetings, and we use Slack constantly, so we're really always in touch as it is. Even when we're in the office, it's office communication by Slack.

Do you find that those who work remotely actually work more efficiently or are there concerns about productivity and output?

It's really up to the manager to make sure that the employee has a clear understanding of the work that needs to be done. It really should not be any different than if you were physically in the office. An employee should have a pretty good idea of what it is he/she is working on in a given day/week/month without needing to check in with the manager. All of our managers have a weekly 1/1 with their direct reports and our tech/product teams have their daily morning stand ups where they discuss work to be completed that day. That's always done on a Hangout, even with those in the office, because our tech and product teams are pretty big and finding space to have this stand up can be a challenge.

How open are you to considering candidates who are remote due to their location? Are there certain roles that require being in house more than others?

It all depends on the job because not all jobs are best done remotely. If it's your first job out of school, you are probably best suited being in house so you can learn from observing others.

Now that everyone has a smartphone and a laptop, can we truly all work remotely? What are the (not so obvious) elements of work that you need to preserve by being together? How do we do that well?

Technically, we probably all can. But I do think that if we all worked remotely, all of the time, you do lose out on the benefits of forming relationships with your colleagues through daily interaction in the office. When we have large meetings, like our all hands, we expect our employees to come into the office. When we have planning meetings that require a couple of hours of time, and maybe some deep, strategic discussions, those are best in person. Technology is not always agreeable, and often times our connection via Hangout isn't great. When that happens, and you're having to repeat yourself because the person on the computer can't hear you, that can be a challenge.

In interviews, do you favor people that can come into the office?

This depends on the role. Some roles are really better suited to be in-house. For example, if you lead a team, it's ideal that your team has physical access to you. Sometimes, we realize that isn't possible, and if the person is the right person for the job, we'll make the exception. In general though, if it's a role that requires a lot of collaboration, it's really best they can work in the office. For example, some of our lead developers on our tech team are full time remote, but that's okay given the nature of their work. Most devs work with headphones on all day. Whereas, our editors sit around all day bouncing ideas off of one another. You can't capture that interaction over a Google Hangout

Let's talk a bit about the millennial generation. A lot of generalizations get thrown around about them and you hear a lot about entitlement. In your opinion, is it fair to say that millennials are entitled in the work place, or is their style of work just the new norm? The new (and perhaps more productive) way of working?

Not fair to say. The millennial generation is a really broad age range, and while there might be some commonalities among them (they all grew up with devices in hand), they are surely not all the same when it comes to workplace expectations. Some of the most capable and hardest working professionals I've met are = millennials, and some of the laziest and most unproductive people I've worked with happen to not be millennials. That doesn't mean those individuals represent their entire age group. We really can't make broad stroke statements like that.

How about other complimentary policies like the new trend to have 'no vacation' time and to expect people to get their work done and take time off when needed?

Many people think that having an unlimited vacation policy is actually a way of getting people to use less time out of the office. It's really about knowing that the time is yours to take, but not to be abused. I've worked with a no vacation policy. In general, if I ever had a doubt as to how much time to take, I'd always measure it against how much vacation time a typical company offers and weigh it against that. I find that a no vacation policy is great for staff when it's say, the end of the year near the holidays, and they've used all of their time off. The office is quiet anyway, and they want to take an extra few days. Go for it. That's exactly how it should be used. A 2 month sabbatical around the world? Probably not what most employers have in mind when they offer an unlimited vacation policy. That said, I've worked with people who had gotten burned out from a project and needed time away. That's a great way to use an unlimited policy. You aren't stressing about eating away at your PTO, and you're able to recuperate from a really involved work project.

How do you fairly measure productivity?

This totally varies from job function to job function. Our tech team is measured by the number of points they close in a sprint. Our editors are measured based on traffic and their content output. Revenue is measured by how much money we're making.

Have you adopted any new technologies to make it all work better, such as Slack or Zoom meeting?

Yes, we use Slack and Google Hangouts religiously. Slack has made communication lines so much easier. We don't even have phones at our desks!

You can hear more from Allison, along with many other industry leading digital strategy executives, at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit this March 21-22 in New York. To see the full schedule, click here.

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