IBM’s plan to call its workers back to the office has created a lot of buzz. After all, IBM was an early adapter to the idea of remote work environments. The company isn’t issuing press releases titled “whoops, that wasn’t such a good idea” or “why office spaces were invented in the first place” which leaves workers and bystanders alike wondering what the big reasons are behind IBM’s about face.
In-person interaction gives people the time to build social connections that make it easier to collaborate remotely and create that level of trust.
This is a decision which will have huge impacts on IBM’s worldwide workforce. Last month, IBM gave many of their remote-work employees in the United States an option to come and work in their regional offices or resign from the company. The sudden change to the company’s long-standing policy is impacting individuals, families, and supply chains across the country.
Employees in affected divisions have been provided 30 days to decide if they want to return to the office. Those who do not want to move back were also given 90 days to look for another role within IBM.
Why Did IBM Reverse Policy on Remote Work?
It is expected that a significant, although not large, percentage of workers will simply abandon their positions rather than uprooting and relocating at IBM’s whim. Some have even suggested that this is actually a cynical attempt by IBM to offload personnel without having to perform expensive lay-offs.
The change in IBMs policy is so surprising because remote work was often held out as a more efficient means to run an organization, and a critical factor in employee satisfaction, recruitment, and retention.
IBM has welcomed remote work for decades. A big proportion of employees works outside of central hubs.
Suddenly without advance notice or any apparent discussion, the company decided to co-locate the US marketing department, design department, procurement department, and IT department, meaning all teams will have to work together from six different locations – Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh, San Francisco, New York, and Boston.
According to Fox Business, the move is going to accelerate the pace and enhance collaboration of work.
A statement from the company said that “In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working. We are bringing small, self-directed agile teams in these fields together.”
The newest census data available has revealed that from the year 2005 to 2012, the telecommuting workforce of America rose by about 80%. Nicholas Bloom, an Economics Professor at Stanford University, found that the at-home workers, didn’t just measure up to the on-site employees, they also handily outperformed them.
Face Time Fosters Innovation
On the other hand, the Hartford claims that proximity fosters innovation. The culture of In-office workers is as important as the work itself. Kate Lister, the President of Global Workforce Analytics, stated that “If a team does not know each other that well, it is far better to work face to face. In-person interaction gives people the time to build social connections that make it easier to collaborate remotely and create that level of trust to be effective when they’re not in the same room.”
Perhaps it is this type of research that has made IBM, after all a company whose very mission is innovation, to return to a model of more traditional office and research environments.
It was not long ago that IBM bragged that more than 40% of employees did their jobs outside the traditional company offices, stating on its Smarter Workforce blog that “telework works.”
IBM is not the only company that has called back its workers from remote work structures. Four years ago, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, created a huge controversy when she altered the rules to bring work-at-home employees back to the office. Best Buy and Reddit also formally co-located their teams because working together has benefits that are tangible, even if difficult to quantify.
Reports suggest that most of the employees who have been asked to go back to the office by IBM have agreed to do so.
The change that was made to IBM’s policy affects a lot of its employees. But because IBM is a leader in American business, their policy shift is likely to have knock-on implications through the workforce. There may be a big change and a move away from remote work environments, to the more traditional office that facilitates team building and face time.