IBM Summons Remote Workers Back to the Office

April 18, 2017

ibmIn the 1980s IBM was one of the first companies to make remote work a priority for its employees. Starting with “remote terminals” installed in staffers’ houses, by 2009 40 percent of the tech company’s 386,000 employees worked from home. In the process, IBM reduced office space by 78 million square feet and started saving $100 million in annual costs. Other companies took IBM’s lead and began to follow the remote trend as well. In fact, 25 percent of American workers now work remotely at least part of the time.

That’s no longer the case at IBM, however. As part of a wider effort to increase innovation, the company has been gradually “co-locating” remote employees back into office spaces. For instance, IBM recently informed its 2,600 U.S. marketing employees that they would now be required to work from one of six cities. That meant some staffers would need to consider moving to one of these locations or else find another job. This news didn’t go over particularly well with many employees. One staffer called the decision “a massacre” while others said they had stopped working on long term projects since they did not know if they would stay at IBM.

Still, this lack of employee enthusiasm hasn’t stopped the company from co-locating other departments like security, design, and most of the firm’s IT staff. Although studies show that remote work can increase productivity, IBM is currently more concerned with creating innovative products and services that can compete with the giants of Silicon Valley. After all, employees at Google and Facebook work closely together in small teams that focus on creativity and innovation rather than efficiency. IBM executives hope that becoming more like these centralized operations will help offset 19 consecutive quarters of declining sales. Of course, not all employees agree that proximity to their colleagues will make them more inventive. These disgruntled staffers could likely quit IBM, leaving the company with fewer talented workers to collaborate together.

Questions:

 

  1. Why is IBM moving away from remote working and towards “co-locating” employees in offices?
  2. If your employer announced that you would need to move to another city to keep your job, would you relocate or start looking for a new job?

Source: Sarah Kessler, “IBM, Remote-Work Pioneer, Is Calling Thousands of Employees Back to the Office,” Quartz, March 21, 2017. Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov.

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