IBM’s Remote Work Reversal Is A Losing Battle Against the New Normal

By Stephane Kasriel

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Until recently, IBM was one of the first and biggest proponents of remote work. But no longer. In March, the company began directing thousands of employees to work from set locations or else look for another job, an ultimatum it extended more widely last week. The move is an alarming policy reversal that neither current trends nor recent history suggest is wise.


IBM’s curtailment of remote work echoes Yahoo’s reversal more than four yeas ago, when CEO Marissa Mayer began requiring workers to come back to a traditional office so they could start “physically being together,” as then-HR chief Jackie Reses put it at the time.

To all appearances, all that physical togetherness hasn’t worked out so well. After weathering a firestorm, Yahoo initially stood by the policy change. But in the years that followed, it failed to regain its position as a leading internet company, suffered a series of devastating hacks, and finally agreed last year to sell itself to Verizon for about $4.4 billion–far less than the $100 billion market cap it had had at its peak.

Like Mayer in 2013, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is under pressure to turn her company around. And like Yahoo, IBM claims that the policy change is meant to improve collaboration and accelerate innovation.

It won’t work. Attempting to force workers back to IBM offices is a terrible idea for at least three reasons.


First, IBM will diminish the quality of its team.

As much as 40% of the company’s workforce was already remote as of a decade ago, so it’s easy to see the new mandate as a way to trim staff without having to actually make layoffs. But if IBM is trying to get rid of people it deems extraneous, it’s pretty short-sighted. In all likelihood, what happened to Yahoo will also happen to IBM: The best talent will easily find new jobs with companies that are more open to remote work.

Not only do flexible work arrangements top job seekers’ lists of priorities, but making successful hires depends much more on relevant skills than on physical location. So if, months from now, IBM points to the number of employees choosing to relocate in order to keep their jobs as evidence of success, don’t buy it. Many will do just that because they have no other options, while the most high-performing, in-demand talent flies the coop. In the end, IBM will reduce the quality of its workforce while its competitors reap the benefits.

Second, requiring employees to work in an office will hurt productivity, not improve it.

In a study published in Harvard Business Review in 2014, remote workers proved both more productive and more loyal than their peers onsite. In fact, IBM’s recent policy switch goes against its own research. In both a 2014 white paper by IBM’s Smarter Workplace Institute and in a conference panel the company hosted just weeks Go to the full article.

Source:: Business 2 Community

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