At a time when many companies are formalizing workplace flexibility programs that allow employees to work remotely, IBM is making waves. The technology giant recently gave its remote workers in several departments across the company an ultimatum: start working from one of the several brick-and-mortar IBM office locations across the U.S., the U.K. and in continental Europe, or find another job.
IBM was a pioneer in remote working, boasting at one point that 40% of its workforce of approximately 380,000 worked from non-traditional locations. While it appears the company will still allow some employees to work remotely, those in digital marketing, software development. design, and its "Watson" division were notified they won't be able to telecommute anymore. This policy change isn't without irony, considering IBM markets products designed to promote telecommuting and electronic collaboration.
What's Behind the Decision?
According to company announcements, IBM hasn't realized the cost savings they thought they would see from using a remote workforce. The company also believes certain departments will fare better with teams of employees working together, shoulder-to-shoulder, and that company culture will be improved by requiring workers to be physically present in corporate offices.
IBM isn't alone in bringing people back in-house; other companies that have made a similar decision in recent years include Yahoo, Bank of America Corp. and Aetna, Inc.
A Blended Workforce
In any company where employees have years of experience and industry knowledge, making this type of workforce decision could bring knowledge into the fold. There's tremendous value to be gained from a blended workforce, when companies leverage the strengths and talents of workers in different generations. Requiring employees to be physically present will have the effect of mingling both Millennials and Gen X workers. These two generations can learn from each other and ultimately may improve the companies performance and productivity.
There's likely to be an adjustment period with workers needing to get used to a new routine and to new co-workers, as well as supervisors and managers needing to adjust to a new way of leading their teams. If the "personal" part of "personnel" isn't handled with finesse, workplace culture and productivity may actually suffer, rather than see an improvement, at least in the short term. This is where the happiness factor comes into play.
Managing the "Happiness Factor"
Employees in any industry, in any job, want to feel like they are valued and appreciated. If the intention is to create a more motivated, talented workforce, taking away employees' autonomy and ability to balance their home lives and work lives seems like a dubious way to reach that goal. The happiness factor shouldn't be downplayed; autonomy and flexibility have been linked to increased productivity, sales, and even accuracy.
IBM, and any company making the decision to bring their workers back into the company fold, may want to devote resources and efforts to being intentional about keeping employees engaged and enthused. Those measures will look different for every company, but they should reflect the organization's culture, mission and vision. Companies will have to weigh the risk and the benefits to ultimately decide what is best for their bottom line.
Look to ICS for Insights and Trends
At ICS, we understand the balancing act employers face; you need to meet both your company's goals and your employees' desires. For more insights into retaining talent, download our free 2017 Salary Guide, which includes salary data, market trends and insights for accounting & finance, legal & compliance, information technology, and corporate support roles.