IBM Giveth, IBM Taketh Away: What IBM’s Discontinuation Of Telework Means For Remote Employees

IBM

IBM is credited with paving the way for corporations to embrace teleworking options. For decades, the corporation allowed large segments of its employees to telecommute. These days, 65% of professionals say they allow their employees to work remotely, likely thanks — at least in part — to IBM’s efforts.
But now, IBM is calling its employees back into the office. And for those who currently work remotely or work at an office that isn’t in one of the company’s main six locations, being able to keep their jobs relies on making either a long commute or a big move.

John Simons, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told Texas Standard that IBM used to be an industry leader insofar as teleworking. Not only did IBM develop software and services that made it easier for their own employees and clients to work from home, but they allowed workers in a variety of roles, ranging from coding to marketing, to do so.

“Now the company has decided that it wants to go a different direction, they want to group people together in really small, agile teams in sort of face-to-face situations in offices around the country,” says Simons. “They think that that’s a better way to have teams react in real time to market changes and changes in the desires of their clients.”

But some aren’t convinced that’s the real motivation behind the shift. Employees suspect that it may be a way for the company to cut costs by eliminating older, more settled remote workers in less profitable operations centers around the nation. Current employees who telecommute will have to relocate to one of IBM’s designated main offices in New York, San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh, or Cambridge if they don’t want to find themselves suddenly unemployed.

“Many of these employees who are kind of angry that they made decisions like purchasing homes and relocating to far-flung areas are … saying that this is a way to do layoffs in disguise,” explains Simons.

The decision comes at a curious time, given how many millennials are seeking out flexible employment opportunities. Surveys have found that 85% of millennials want positions that allow for total telecommuting, with 50% saying they would change jobs just to be in a flexible work environment that allows for the option of off-site full time work. And since less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs during any given year, the move seems a bit backwards from such a forward-thinking company.

It’s not just employees who stand to benefit from remote work, either. Research suggests that employees are more productive when they’re able to have flexibility in their work schedules.

And Harry West, SVP of Appirio, an IT consulting firm, notes, “We haven’t found that remote working environments result in a loss of productivity or communication hiccups. In fact, remote working environments actually increase transparency, collaboration, and communication with internal teams.”

It’s interesting, then, that IBM has cited the new policy as a means to improve collaboration and communication within its teams. But IBM isn’t the only corporation to shift away from telework for this reason. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has stated similar sentiments: “If your business is up and to the right, people can telework all year long. When you are in the middle of a turnaround, you need to come into an office.”

Since 2013, HP has backtracked on its former teleworking allowance and has asked employees to be present in the office during working hours. Ironically, both HP and IBM are seen as technological innovators whose tools can allow remote workers to succeed even in non-traditional office environments.

While large corporations may be moving away from telework, there are still emerging opportunities for those in the Chicago workforce who are seeking flexibility in their jobs. There’s currently a proposal for a shared office space geared towards millennial workers and telecommuters, offering services like internet, printing, desk space, and coffee for freelancers and entrepreneurs who don’t need a lot of space but require access to office necessities.

While some aspects of the proposal have given officials pause, the co-working concept would be a welcome one for suburban Chicago neighborhoods. These areas are seeing a rise in millennial populations that want good schools, big backyards, and better employment opportunities.

And while big corporations may be fighting against the teleworking trend they initially set, if millennials have any say in it, the option for flexible work won’t be going anywhere soon.

“As the trend for remote employees continues to rise, and as the workforce shifts to predominantly millennials, companies … who want to remain innovative need to be accommodating,” notes Andy Baker, VP of Talent and Culture at Nerdio, a Chicago-based IT-as-a-service provider, to The VarGuy. “If not, you’ll risk losing top talent due to your lack of flexibility. We’ve discovered that our remote policy has been one of the greatest perks for our younger workforce.”