In Focus: IBM Expands Remote Work Ban

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright May 19, 2017

This week International Business Machines Corp. gave thousands of U.S.-based teleworkers a choice: Leave your home-based office and relocate to a regional one, or resign from IBM, The Wall Street Journal reported.

While IBM is not the first company to rescind telework arrangements, it may be the first time a company that sells telework software has asked many of its remote employees to start working in its offices again.

(The Wall Street Journal)

"The company won't say how many of its 380,000 employees are affected by the policy change," which so far has been rolled out to its Watson, software development, digital marketing, and design divisions, which employ tens of thousands of workers, Fox Business reports on its website.

IBM sells products for companies with teleworkers, including one called Sametime—an instant-messaging voice and video chat software its own workers used. An advocate for telework, IBM's Smarter Workforce Blog has an article titled 'Making Telework Work.'

(Fox Business)

Earlier this year, IBM's Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso announced that the U.S. marketing division's 2,600 employees would have to "co-locate" or collaborate onsite from one of six cities. Those who worked primarily from home would have to move to one of the cities or quit IBM.
For decades, IBM embraced remote work. Eight years ago, 40 percent of IBM workers worldwide telecommuted. As a result, it saved about $100 million a year in the U.S. and had reduced office space by 78 million square feet.

(SHRM Online)

IBM remote workers who choose to resign rather than move to one of the six cities will be paid severance, according to an IBM internal document, of one month's base salary, the standard at IBM. Peluso says she plans to recruit replacements for those employees from the six co-located locations—not abroad. “If what I were trying to do was reduce headcount,” she says, “there are much simpler and easier ways to do that, which would be less disruptive for everyone, myself included.”


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]

IBM's Not Alone

When Yahoo announced it was ending telework for its employees in 2013, reaction on social media was swift and unforgiving. Disgruntled employees allegedly leaked a confidential corporate memo containing the news.

Signed by Yahoo's then-HR director Jackie Reses, but described by many news sources as spurred by CEO Marissa Meyer, the memo stated: "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

Hewlett-Packard, Best Buy, Bank of America Corp. and Aetna, Inc., also have ended their telework arrangements in recent years—but with little public complaint from workers.

Yahoo employees complained the ban would throw a wrench into their work/life balance. Studies show young Millennial workers—who will make up half of the global workforce by 2020 and are 80 percent of the population in India—often expect telework options as a condition of employment.

(SHRM Online)

Companies Need to Find Balance

When it comes to telework, employers must find the right employees, the right jobs and the right circumstances for telework arrangements to be successful, said Jim Reidy, an attorney and chair of the Labor and Employment Law Group at Sheehan Phinney in Manchester, N.H..

He said rescinding telework, which experts say has been proven to increase productivity, is often a response to poor performance. IBM's revenues have been falling for 20 quarters, The Journal reported.

"Bringing everyone into the workplace is often a reaction to a decline in profits or the company's failure to meet organizational goals," he said.

Experts say telework has increased 103 percent since 2005 and it is often cited as an incentive for those seeking work/life balance.

(SHRM Online)

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