As we are all aware, there has been a decades-long trend (that obviously coincided with advances in communication and technology) to permit more and more people to work from home. One of the leaders of the movement has been IBM, so it was more than a little intriguing when it was widely reported earlier this year that they were reversing course and bringing workers back to the office.
The article (attributed to Reuters) states: “In the past, IBM has boasted that more than 40% of employees worked outside traditional company offices, and a May 4 post on the company’s Smarter Workforce blog stated that ‘telework works’.” So, what happened? Are they alone in the shift?
Let’s start with the second question. The answer is clearly no. If you read the rest of the piece, you will see that Yahoo, Aetna, and Bank of America have made similar decisions regarding remote workers. I have been thinking about all the businesses Sumus advises and thought that providing some very specific advice to company owners could be beneficial.
But before that, I will try to tackle the “why” for IBM and the others. The article says that the overall reasons for employees to return to the office is to speed up work and spark innovation, and I do tend to agree. But in my view the core issue is the need for company leaders to adopt a common-sense paradigm: separate people and responsibilities. Let me explain.
I will start with examples and then back out to make a large (and hopefully helpful) point. The Sumus Director of Marketing and Client Relations is tasked with a diverse set of responsibilities for clients, from writing white papers to assisting in acquisition integrations.
Suppose for a moment he has a deadline to finish a complicated white paper. The research is done, the SME has signed off on the content, and all that is left to do is the final drafting process, which could take a few days to cement. The responsibility there is clearly solo, and working remotely is an optimal way to proceed.
Let’s say that the paper is done and then he needs to get back to facilitating the integration of two companies, and he is specifically trying to help blend cultures and streamline communication. Does sending a series of emails sound like the best way to get that done? Of course not. He needs to be there, observing, taking notes, making connections, and formulating recommendations.
At Sumus, we understand that no one size fits all. We have built our advisement business upon that idea. Along those lines, we probably never would have universally counseled our clients to either end of the spectrum: allow employees remote work or not allow remote.
For us, nothing has changed after reading the article. We believe business owners should think about assigned responsibilities and not simply employees as a mass group when considering work-from-home rules. Please contact us if you need assistance setting policies for your company.