IBM has had a long history of employees working remotely — since 1995, employees have had the freedom to work from the location of their choice. However, in March, the Armonk-based technology giant seemingly reversed course, calling back many members of its remote workforce to physical IBM offices. This move follows Yahoo’s similar 2013 decision to end its remote-working policy.
What does this say about the future of the work-from-home trend? Though the flexible-work approach is much beloved by employees, are companies moving away from this ideal in favor of more face-to-face time in the office?
Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, doesn’t think so. “In order to attract good people, and retain good people, employers pretty much across the board are developing flexibility in their workplaces,” explains Gordon. “Westchester County understands this concept, as [many local] businesses incorporate the option to work remotely into their business models.”
Gordon, however, still acknowledges the benefits of a traditional office environment. “People interacting with each other on a personal basis, within a person-to-person environment, does often spark innovation, creativity, and dialogue,” she says.
And that seems to be what IBM is betting on. According to IBM spokesperson Laurie Friedman, the company’s recent decision was made with an eye toward building what it calls an “agile workforce.”
“To build more agile teams, we have asked employees in certain job roles to work in the office,” Friedman explains, noting that the March policy change will ultimately affect less than 2 percent of IBM’s workforce. (Currently about one in five IBMers in North America work at home full time, she says.) “We’re also investing in modern agile spaces around the world —including our newly renovated space in North Castle — as well as in new tools and training to support the IBMers working face-to-face in agile teams,” she adds.
Sam Ladah, IBM’s Armonk-based vice president of human resources, addressed the subject in a blog post this week, explaining that IBM’s agile approach is “built around small, self-managed, multi-disciplinary teams working together in physical spaces, armed with data and analytics and continually generating and refining ideas based on real time feedback.” These self-directed teams, he writes, “break work up into manageable pieces, prioritize what needs to be done first and identify obstacles early so they can be overcome. IBM has found that agile approaches lead to greater employee engagement and more productive, adaptive teams. And, it has enabled sharper focus on both the customer and employee experience.”
Whether agile is just a new buzzword or an entirely new strategy remains to be seem. But, according to Gordon, the emphasis going forward will be on melding various traditional workforce approaches with newer ideals like working from home. This blend, Gordon says, shows “flexibility and respect for work/life balance, but also creates opportunities for interactions and sharing ideas on a more informal basis as well,” which, she says, creates a more productive environment.
Overall in Westchester, Gordon actually predicts growth in the remote-working trend, saying, “As employers get more and more comfortable with [remote working] and see the same productivity or sometimes better productivity, it will become more widely accepted.”