IBM on Telework: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

IBM sells software and services for what they have coined “the anytime, anywhere workforce.” However, recently IBM announced it would begin dismantling its popular work-from-anywhere policy and give employees the option to relocate to regional offices. This is no small move — Inc. Magazine reported that, at last count, remote workers made up 40 percent of the IBM workforce — which includes hundreds of thousands of employees.

According to Fox Business, IBM spokeswoman Laurie Friedman said the “vast majority” of IBM’s remote workforce has decided to head back to the office. And those less willing? They have 30 days to decide if they will relocate or leave the organization. Fox Business reported relocation opportunities can be as far as hundreds of miles from employees’ homes.

Inc. Magazine reported: “IBM hasn’t had an unprofitable year since 1994, and its revenue per share has more than tripled since then. During that period, IBM has created more innovation than any other company. In 2016 alone, IBM filed more patents than Google, Apple, and Microsoft combined.”

It’s difficult to rectify the claim that teams need to work shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the organization’s business plan, which appears to be centered on the idea that “telework works.” So why make such a radical change? Good question.

About the move, author Geoffrey James wrote, “IBM has been telling us for years — no, decades — that the ideal model for business is a ‘global enterprise’ — where people around the world can work together to achieve big goals. If that’s true, what’s the advantage of clustering people in the same physical environment?”

James predicts the organization will see an immediate exodus of some top talent (already true) followed by slowing innovation and production with potentially disengaged and resentful employees. He dubbed the move “cultural and creative suicide.”

One thing is certain: IBM’s current messaging relies on trust in the foundational idea that teleworking works.

What remains to be seen is how customers (current and potential), employees and stakeholders will respond to the statement: Do as we say, not as we do. Time will tell.

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