IBM pulls plug on re­mote-work­ing op­tion for em­ploy­ees

Tech gi­ant says busi­ness is evolv­ing as it in­vests in fa­cil­i­ties for smaller teams

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Rex Crum rcrum@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Big Blue wants to see its em­ploy­ees back in the of­fice.

IBM, one of the tech­nol­o­gy­sec­tor giants that pi­o­neered the con­cept of al­low­ing its em­ploy­ees to work from home, is pulling the plug on its re­mote-work- ing pol­icy in an ef­fort to cre­ate a more-col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment for its 380,000 work­ers around the world.

As part of the new pol­icy, em­ploy­ees who work re­motely will need to pack up their lap­tops and every­thing else and re­turn to a com­pany of­fice if they want to keep their jobs.

That’s right. Find your way to an of­fice cu­bi­cle, or hit the bricks.

An IBM spokesman said the move to bring work­ers back to the of­fice is be­ing done be­cause of how its busi­ness has evolved over the last few years.

“In many fields, such as soft­ware de­vel­op­ment and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, the na­ture of work is chang­ing, which re­quires new ways of work­ing,” said the spokesman. “We are bring­ing small, self-di­rected ag­ile teams to­gether, and we are in­vest­ing heav­ily in new fa­cil­i­ties, tools and con­tem­po­rary workspaces for these teams.”

The Wall Street Jour­nal ini­tially re­ported about IBM chang­ing its work-from-home

“They need to do some­thing rad­i­cal. They are ral­ly­ing the troops, get­ting ev­ery­one on the same space­with the hopes of right­ing the ship.”

— El­iz­a­beth Dukes, iOf­fice

poli­cies early Thurs­day, and said that the com­pany is “qui­etly dis­man­tling” the pro­gram that has been in place for decades.

Work­ing from the of­fice may have an im­pact on IBM em­ploy­ees in the Bay Area. IBM has about 1,000 work­ers in the re­gion, in­clud­ing those at the com­pany’s Al­maden Re­search Lab in San Jose and Wat­son West head­quar­ters in San Fran­cisco.

El­iz­a­beth Dukes, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer of work­place-man­age­ment sys­tems com­pany iOf­fice, said the change in IBM’s poli­cies may end up neg­a­tively af­fect­ing how cur­rent and prospec­tive em­ploy­ees view work­ing at the tech­nol­ogy leader.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly bad PR, es­pe­cially for the mil­len­nial and younger gen­er­a­tions, for whom work-life bal­ance is a pri­or­ity in re­cruit­ing and re­ten­tion,” Dukes said. “They will have to compensate in other ways (like) ca­reer path, ad­vance­ment op­por­tu­nity, en­gag­ing work­place, com­mu­nity con­tri­bu­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal sup­port in or­der to be­come an em­ployer of choice mov­ing for­ward.”

The move to do away with re­mote work­ing is a sur­pris­ing one, as IBM had been be­hind the pol­icy for decades. Just two weeks ago, an IBM com­pany blog post on telecom­mut­ing touted the ben­e­fits of the prac­tice, and didn’t sug­gest that IBM was about to stop let­ting em­ploy­ees work from home.

“Each com­pany has to make their own de­ci­sion on how they han­dle re­mote work­ers,” said Tim Ba­jarin, pres­i­dent of tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tancy Cre­ative Strate­gies. “But for IBM, it seems that this re­mote work­ing pol­icy just did not work as they had hoped. It re­ally comes down to what a com­pany’s ob­jec­tives are for their work­place and what they feel is the best way to ac­com­plish those goals.”

IBM’s de­ci­sion on end­ing re­mote work­ing is tak­ing place not long af­ter the com­pany re­ported its 20th straight quar­ter of de­clin­ing year-over-year rev­enue. And CEO Ginni Rometty has been crit­i­cized by some share­hold­ers for her salary, which was in­creased more than 60 per­cent to $33 mil­lion — but with 46 per­cent of share­hold­ers vot­ing no.

Leg­endary in­vestor War­ren Buf­fett also said this month that Berk­shire Hath­away has cut its hold­ings in IBM by one-third from the 81 mil­lion shares the com­pany owned ear­lier this year.

“They need to do some­thing rad­i­cal,” Dukes said. “They are ral­ly­ing the troops, get­ting ev­ery­one on the same space with the hopes of right­ing the ship.”

It’s un­clear how many em­ploy­ees will be af­fected by the new pol­icy, but it is be­lieved to have al­ready been put in place at IBM’s Wat­son, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, de­sign and soft­ware de­vel­op­ment di­vi­sions.

The move by IBM harkens back to a sim­i­lar one en­acted by Ya­hoo Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Marissa Mayer, who in 2013 put an end to Ya­hoo em­ploy­ees work­ing from home, or re­mote lo­ca­tions.

Rometty Among the high­est-paid CEOs in the tech in­dus­try

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