Why IBM has it wrong about Anywhere Work
When IBM announced recently it was summoning workers back to central offices after decades of pioneering a remote work model -- it was a seminal moment for the legacy tech company and a head-scratching moment for future-forward companies everywhere. IBM’s desire to reignite innovation and collaboration and all the other long-touted benefits of manufacturing physical proximity among employees is understandable after 20 straight quarters of declining revenue. But it also feels really counter-culture: not in a cool, old-is-new again kind of way, but in a doesn’t-IBM-know-this-is-a-bad-idea kind of way?
The move will have long-term effects on IBM’s ability to hire the next generation of talent, which in study after study has voiced support for workplace flexibility and work-life balance over all else.
Employees at all levels and pay grades want more flexibility, not less.
An independent study commissioned by Dialpad in October 2017 showed 89.2 percent of respondents -- spanning individual contributors to C-level executives -- would prefer to work outside of the office at least one full day per week and that 77.2 percent already work outside of the office at least a few hours per week. What’s more, and more important for IBM, 82 percent of respondents said they’d make a decision to join a company based on their ability to work from anywhere.
IBM’s re-homing strategy is counter to the flexibility workers increasingly demand -- which will assuredly affect its ability to recruit and retain skilled employees.
But it also ignores the major strides technology has made in making Anywhere Work -- and therefore collaboration and innovation and productivity – possible from anywhere, on any device, any time. And this from a technology company whose making major changes so it can refocus on the next generation technologies including cloud computing and AI that have made collaboration and productivity and innovation possible from anywhere.
Some of the biggest and best-performing companies have embraced anywhere work long after IBM initially did -- including Fortune 500s like Apple, Oracle and Amazon, which recently announced the addition of 5,000 new, part-time, work-from-home positions as part of a larger hiring plan. Amazon’s hope in its recent announcement is to tap a motivated workforce among military spouses, parents and college students that either can’t work full time or don’t care to. But those companies also offer high-paying jobs with workplace flexibility and the anywhere tools to access and collaborate in real time. And why? Because research shows us that workers with the flexibility to work at home -- they are more productive and work more hours than office-bound employers.
Other up-and-coming companies? They know this and they want more productive employees who work more hours, so they’re starting with an Anywhere Work model -- setting up companies that enable anywhere communications from the get-go to connect employees anywhere they want to work, from whatever device. And these aren’t just tiny startups either. Fast-growing companies like Code42, Zumper, Stripe and others are building anywhere work into the culture and reporting benefits in productivity, high engagement and employee happiness.
And all of that makes me question IBM’s strategy in throwing in the towel on remote work.
With 20 straight quarters of declining revenue and what’s sure to be a mass exodus of long-time IBM employees who don’t want to head back to an office after years of working remotely, IBM isn’t setting itself up for the future of anywhere work that so many companies are already embracing and so many employees are demanding. It’s only going to get worse for IBM as it seeks to hire Millennials to replace the long-time talent they’re losing by insisting on a less-flexible workplace. Embracing anywhere communications would be a better bet.
Brian Peterson is the co-founder and vice president of engineering at Dialpad, specializing in web development, cloud services and databases. Before Dialpad, Brian led the transition of GrandCentral’s technology onto Google’s infrastructure, working on Google Voice’s team for eight years.