Here at PGi, we are big proponents of working smarter. For many in this age of digital transformation, working smarter means having a more nuanced approach to what constitutes “working”. Whereas work used to be exclusively tied to a fixed location, the increasingly accepting work climate where remote work and flexible hours are becoming the norm has made work something you can do from anywhere, at any time.
And yet, while the number of telecommuters continues to grow year over year, some companies are putting down a hardline stance against remote work, a move that seems severe in a time when most other companies are taking a far more lax approach to remote work.
Yahoo! And IBM are two examples of companies who have eliminated remote work entirely from their business model. While many have criticized their decision to nix their remote work policy, in the interest of fairness, let’s consider why remote work policies fail for some employers.
Yahoo! made waves back in 2013 when CEO Marissa Mayer banned her 12,000 employees from working from home. In an instant, the work from home policy turned in to a “work from the office or don’t work for us at all” policy.
Mayer received no shortage of criticism for this decision but years later in 2015, maintained the position that the new policy had helped the company. Mayer’s reasoning behind the decision wasn’t necessarily the employees who had formal remote work situations set up. Instead, “she felt like people who were supposed to come into the office were often abusing the right to work from home, using excuses like bad traffic, bad weather, or ‘waiting for the cable guy.’”
While many employees were frustrated with the ban, still others agreed that Yahoo’s culture needed to change, and Mayer cites the ban as a vehicle for positive change.
Earlier this year, newly appointed IBM Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso issued a mandate that her thousands of marketing team members (many of whom work remotely) must work out of one of six physical locations in the United States: Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin, Boston, San Francisco or New York. If her employees didn’t want to make the switch to working from a physical office, then they would have to leave IBM.
In an internal video, Peluso justified the decision, explaining:
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and a lot of time working with teams from real-estate, finance, HR, operations, the geo leaders, the marketing leaders — and starting with the US, it’s really time for us to start bringing our teams together, more shoulder to shoulder.
There’s only one recipe I know for success, particularly when we are in as much of a battle with Microsoft and the West Coast companies as we are, and that is by bringing great people with the right skills, give them the right tools, give them a mission, make sure they can analyze their results, put them in really creative, inspiring locations and set them free.”
IBM was actually one of the early adopters of remote work; as of 2009 (when remote work was still but a fever dream for many), 40 percent of IBM’s 386,000 global employees already worked at home. So why the sudden change of heart? IBM faces an uphill battle as CEO Ginni Rometty is under pressure to turn the company around. Will the remote work ban make a difference? Only time will tell.
Why Remote Work Policies Might Fail for Some Employers
While IBM and Yahoo! undoubtedly had their reasons, based on the reaction to both companies’ decisions, the general consensus would seem that a remote work policy is indeed a necessity for nearly every company poised to succeed.
Maybe it’s not the remote work policy that’s causing the issue. Perhaps it’s the mismanagement of remote employees that’s to blame if telecommuting isn’t working for your company. Yes, employees need to be accountable for their own work and shouldn’t get off the hook for slacking off while working from home. But the reality of it is that the majority of telecommuters are more productive at home than they are in the office, and those who aren’t able to be more productive at home probably just don’t have the work style or skillset to be able to handle remote work.
At the end of the day, that lies on the employee’s manager. Accountability is a management task, and if you “… throw physically distant employees into a cauldron that already includes ineffective management and superficial accountability, and you have a recipe for disaster.”
Thoughts on remote work policies? Join the discussion on Twitter @PGi