From the CEO’s Desk: Is This the End of the Remote Worker? Thoughts on the Future of Telecommuting


IBM recently made a sweeping change that has everyone talking, from HR pros to job hunters alike: U.S.-based remote employees are getting called back to the office.

For decades the company has pioneered remote working strategies and has been a model for other organizations to follow when implementing their own telecommuting policies. What’s more, IBM makes software that supposedly supports “the anytime, anywhere workforce,” so this shift is a bit counter-intuitive.

According to Business Insider, “Between 1995 and 2009, the company shrank its footprint by 78 million square feet — at a savings of more than $100 million. The company has also seen 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue.”

While these two considerations might not be mutually inclusive, one may have had an impact on the other. Remote work programs can be tricky, and the benefits certainly come with some drawbacks. While IBM hasn’t commented on how many workers are coming back in-house, it’s a noteworthy shift that bucks the trend adopted by so many other companies, especially in the technology sector.

Today’s workers adore working from home, especially millennial professionals who crave independence and flexibility. After seeing their parents sacrifice work-life balance for long hours in order to get promotions, they want something more. This is one way for today’s professional to achieve this, with studies regularly finding telecommuting to be a leading benefit for attracting top talent.

However, a remote workforce can be tricky. Creating a positive corporate culture is difficult with workers spread throughout the country or even world. It often requires a high level of trust between employer and employee to ensure deadlines are met. Collaboration can be difficult, making teamwork and innovation slow-going.

Is IBM’s shift an indication other companies will follow suit? It wouldn’t be surprising if other organizations shift back to traditional work methods in order to boost performance and strengthen culture. However, I don’t see this becoming a widespread trend.

Companies must be thoughtful with their work-from-home policies and regularly analyze the effectiveness of those programs. When implemented and maintained properly, they can certainly bring in and retain quality workers that might not otherwise be available within driving distance.

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