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Get Back Into Your Box. Now.



dreamstime_xs_8111762The Register leaked a story last week that surprised me – IBM are reversing their homeworker policy. They have six centralised offices in the USA and all employees are now expected to physically work from them. Employees have been given 30 days to decide whether they want to move into one of these boxes or resign. Plans for Europe are apparently along the same lines.

This is pretty draconian stuff and particularly odd as IBM were highlighted in a government report published in 2009 called:

Working Outside the Box: The Growing Momentum in Telework
Work is no longer where you are, but what you do.

Back then, teleworking was the answer for IBM, and they were bragging about how successful it was:

“… 40 percent of its 386,000 global employees do not have a traditional office and many tens of thousands more work outside their offices at least some of the time. Since 1995, office space was reduced by 78 million square feet; 58 million square feet were sold at a gain of $1.9B; sublease income exceeds $1B; and, in the U.S. alone, annual savings amount to $100M.”

On top of that their ‘mobility programme’ saved five million gallons of staff fuel and avoided 450,000 tons of CO2 emissions in 2007, in the US alone.

So they were saving the planet too.

But IBM are not alone in abandoning all this good stuff. In 2013 Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo! as CEO and almost the first thing she did was ban teleworking.

“We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Needless to say, it wasn’t popular.

IBM’s marketing chief Michelle Peluso came out with something very similar as an explanation of sorts:

“time for us to start bringing our teams together, more shoulder to shoulder”.

So what’s going on?

Well the cynic – the realist – in me thinks that a couple of things are going on. In IBM’s case I think they’re trying to get rid of even more people. But in both cases I think that they’re struggling companies and their investors are telling them that ‘something must be done’. This looks like something, so they’re doing it.

Both companies lost their way years ago, both financially and existentially. Both were once industry leaders now humbled by slicker competitors. Centralising and forcing people back into their little boxes where they can see them gives management a feeling of control. You can’t trust staff unless you can see them.

But it’ll cost them, not just money for all that office space but also in good will and good people.

Of course, here at Voipfone we’re all homeworkers – there’s no office anywhere and never has been so we’re all very used to the idea and it works well for us. What’s the point of being a telephony development company if you don’t use the technology?

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