When Remote Work ‘Works’ for Employees, but Not the C-Suite

Editor's Comment: Implementing a flexible/remote work arrangement needs to be strategic to a company's culture and overall growth strategy. Organizations that slap in remote work programs without a thorough understanding of the benefits and drawbacks will end-up second guessing their program, because they never really understood how it fit into the bigger picture. In the case of IBM, an enterprising executive saw an opportunity to provide an immediate saving to the bottomline. That benefit has been achieved so it is time to look for new opportunities. Regardless of how the remote work arrangement was introduced the chances are it was handled as a tactic and not a strategy. Savvy employers, from start-ups to large organizations, understand that a remote work program is more than am employee perk or a cost saving activity; it is a key part of a talent strategy. Susan


Michelle Peluso. Marissa Mayer. Hubert Joly.

Those are just some of the executives at big-name companies who made headlines in recent years by calling remote workers back to the office. In most cases, these leaders were charged with turning around faltering businesses, and, invariably, the executives argued that their companies would be more successful if employees worked side by side.

If remote work is on the chopping block, there will no doubt be a showdown between such executives and a workforce that will soon be chock-full of Millennials—those 23- to 34-year-olds who may not even consider a job unless it offers a remote work option, labor experts say.

"Millennials are the future," said Steve Pruden, senior vice president of human resources for global cloud services provider Appirio, a Wipro company, based in Indianapolis. "They know what they want, and they gravitate toward employers who recognize their needs. One such need is remote work. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If employees produce valuable work, it doesn't matter where they are when they do it. Most importantly, treating your employees like adults and respecting each worker's personal life pays off."

IBM embraced remote work for decades. By 2009, 40 percent of IBM's 386,000 global employees worked at home, and the company noted that, as a result, it had reduced its office space by 78 million square feet and was saving about $100 million a year in the U.S.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]

But after several quarters of declining sales, IBM's chief marketing officer, Peluso, announced Feb. 7 that the company would "co-locate" the U.S. marketing department's roughly 2,600 employees, which meant that all teams would have to work together onsite from one of six cities. Employees who had worked primarily from home would have to commute into one of the locations, and remote employees who worked too far to commute would have to move or look for another job.

Yahoo made headlines in 2013 when its then-president, Mayer—who is now CEO—made an abrupt decision to end Yahoo's remote work policy.

A week after Yahoo's announcement, Best Buy reined in its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, which allowed employees to work where and when they wanted. The company reported in 2006 that productivity had, on average, increased 35 percent in departments where employees had shifted to working from wherever and whenever they wanted. Despite this increase in productivity, in 2012, CEO Brian Dunn resigned after his three years of leadership led to declining sales. It was not the ROWE program that was blamed, but consumers' move to online shopping. Nonetheless, news reports indicated that the new CEO, Joly, put an end to the program because he felt the company needed stricter guidelines on where and when to get work done.

Ending remote work "appears to be driven primarily by … the idea that going back to the way things were will restore old glory," said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for Michael C. Fina Recognition, an employee rewards and incentives company. "Some remote workers in these situations are given impossible choices to relocate across the country or face termination. The problem with these policies is they do not take into account how [remote working has] emerged as a top driver for employee satisfaction in the last 10 years or so. They also make the fatal mistake of simply delaying the inevitable. Younger generations confidently know they can be anywhere virtually. The telework genie is out of the bottle, and in a lot of ways, there's no putting it back." Read the whole article...

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