I love Big Blue (aka IBM). They hired me between my junior and senior years in college to write for their popular internal magazine, Think, and my father had an amazing 30-year career with the firm. His job enabled our family to live in New York, Texas and Michigan by the time I went off to college. It was an extraordinary way to grow up, which I credit for my love of change. Over the years, the 105-year-old company has flourished and floundered. Unfortunately, lately, it has been floundering, with 19 consecutive quarters of declining revenue.
In a video message to IBM’s Marketing employees in mid-February, workers in this business unit were told that they have 30 days to decide whether to stay or go. This means Marketing employees who telecommute, work at a smaller district office, or work separately from their team, must either quit their jobs or move to Austin; San Francisco; New York City; Cambridge, MA; Atlanta; or Raleigh, NC. IBM pitched the move as a way to improve the performance of their marketing function, so it can compete with Microsoft and Silicon Valley rivals.
Jason Henham, a consulting manager with Raffa, a Washington DC-based professional services firm, recently told CMSWire, “IBM has said that the move is to improve productivity, teamwork, and morale. So, if other companies also believe that productivity, teamwork, and morale are mostly a function of employees being in the same physical place, then we could see more policies like this.”
Hold on! There are many examples of successful workplaces where productivity, teamwork, and morale are NOT a function of all employees being in the same physical place. These workplaces are high-performing because employees are engaged: they trust senior leaders and feel an emotional connection to the company. In my option, location does not matter; leadership does.
Be Awesome! Per a Stanford University study, remote workers are more productive than workers who are in the same physical space. As a leader, if productivity, teamwork, and morale are not where they need to be, begin first by creating a strategy to drive higher levels of employee engagement vs. ordering employees to sit together. What employees need most is a runway and trust, which will enable them to soar.