IBM is ordering its work-from-home employees to stop working from home

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Considering a work-from-home policy for your workers? It’s certainly a popular move. In fact, about 25 percent of U.S. workers do some or all of their work from home, according to a Gallup poll. But wait, you may want to reconsider. Some of the country’s largest and most innovative companies are moving to bring their work-from-home employees back to the office. IBM is the latest example.

Over the past few years IBM has “co-located”, or brought back to the office, former work-from-home employees in its design, security, procurement and large parts of their information technology departments, as well as the teams that work in the artificial intelligence Watson service and cloud development initiatives.  Now, according to this long-form piece in Quartz, it’s time for the 2,600 people who work for the company’s marketing arm to do the same. They’ll be asked to commute and/or move to one of six locations around the country. Those that choose not to will be shown the door (with severance).

As you can imagine, a number of the employees at the company, which as recently as 2009 had as many as 40 percent of their people work from home, are not happy. But the change is being done for a reason. IBM’s leadership believes that people working together stokes innovation – and even with about 8,000 patents filed last year alone (the most of any company), more ideas are needed. The company faces challenges from other cloud based vendors and has seen its stock price decline in recent years.

IBM has research on their side. Studies have reinforced the so-called “water cooler effect,” which indicates that employees who work in the same location communicate, collaborate, innovate better and perform better than if they were all working from their homes. “I think that getting everyone in a room, hashing it out, throwing it up on a whiteboard is my preference rather than doing share screens,” one worker who was asked to move told Quartz. “People pay attention so much less when on the phone.” (Ironically, that worker decided to quit).

Regardless, the trend is not limited to IBM. According to the Quartz report, Facebook offers a bonus to employees who live near their headquarters and Yahoo, Reddit and Best Buy all nixed their work from home policies over the past few years in favor of bring people back to the office. Even Google’s former CFO said in 2013 that his company prefers “as few as possible” employees working from home.

IBM’s chief marketing officer is expecting the decision will result in “really creative and inspiring locations,” that will ultimately benefit both the company and its clients.  Would this decision benefit yours?

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