IBM recently announced a "relocate or leave" program requiring their marketers to work at one of six US locations. Those who have been telecommuting have the choice of moving or leaving the company.
While most of the coverage of this is focused on IBM's marketing department, the new policy is going to be extended to other departments at IBM.
As Quartz points out, IBM was a pioneer in remote work. Key quote:
As early as the 1980s, the company had installed “remote terminals” in several employees’ homes. And by 2009, when remote work was still, for most, a novelty, 40% of IBM’s 386,000 global employees already worked at home ...
IBM, of course, isn't the only well known example of a company reducing or eliminating telecommuting. Yahoo rather famously did this several years ago and Google and Apple have always tried to limit telecommuting.
These firms believe co-location leads to greater levels of collaboration and innovation. Again from the Quartz article:
What IBM should value most, says John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who specializes in HR strategy, are better ideas. “It turns out the value of innovation is so strong that it trumps any productivity gain,” he says ... “[Remote work] was a great strategy for the 90s and the 80s, but not for 2015.” He thinks that working together in person is one key to innovation.
At the same time, Gallup reports that overall remote work is increasing. Key quote from Gallup:
In 2012, Gallup data showed that 39% of employees worked remotely in some capacity, meaning they spent at least some of their time working in a location different from that of their coworkers. In 2016, that number grew by four percentage points to 43%.
But it's not just the percentage of employees working remotely that has increased: Employees who work off-site are also spending more of their time doing so.
In 2012, 24% of employees were spending 80% or more of their time working remotely. In 2016, 31% were found to be doing the same.
It's not just Gallup that sees remote work growing. Gartner's Predictions 2017: Boosting Business Results Through Personal Choice in the Digital Workplace says that "Employees are more engaged if they have autonomy in how, when and where they get their work done".
They recommend the greater use of flexible work options, including telecommuting, and are forecasting more firms will do so going forward.
There's also a rapidly growing number of firms that are wholly or almost wholly made up of remote workers.
A good example is Zapier, which has gone as far as offering $10,000 to employees to "de-locate" from the SF bay area and telecommute in.
All this illustrates one of our favorite trends, the paradox of place.
The paradox is even though the Internet and connective technologies have made working remotely easier than ever, people and companies are increasingly clustering together in fewer locations, mostly in cities.
This means thanks to connective technology location is, in many ways, less important. But at the same time, being co-located is becoming more important. Hence the paradox.
Adding to this paradox is even companies that make tools that help remote workers and teams collaborate (like IBM and Google do) are cutting back on telecommuting and requiring more face to face employee interaction.
So is this the end of telecommuting, as suggested by the human resources site HRE?
We certainly don't think so.
We believe the paradox will continue. More jobs and work will become detached from place, but clustering will continue to increase and more firms will reduce remote work options for certain groups of employees.
For more on this trend, see Upwork and the Paradox of Place.