Last month, the Register reported that IBM was recalling much of its sizable remote US workforce to six regional headquarters in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and other major cities:
The consolidation effort, which IBM is pitching as a move to improve productivity, teamwork, and morale, is set to be extended to all IBM operations over the next six months. Remote workers, and staff at smaller offices, will be told to move closer to a regional hub, with IBM offering to cover some costs, or leave the company. Employees are being given roughly 30 days to make their choice.
The computing giant’s decision to scale back its remote workforce is notable as it comes at a time when more and more Americans are working from home (or somewhere other than the office), and working remotely at least part of the time appears to have a positive effect on employee engagement. It’s also a surprising move from a company famous for having pioneered the concept of remote work in the first place, Quartz’s Sarah Kessler points out as part of an in-depth look at why IBM decided to make this change:
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 (the company noted that it had reduced its office space by 78 million square feet and saved about $100 million in the US annually as a result). IBM’s marketing department had also acquired small startups without relocating their employees to central IBM offices. By early February, when [chief marketing officer Michelle] Peluso made her announcement, it was not uncommon for every member of a small team in her department to dial into conference calls from a different location.
IBM is also not alone among major employers in having second thoughts about maintaining a large remote workforce, Kessler adds:
The most common critique of open offices is that they are noisy and distracting, and the absence of distractions is one major reason professionals give for preferring to work from home if they can. Yet many freelancers and remote employees also like to work out of crowded, noisy public spaces like coffee shops—so much so that the restaurant/coworking space is now a thing.
So why are we so eager to avoid the din of the office yet so comfortable with that of the cafe? The Telegraph’s Sarah Knapton pores over a new study that claims to have answered that question. The key difference seems to be in how much the background noise means to us; the researchers “found that productive work-related discussions are likely to be far more diverting than random, meaningless noises or overheard sounds of conversation between strangers”:
Dr Takahiro Tamesue, of the Yamaguchi University in Japan, said: “Surrounding conversations often disturb the business operations conducted in such open offices. Because it is difficult to soundproof an open office, a way to mask meaningful speech with some other sound would be of great benefit for achieving a comfortable sound environment.” …
Lately, evidence has been piling up that the traditional, five-day, 40-hour workweek is outdated: A recent survey found that most US employees work outside “normal” 9-to-5 working hours—often meaning a longer effective workday or workweek—while other research suggests that older workers are more productive if they work fewer than 40 hours a week. Employees are increasingly putting a premium on flexibility and work-life balance, as our research at CEB bears out: Our latest preferences research (which CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read here) indicates that increased emphasis on work-life benefits is almost as important to employees as a pay raise, while our Global Talent Monitor finds that these benefits are the most effective driver of employee attraction in several major global markets.
A new paper from Harvard and Princeton researchers complicates this narrative somewhat. Workplace Insight’s Mark Eltringham goes over the recent study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which concludes that “the average American worker is indifferent to flexible working hours and instead prefers a set 40-hour workweek”:
According to the study, most workers aren’t willing to take even a small pay cut to determine their own working hours. However, if given the option to work from home, many workers — especially women — would take an 8 percent wage cut to do so. The findings … also show that workers consistently dislike irregular work schedules set by employers on short notice. They would even give up one-fifth of their salary to avoid working evenings or weekends. Nearly half of jobseekers would not take an irregular-schedule job even if it paid a quarter more than a 9 to 5 job. This is true even of workers who currently have irregular work schedules.
Employers and productivity experts have lately been questioning whether the traditional eight-hour workday still makes sense in today’s knowledge economy. Now, a new survey from CareerBuilder finds that employees are increasingly on the same page, with 59 percent of US workers saying they believe that 9-to-5 is a thing of the past:
Forty-five percent of workers say they complete work outside of office hours; and 49 percent say they check or answer emails when they leave work. … A higher proportion of workers in age groups 45 to 54 (65 percent) and 55 and older (61 percent), agreed that the typical eight-hour work day was a thing of the past than any other age group. By contrast, only 42 percent of workers aged 18 to 24 say the traditional 9-to-5 workday is outdated.
Workers 55 and older also say that they don’t keep working (60 percent) or check/respond to emails (54 percent) outside of office hours – again higher than any other age group. For example, only 52 percent of workers in the 18 to 24 age group say they do not keep working after business hours; and even less (41 percent) say they do not check or answer work emails outside of the office.
While similar percentages of men and women (58 and 60 percent, respectively) say the typical 9-to-5 workday is a thing of the past, men are still more likely than women to work and respond to emails once they leave the office. Forty-nine percent of men say that they work outside of office hours, versus only 42 percent of women. Men are also more likely to remain tied to the office when they leave – 54 percent say they answer emails outside of office hours, as opposed to 43 percent of women.