IBM, which has long had a large telecommuting population, has made a massive policy change: Move into one of six offices, or leave the company. According to The Register, this move was announced through a confidential video, viewed by the staff. Chief marketing officer Michelle Peluso made the announcement, and the first wave started, with a second to begin in March.
IBM, which has had 19 consecutive quarters with declining revenue, clearly has some problems. Is this a solution?
In 2013, Marissa Mayer did the same thing--brought everyone into the office. That wasn't the solution to Yahoo's problems. Why does IBM think this will be the solution to its problems? Peluso stated on the video:
There is only one recipe I know for success, particularly when we are in as much of a battle with Microsoft and the West Coast companies as we are, and that is by bringing great people with the right skills, give them the right tools, give them a mission, make sure they can analyze their results, put them in really creative inspiring locations and set them free. That's the recipe I have always relied on and counted on, and I know if we do that we can achieve extraordinary things.
It is not about any given individual, and I want to be crystal clear: there are so many amazingly productive people who don't work in one of these six locations, but there is something about a team being more powerful, more impactful, more creative, and frankly hopefully having more fun when they are shoulder to shoulder. Bringing people together creates its own X Factor.
She wants to put the staff in "creative inspiring locations and set them free." This means, in some cases, uprooting families and moving them. It will also mean hiring new staff, because some people will leave. Some people work well in close contact with others. Others chose to work for IBM precisely because of the telecommuting options.
Because IBM has been struggling to achieve growth, it might be time for a massive shakeup, but a blanket change like this is probably the wrong one. Why? Because it's not aimed toward individual employees.
If she truly has "so many amazingly productive people" out there, but the company isn't succeeding the way it wants to, that means it also has many people who aren't amazingly productive in their current setting. Why would you want to massively change the working style of the amazingly productive people? Why not take the time and effort to examine the work force and determine who is helping and who is hindering?
The problem with a massive move like this is that people who are best positioned to find new work are the ones who are less likely to make a move they don't want to make. Those who feel they don't have options will be moving into the offices--which means, in some cases, physically moving their families, not just having a commute. This means you'll lose some of your best and keep some of your worst.
Making individual determinations is a long and painful process, but it's what would be best for the company. Additionally, The Register reports that if you do have to move you'll be given a "small moving allowance." Depending on what that means, an employee may or may not break even on the move.
Relocations often fail, even when people are excited about the move. A forced relocation is bound to have more failures. Is this what IBM wants?
I've long felt the best telecommuting models are those in which the telecommuters live near the office and are in the office at least one or two days a week. It allows the best of both worlds. So, I'm not going to say that IBM's old model was the ideal one, but this one isn't either.
Maybe this will save the company, but if Yahoo is any guide, a move like this seems more desperate than well thought out.