Tech giant IBM has decided to ditch its work-from-home policy and move thousands of employees to a new "co-located" setup.
After several decades of allowing employees to perform their jobs remotely, IBM has announced that starting this week it is giving employees the choice of moving to in-person offices or finding a new gig, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Some 2,600 people in IBM's marketing department, plus an unknown number of employees in IT, procurement, and Watson-related departments, learned in early February they would soon be required to work — or "co-locate" — in one of six US cities.
Those include Atlanta, Austin, Boston, New York, Raleigh, and San Francisco. If employees chose not to move to their designated city, they would be free to look for a new job.
IBM's decision to bring more people from digital workspaces into physical ones bucks a longstanding trend at the company of giving employees latitude in where they get their work done. Between 1995 and 2009, the company shrank its footprint by 78 million square feet — at a savings of more than $100 million. The company has also seen 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue.
Other companies soon followed suit: Work-from-home became a desirable perk of many white-collar jobs. Now one out of every four American workers telecommutes with some regularity. Data indicate roughly 80 to 90% of people who don't currently telecommute would like to start.
A spokesperson for IBM says the company decided to require in-office work for its marketing teams in batches (as opposed to the other departments, which either started as co-located or gradually moved in that direction) because of the field's modern demands.
"Marketing is no longer a 'waterfall' work process, where work is handed from one person to another," the spokesperson told Business Insider. "It is an iterative process, where the effects of changes in a campaign can be understood live, and responded to in real-time."
Employees heard a similar message from IBM's chief marketing officer, Michelle Peluso, in a video she distributed through the company's intranet.
"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," she reportedly said. "Bringing people together creates its own X Factor."
Much of the research on telecommuting has indicated the policy tends to benefit employees and their employers more than it detracts. Data analysis from Global Workplace Analytics, which looked at the findings from more than 4,000 studies, revealed twice the number of upsides to downsides. Employees who telecommute are generally happier, more productive, and leave companies at a lower rate.
On the other hand, telecommuting can also breed jealousy among colleagues, pose security risks, and exacerbate managers' distrust. GWA also found the policy may simply not suit everyone — some workers aren't sufficiently self-directed or tech-savvy to work remotely.
IBM's spokesperson cites internal research that has found "marketing teams that work in a co-located, agile environment are more effective and have better job satisfaction. In fact, there has been a very positive response to making this universal across marketing."
Peluso acknowledged to her employees, however, that the transition would indeed be tough for some. In particular, families would need to decide if the job was worth the move. One anonymous employee told Quartz the morale at the company was low following the announcement.
"Everyone I know is very upset," the employee reportedly said.