Richard Laermer, owner of a New York-based public relations firm once thought: employees can get work done, whether they are in the office or not. He said, “we hire adults, they shouldn’t be tied to the office five days a week.” So he let his people work from home on a daily basis. A year after, he learned he was wrong.
Laermer gave his employees freedom to work remotely, but they took advantage of this perk. One of his staff was out of the radar for four hours, and it didn’t happen once. Another employee failed to communicate with co-workers all day, which wasn’t only suspicious but unethical, too. The last person who made Laermer change his mind, refused to attend a meeting because she had to go to the Hamptons, which he said was the “was the most unbelievably, nervy thing I’d heard in years.”
Laermer had it. He took back the work-from-home perk, and required all employees to go to the office everyday.
Over the last 20 years, remote workers have swelled in number. Now companies are rethinking their, if not lenient, but broad policies. According to 2017’s survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 60 percent of organizations said they allowed telecommuting since 1996, which has grown 20 percent. However, they said there are different arrangements of work from home, and 77 percent of these organizations still don’t allow full-time telecommuting. Most companies only agree to remote working in special cases of child care, when waiting for a package, or the plumber.
Today’s technology made work-from-home feasible for white collar jobs. Multi-functional chat programs and collaboration software have become useful for telecommuting in the past decades. Flexibility in hours also gets high ratings from employees. Furthermore, in a 2013 survey, parents claim telecommuting is ‘extremely important’ for their family needs. Some companies also believe that working during unconventional hours did help close the pay gap.
For these reasons, some organizations retained telecommuting to keep employees, and reduce the real estate costs. However, in return employees took advantage.
Another factor behind the abolishment of telecommuting is the increase of team-based work. According to a 2016 Deloitte survey, only 38 percent of companies today are “functionally” organized due to teamed up employees based on job type. Most of these teams collaborate and shift members depending on the work need.
“I think that’s why we’re seeing remote work come back in,” said Erica Volini, a U.S. Human Capital Leader at Deloitte. “In order to work in teams, you need a higher level of collaboration.”
Several organizations discovered that the most lenient work-from-home policies prevent teaming up of members due to isolation of telecommuters. Violini said, these companies “took it to the extreme on virtual work.”
One of the companies that scraped off telecommuting is International Business Machines Corp. A couple of months ago, IBM told its 2,000 employees that they are ending the work-from-home perk. They announced, telecommuting will be no longer considered, and they will all have to work in the office everyday. Though the tech giant is facing 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue, they believe this shift will bring people together, resulting in a faster, more creative, and more productive workers.
“IBM’s strategy is about adopting the best work method for the work being done,” said an IBM spokesperson. “For example, small, multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, coders, project managers and designers work in close proximity, often directly with clients or end-users, continually generating and refining ideas.”
“It’s going to require organizations to think about how to still provide flexibility for their workforce,” said Deloitte’s Volini. With the termination of the telecommuting among a large portion of employees, it could be challenging to keep the workers happy. For people who had the work-from-home benefit, it’s possible that they would take this change negatively. It could result to employee backlash and attrition. Thus, for companies like IBM, they have been careful with this step, and made sure there are still ad-hoc telecommuting arrangements for employees who need it.
According to Laermer, after he brought back people in the office, he has been seeing “quite a positive impact” on business. He claimed that meetings have been more productive, and there had been improvements in the employee’s work morale. Laermer also said that people didn’t mind losing their freedom. He said youngish workers needed structure, and most of them live in small apartments, which are not the best place to work. He added, his company still makes sure to let employees get off from work at 3 pm during Fridays, which also helped greatly.
“I think people have to be trusted,” Laermer said. “But the working-from-home thing has to be on a per-person basis, and it can’t be very often. It just doesn’t work.”