IBM demands employees stop working from home

A 2009 file photo of IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY.
A 2009 file photo of IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Technology giant IBM, an early adopter of letting employees work from home and a longtime evangelist for the practice, is pulling its workers back into the office.

Last week The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM, one of the Triangle’s biggest employers, is giving an undisclosed number of employees who work out of their homes 30 days to decide whether they want to move into IBM office space or find a new job.

“For those employees who have been asked to join their teams in person, the vast majority have chosen to do so,” IBM spokeswoman Laurie Friedman wrote in an e-mail response to The News & Observer.

Friedman declined to specify how many IBM employees in the Triangle, or company-wide, are being affected by the new policy. IBM employs about 380,000 workers worldwide, but for years has declined to disclose how many workers it has in the Triangle.

Not all IBMers who work from home, however, will be affected.

“IBM employees will continue to work in a variety of ways,” Friedman wrote. “Some will continue to work remotely.”

She also noted that “the vast majority of IBMers” are already working in the office.

IBM isn’t the first corporate giant to roll back work-from-home programs. Others who have done so include Charlotte-based Bank of America, which curbed its program at the end of 2012, and Yahoo.

Still, many large Triangle companies continue to see remote work arrangements as a valuable recruitment tool.

GlaxoSmithKline, Red Hat, SAS and RTI International all reported that their telecommuting programs are alive and well – although not necessarily open to all. For example, GSK spokeswoman Frances DeFranco noted that many jobs require employees to report to a lab or manufacturing site.

Government contractor RTI reports that 13.5% of its more than 3,200 employees work from home full-time. At business software company Red Hat, about 25 percent of its 10,500 employees worldwide work full-time from home.

“Our teams are globally dispersed, so it is less important to us that people spend time in a specific office, and more important that they have the capability to collaborate effectively across the boundaries of time and location,” DeLisa Alexander, executive vice president and chief people officer, said in a statement.

In the past, according to the Journal, IBM has boasted that more than 40 percent of its workers spend their working hours outside traditional company offices. In 2007 Bloomberg News reported that about 42 percent of the company’s employees “work on the road, from home or at a client location.”

Friedman said that for employees “who cannot or chose not to become part of an in-person team, there are other job opportunities within IBM (we have 5,000 open positions in the U.S.), and there are also exceptions.”

IBM already has rolled out the policy to employees in its Watson division, software development, digital marketing and design.

Here’s the rationale Friedman outlined for the change in course: “In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working, and we are bringing small, self-directed agile teams in these fields together.”

Although IBM’s revenue has declined for 20 consecutive quarters, Friedman said the new policy “is not a cost-saving exercise. This is about shifting to a new way of work.”

Staff writer John Murawski contributed to this story.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii