It’s happened at Yahoo, Reddit, and Best Buy. And now it’s happening to the 2,600 people that make up IBM’s U.S. marketing department. They’re being kicked out of their home offices because of the company’s ban on remote work—all in the name of innovation.
“IBM’s leadership believes that people working together stokes innovation–and even with about 8,000 patents filed last year alone (the most of any company), more ideas are needed. The company faces challenges from other cloud based vendors and has seen its stock price decline in recent years,” reports The Washington Post.
In an effort to “co-locate” its U.S. marketing department, IBM has asked its people to relocate to one of six different locations (Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin, Boston, San Francisco or New York) or resign with severance, reports Quartz.
The idea that knowledge workers need to be on-premises to collaborate certainly isn’t new. But, more importantly, companies need to ask themselves: Is it a legitimate one?
Forbes contributor Liz Ryan doesn’t think so. “The real reason you’re not allowed to work from home,” she writes, “is that managers at all levels are fearful of change and especially fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone… Leaders who cannot trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust will always revert to power and control mechanisms, including forcing people to drive a car or take a train to work every day so that their supervisors can keep an eye on them.”
Not only does banning remote work show a lack of trust, it presents a serious risk to companies that are struggling to staff their digital marketing teams. In an analysis of marketing jobs, Fractl and Moz discovered that “the 20 most common digital marketing jobs being advertised on LinkedIn required candidates with a wide range of skills, from SEO and social media to Google Analytics and content marketing.”
Fractl’s Kelsey Libert writes, “Many believe [a] rapid rate of change has caused a marketing skills gap, making it difficult to find candidates with the technical, creative, and business proficiencies needed to succeed in digital marketing.”
Limiting your talent pool to not only those folks who live within driving distance of your office but also to those who want to drive there will make it even harder to fill that skills gap. The only reasonable way to attract a diverse skillset is to look beyond the immediate area, and that means allowing remote work. If you think that remote work doesn’t matter to your employees, consider that research by Polycom shows that 62% of the global working population said they expect to work from anywhere. And while IBM claims that some of its people are excited about the new policy, Scott Stratten of the UnPodcast says, “I don’t have proof or data to back this up; however, I can unequivocally say that exactly zero people are excited about this.”
Allowing remote work not only makes sense from a hiring perspective, it also makes sense from a financial perspective. To start, there are the talent acquisition costs to replace the inevitable attrition after a change like this. Companies like IBM that give marketers the option to work onsite or look elsewhere for employment are likely to see a number of valued people leave for greener pastures. And, given the aforementioned skills gap, the job market is in their favor.
Financially-savvy CMOs will also realize that real estate prices in cities like San Francisco and New York—where IBM wants its marketers to work—are exorbitant. So much so, in fact, that at least one tech company is offering its employees a “de-location” package. That’s right: they’re paying employees to move away.
To top it off, there may be legal fees to consider with such a dramatic change in work policies. Consider this: according to Stratten, who started his career in HR, IBM may be opening itself up to legal repercussions if it is fundamentally changing the conditions of employment, the condition in this case being location.
So, what about the old “collaboration-only-happens-in-person” argument?
Ryan writes, “In their hearts [managers] know that collaboration and teamwork are things that spring up organically when people feel free to be themselves, and only then. You will never get organic teamwork or collaboration out of people who are forced to be in a place they don’t want to be.”
She further explains: “Allowing employees to work from home would give them better life/work balance, more chances to stretch during the day and a less hectic environment in which to have big ideas.”
No one would deny that collaboration is critical to successful digital marketing. Given the range of skills required to implement and execute a well-rounded digital marketing strategy, collaboration is key. However, collaboration is not a legitimate excuse to ban remote work—nor does remote work have to impede collaboration.
Good marketers understand the need for collaboration, and remote workers want to collaborate just as much—if not more so, due to the isolation of working alone—than their counterparts in the office. Polycom found that 62% of the people it surveyed “want” access to collaboration technology that enables them to connect with colleagues. What’s more, 92% of those surveyed believe that video collaboration technology helps improve relationships and fosters better teamwork.
A video collaboration solution enables marketing professionals to collaborate face-to-face at the touch of a button, whether for an all-hands meeting, a small team brainstorm or an ad hoc one-on-one video call. In all three scenarios participants can easily connect, share content, and collaborate just as effectively as if they were under the same roof.
Marketing is increasingly recognized as a valuable contributor to enterprise revenue growth. But companies are also recognizing the need for a diverse skillset. Limiting a candidate search to your own backyard or banning remote work is certain to limit your prospects. On the other hand, considering remote workers and supporting them with the tools they need to effectively collaborate will put you ahead of the competition.