Some of the most well-known, global companies have changed their minds over the past year regarding remote/work-at-home employment, including IBM, Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna and Best Buy. Many of these companies had telecommuting policies in place, had sold off their office buildings gaining billions of dollars, yet now are purposefully recalling their workers back into the workplace.
Why? In a recent Huffington Post article, Carrie Altieri, VP of Communications at IBM states: “IBM took many factors into consideration before calling about 5,000 remote workers in specific roles back into the office. For areas of the business where heavy collaboration and co-creation are key for time-to-market like development or marketing, we want those employees working together,” states Altieri. “This was a lengthy planning process for IBM that started with investments in agile training, digital tools and contemporizing around 7 million square feet of workspace. And we considered other elements like the workflow and maintaining flexibility.”
VP of IBM’s Transformation Ed Lovely told The Wall Street Journal that “Togetherness breeds production.” He went on to state, “We found that the most productive time was when people sit together.”
These corporations all thought remote workers enabled them to reach the largest possible talent pool and cost less owing to reduced overhead costs and lower salaries outside metro areas. They’re now finding these known benefits aren’t nearly as beneficial as the real productivity gained by colocation, or teams working in the same workspace.
Why is colocation appealing?
Debbie Madden, CEO at Stride answers why remote teams aren’t as productive as colocated models: effective teams are built by maximizing team productivity, not individual productivity. She adds that the single best form of communication that benefits team productivity is in-person communication.
Madden stresses her key point that companies need to distinguish between “team” productivity verses “individual” productivity. Employees still need the flexibility of choosing the time and place for their solo activities, such as writing blog articles. On activities requiring no team input, it makes sense to save the commute time and work at a home office desk. But when the teamwork is needed, then employees need to meet at the workplace where all essential members can be in the room, whether that be someone from tech, marketing, products or stakeholders. In-person meetings allow people to debate, whiteboard, review documents, and spark new ideas at a much faster pace than via a telecommute.
Is remote work dead?
No. Companies jumped on the bandwagon and went too far in one direction. That pendulum is just swinging back to a more realistic approach to teamwork.
Flexibility is a must for having work/life balance, and even though the best teamwork comes from one single workplace, we know there are many reasons and many individuals for who remote work is more feasible than working at an office. Companies have to integrate both means to truly meet a variety of employees’ needs.
How to do colocation?
Madden gives the following steps to help maximize both productivity and team morale. Each can offer value while putting new policies in place.
- Enable flexibility of work schedule – Colocation does not mean that every team member must arrive and depart at the exact same time. At Stride, Madden says some of her team members arrive at 8 a.m., and others arrive at 10 a.m. We have a shared sense of core hours that we all adhere to and are flexible outside of those.
- Agree on what types of activities require colocation – Agree on solo activities that do not rely on complex debate and enable team members to do these activities remotely if they choose. Agree on which activities absolutely require colocation and schedule them to enable everyone to attend in person. One of Madden’s team members has to leave at 5 p.m. to pick up his daughter from school. So, our team knows that all colocation meetings end no later than 5 p.m.
- Create a workspace that is enjoyable and productive for the team – Invest in good whiteboards for conference rooms, comfy chairs, good lighting, quiet spaces to hold meetings, coffee, and snacks. The more enjoyable your colocated workspace, the more time people will want to hang out in them.
Whether working from their homes or globally dispersed, remote workers are part of today’s business reality. BUT the value of face-to-face encounters can no longer get overlooked.
Are you looking to add workspace to your company? We can help you plan your technological and design needs.