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Technology: IBM orders remote-working staff, ‘Return to office, or quit’

Technology: IBM orders remote-working staff, ‘Return to office, or quit’


Virendra Pandit


New Delhi: With the world resuming full-steam work post-COVID recoveries, International Business Machines Inc (IBM) has directed its remote-working managers to find a nearby office to work from or resign.

The technology giant delivered a companywide ultimatum to managers who are still working remotely: ‘Move near an office or leave the company,’ the media quoted it as saying on Tuesday.

All American managers must immediately report to an office or client location at least three days a week “regardless of current work location status,” according to a memo the company sent on January 16, and viewed by Bloomberg.

Badge-in data will be used to “assess individual presence” and shared with managers and human resources, Senior Vice President John Granger wrote in the note.

Those working remotely, other than employees with exceptions such as medical issues or military service, who don’t live close enough—around 50 miles– to commute to a facility, must relocate near an IBM office by the start of August, the memo ordered

Those unable to relocate or secure a role approved to be remote must “separate from IBM,” Granger wrote.

“IBM is focused on providing a work environment that balances flexibility with the face-to-face interactions that make us more productive, innovative, and better able to serve our clients,” a company spokesperson said.

“Consistent with that approach, we’re requiring executives and people managers in the United States to be in the office at least three days per week.”

According to IBM’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Arvind Krishna, promotions will be rarer for those who aren’t on-site. Some teams within IBM had already instituted office attendance requirements.

IBM has slimmed its operations to focus on software and services in recent years, introduced new products to capitalize on interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and divested its managed infrastructure, weather, and health businesses. Executives gave a positive outlook for 2024 with fourth-quarter earnings last week, sending shares to their best day in almost four years.

IBM, nicknamed Big Blue, is likely to reduce more jobs this year, spending a similar amount on restructuring as it did last year when it planned to lay off 3,900 workers, Chief Financial Officer James Kavanaugh said last week.

Return-to-office mandates are often seen as fueling attrition. IBM had about 288,000 workers globally at the end of 2022.

The company closed several offices since the onset of the pandemic in January 2020, potentially complicating return-to-office plans for workers, including in places like central New York State, Southbury, Connecticut, and Iowa. Reducing its real footprint is part of IBM’s ongoing margin expansion efforts.

Several companies increased return-to-office requirements in 2023, replacing employee-friendly incentives like happy hours and commuter subsidies with more punitive measures including disciplinary action or limited career advancement if attendance targets aren’t met.

The technology industry, in particular, has seen tightening rules as the market soured and the risk of job cuts tipped the scale in favor of employers. For example, Amazon.com Inc., and AT&T Inc., have each ordered some remote workers to relocate near offices.

Despite new rules, office attendance remained fairly stagnant throughout 2023. Across the 10 largest business districts in the US, the number of workers in the office hovered around 50 percent of what it was before the pandemic, with tech-heavy regions like the San Francisco Bay Area reporting even lower percentages.




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