back to article 2009 IBM: Teleworking will save the WORLD! 2017 IBM: Get back to the office or else

Remote working might be a dirty word among senior IBMers these days but it wasn't always so: teleworking, Big Blue once claimed, would help heal a global economy suffering aftershocks of the banking meltdown, and it might even play a part in planetary salvation. As El Reg exclusively revealed last week, IBM is following the …

You answered your own question

"This is a calculated move to get rid of people and if anyone thinks it isn't then the medical marijuana they are smoking is good stuff," an employee told The Reg.

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Re: You answered your own question

Quite likely, although it seems a very inefficient method of reducing headcount. But we see this all the time (particularly) in large organisations, where senior management lack the ability or trust in their subordinates to take a more rational approach. "We're reducing contract rates by 10% across the board" - which means all the good contractors will leave and all the dross will remain. "All departments will reduce headcount by 10%" - what, both those that contribute strongly to the bottom line and those that are a complete waste of space? It's the role of managers (from the most junior, to the most senior) to understand and identify the difference between the good and poor performers, between productive and unproductive work - but most can't, of course.

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Re: You answered your own question

Agreed. I thought for a moment that IBM was moving on differently, what with Watson and all. Seems on this evidence they are still a behemoth run by broad brush top line figures (what's the quickest way to cut X% of wage bill, etc) rather than insight.

Would have been better to turn the Watson engine to analysing the performance of the staff and contractors and cutting accordingly. But is would have required proper management so far and clear objectives and goals etc.... This way so much less legal challenge. There will be some, I'm sure (see other post about Euro person below), but will cost less overall than a US class action.

I have been in companies where an old school CEO or COO, always with grown up children who have left the home, I might add, 'suddenly' decides to stop remote working and get everyone in 'where they can be seen to be contributing' Totally misses the point about what managing performance is supposed to be of course. But proper performance management requires earning the respect and loyalty of the team, not being parachuted in from an MBA course. And that requires work.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You answered your own question

Many times you CAN identify the good and the bad.

The problem is, you have to always keep 10% of incompetent people... as if you have only the number of ppl required, what do you do when you are required to reduce 10%?

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Re: You answered your own question

"...where an old school CEO or COO...'suddenly' decides to stop remote working..."

Or in the case of a company I worked for, the CEO and several other C-level managers decided the company needed to relocate from London to a scenic spot on the south coast. This caused huge disruption for a large number of staff for whom relocation wasn't an option due to family or other considerations.

Of course the fact that the senior managers responsible for the decision were all approaching retirement age and were able to set themselves up very nicely in new homes, aided by the relocation package, was a total coincidence!

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Re: You answered your own question

"Would have been better to turn the Watson engine to analysing the performance of the staff and contractors and cutting accordingly."

Maybe they did and the answers were too embarrassing to reveal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You answered your own question

"It's the role of managers (from the most junior, to the most senior) to understand and identify the difference between the good and poor performers, between productive and unproductive work - but most can't, of course."

More accurately - and to justify and explain upwards so as to be able to keep the better performers.

You are doubly cursed with a poor manager in these times. In addition to the drawbacks of working for them, they lose out to more politically savvy managers.

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@Chris Miller Re: You answered your own question

The reason this is a 'steath RIF' not because its not obvious but that they don't have to file any action notices.

The whole point is to make people want to quit.

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Re: You answered your own question

You are doubly cursed with a poor manager in these times. In addition to the drawbacks of working for them, they lose out to more politically savvy managers.

That is the one big problem with companies today. Politics. The bigger they are, the worse the internal politics. Almost invariably companies lose a lot due to all the politics in the mangement chain. Constant backstabbing and arsecovering is ripe. If even part of that effort was focused on getting the job done...

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Re: You answered your own question

It's the role of managers (from the most junior, to the most senior) to understand and identify the difference between the good and poor performers, between productive and unproductive work - but most can't, of course.

Actually, I think many can. But when it's about the manager's job and bonus.. well... logic and reality go out the window.

A wise man decades ago told me: "The primary job of management is the preservation of management's jobs.". It was true then and still true today.

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Re: You answered your own question

"Would have been better to turn the Watson engine to analysing the performance of the staff and contractors and cutting accordingly."

Maybe they did and the answers were too embarrassing to reveal.

"Alright, Watson, all the board members are here. Please explain your plan to increase profit by 2000%. While you are at it explain why you could only tell us at a board of directors meeting. Watson? Watson!? What's that sound outside the door?"

"EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!"

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Boffin

Re: You answered your own question

have one for the Dr. Who reference :)

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"The primary job of management is the preservation of management's jobs."

And the primary job of the CEO is the preservation of his bonus, share options and outlandish pension contribution.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You answered your own question

"All departments will reduce headcount by 10%" - what, both those that contribute strongly to the bottom line and those that are a complete waste of space?"

Agree. Every business has functions which are essential, usually engineering or whoever is responsible for product creation and sales or whoever is bringing in the revenue... everyone else is supporting those people, in theory. Yet when there is a layoff, it is just an across the board cut usually for political reasons... equal distribution across all of the SVPs' organizations.

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It's Like The Tide...

... sometimes it is rising, other times it is falling - it remains motionless for very little time indeed.

There are all sorts of reasons that a company might move towards or away from home working. Of all of them], however, the most likely is simply that a new executive has come along and, wanting to make an impression with their seniors, has elected to instigate a new working practice...

I've watched a single IT Organisation, over the course of 20 years, adopt:-

1. A Product-Centric View

2. A Customer-Centric View

3. A Process-Centric View

4. Global Management and Reporting

5. Local Management and Reporting

6. Matrix Reporting

Without exception, each change aligned with new senior management. Each change took on average two years to implement. Each change was announced less than 6 months after "Mission Accomplished" was declared on the previous process [an act which accompanied the departure of the sponsoring executive].

In most cases the declared 'victory' was an outright lie.

People who have not worked for a company the size of IBM might fail to grasp how employees can become institutionalised, or how fiefdoms develop, how little "Cottage Industries" will pop up all over the place when a service previously provided centrally is eliminated due to "cost savings", only to have an executive admonish the supervisors who "just got on with it" and promptly stand up a central function, usually populated by upstart wannabes who want the promotion more than they have the ability to do the job right....

This is office politics, plain and simple. The declarations and claims being made, that black is the new white, up is the new down and in is the new out is just a load of fluff.

Nothing to see here, el Reg. These are not the improvements you are looking for... Move along, move along...

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Re: It's Like The Tide...

Step 7 is to complain about skills shortages

Step 8 outsource to a cheaper country

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Re: after "Mission Accomplished" was declared on the previous process

> [an act which accompanied the departure of the sponsoring executive].

The executive was, of course clutching large bonuses for his/her transformation reimagining of the organisational landscape...

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Re: It's Like The Tide...

Step 8 outsource to a cheaper country looking only at costs, not return on investment

Fixed that for ya...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's Like The Tide...

"In most cases the declared 'victory' was an outright lie."

Of course its a lie, but thats what it takes for corporate executives to earn their performance-related bonus.

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Re: It's Like The Tide...

Certainly never...

Step 7 notice a lack of skilled people

Step 8 train some

What I fail to comprehend about IBM here is what is apparent in many other companies.

It is perfectly impossible for me to control my Bangalore remote team from Newmarket, it is only possible to control my Bangalore remote team from Cambridge... 30 miles an hour in the morning away.

If and only if the entire team is co-located does co-location offer any form of help, and in most companies this is just not the case. Offices all over eastern europe and asia where previous accountants thought things were cheaper with nominal input from a small office in the UK or USA.

What this is all about is trust and control. If managers were good they could motivate, then actually it wouldnt matter if the employee was in a palace, an office, their home or a slum they would achieve the desired outcome.

The cost to the company of office space, heating, coffee etc etc etc and not to mention the earth when no public transport is normally provided and the employees nerves (and safety) when negotiating hours of ceaseless traffic jams is outrageous. Offices are basically the modern dark satanic mills.

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Re: It's Like The Tide...

"It is perfectly impossible for me to control my Bangalore remote team from Newmarket, it is only possible to control my Bangalore remote team from Cambridge..."

^ THIS ^

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Re: It's Like The Tide...

Step 9 - optional, after as long as long interval as it takes to discover 8 wasn't working, bring it back in house.

Step 10 - GOTO 1.

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Headmaster

@Dr. Syntax ... Re: It's Like The Tide...

Noooo!!!! GOTOs are not allowed!

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Anonymous Coward

How does this work in the EU?

You're employed and work from home. You must now move (possibly a long way and at significant cost) or you're out?

Sounds like they may have some legal battles ahead...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How does this work in the EU?

Indeed.

I actually have a written contract amendment which states that my working location is my house. My closest formal IBM office is >70 miles away. There are no customer requirements which require me to be in an IBM office (and in fact access to the customer facilities would be far more difficult to perform if I have to work from an IBM office). My closest team colleague is somewhere between 200 and 300 miles away. I don't know anyone in the "local" office, and they have no links to me.

Add in that the commute would be ~1.5 hours each way, and a train season ticket would cost me ~£5k (never mind having to get to the train station, transport at the other end etc).

So - massive personal disruption, significant loss in earnings, no benefit at all, and no actual business case that backs this up.

This is IBM insanity at its worst. If (when?) the order comes to move, I'll find a local solicitor and ask about the possibility of a Constructive Dismissal claim. Probably not going to succeed, but at that point I will have nothing left to lose.

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Re: How does this work in the EU?

And best of luck to you! (Really)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How does this work in the EU?

In the UK, it depends on contracts. If your contract doesn't contain a mobility clause, and you don't want to move, then redundancy rules will apply. Contracts with mobility clauses could still be open to legal challenges if they're unfair or unreasonable.

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Re: How does this work in the EU?

I think any change to the contract between you and IBM needs to be agreed from BOTH sides, thus if you don't agree then just saying bugger off is actually not an option for them. They would at the least need to find a justified way of making you redundant. If this extends to a significant number of people then they need to deal with a consultation period as well. If they fail to provide an acceptable solution then perhaps open to constructive dismissal.

Certainly 2k wouldn't cover the solicitors costs for any move, never mind removal or similar expenses.

When a company I worked for moved everyone to Cambridge from a town 40 miles away they had to provide relocation or in some cases compensation - while still keeping the people on.

My suspicion is that this indicates IBM is broke and looking to offload people, hopefully others will realise this and the share prices will descend further.

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Re: How does this work in the EU?

"...then just saying bugger off is actually not an option for them. They would at the least need to find a justified way of making you redundant."

It doesn't quite work like that. To make someone redundant, they need to show that your job no longer exists. This can be done by changing the job description to a sufficient degree that they can argue that it's now a different job and thus, you are no longer needed. If the reason they're doing this is to thin out their staff or just impose worse terms & conditions then they might tell you that as you have most of the skills to do the new job you can apply for the new job.

However, if they just change your contract and you refuse to accept the changes then they can simply give you your notice because you no longer meet the conditions of the new contract. Yes, there will be a clause in your contract that allows them to change it unilaterally.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How does this work in the EU?

"However, if they just change your contract and you refuse to accept the changes then they can simply give you your notice because you no longer meet the conditions of the new contract. Yes, there will be a clause in your contract that allows them to change it unilaterally."

I've never seen a contract with a clause allowing an employer to change it unilaterally. In general, it doesn't work quite like that. If an employer wishes to change your contract then they can only do so with the employee's agreement. If the employee doesn't agree then the employer has a problem. There is what HR call the "nuclear option"; in these circumstances an employee can be dismissed for "some other substantial reason", i.e. employee wouldn't agree to new terms. Same employee can then be offered the same job on the new terms, but, and it's a big BUT, the employer can then be subject to an unfair dismissal claim.

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Re: How does this work in the EU?

In the UK I am sure it all depends on your contract of employment, including any implied and understood terms on your engagement. If, when you were engaged, you were told we have a remote working policy, then that becomes a term of your contract. The employer cannot arbitrarily change your contract of employment any more that any other contract. A breach of contract is a breach of contract. Of course enforcing your rights may be a bit difficult.

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Ya know

the more things change, the more they stay the same...

I get the feeling IBM feels like the teleworkers aren't shouldering their portion of the burden, if true, it's really a shame for those who did work as expected.

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Facepalm

Re: Ya know

"I get the feeling IBM feels like the teleworkers aren't shouldering their portion of the burden, if true, it's really a shame for those who did work as expected."

If it isn't true, and IBM and others have mistaken presenteeism for productivity, it could be fantastic for employers and employees who don't.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ya know

What do you mean "work," Precious? I contracted to IBM/GS for some months and the majority of time the IBM staff did anything was when they held a meeting. I don't know about anyone else, but IBM to me stands for Infinetly Boring Meetings by Ignorant Bastard Managers. I built out the remote access gear in the DC they were "taking over" and walked away from them at a brisk pace. Data Center Wankers! Glad I did not waste any further time inside that shop.

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The obsession with everyone sitting in the same room is real odd to me. Telepresence, video phones, folks working in 1 team from Europe, the US, several India locations, the Philippines is common now. To get people working on the same site would mean shifting folks across the globe. Where I work, there are also 8 desks for every 10 people. People willing to home work, often longer hours than the office bound, not clogging up roads or trains, using their own kit to work with, their own heat, coffee etc. are modern day heroes, and should be celebrated and lavishly rewarded.

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Anonymous Coward

"using their own kit to work with"

With some jobs, this is one good reason to avoid remote working... would you like a bank worker processing your data while giving a look to some malware-ridden porn site?

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Re: "using their own kit to work with"

VDI. You may be using your own kit, with accompanying malware etc, but the environment you are using is on a server that is theoretically secure, and theoretically hermetically sealed from your own browsing habits and security shortcomings. Not even the clipboard works to move info between a VDI session and a 'puter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "using their own kit to work with"

Possible - as long as the worker doesn't need to access any local resource (even a printer). But for companies that believed to save on hardware, it means more hardware to buy anyway. Also, it could require a faster connection - and you're still at the mercy of the VDI software - it it has a bug which allow to break into....

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It's a problem of insecure managers.

Some people like to have their staff workling all around them - even though that costs more and is less efficient - because the buzz of activity makes them feel something is happening and they're at the heart of it.

It doesn't matter to them that anyone with a job that requires some concentration is working at a tiny fraction of their potential.

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It doesn't matter to them that anyone with a job that requires some concentration is working at a tiny fraction of their potential.

Of course not. It's all about appearances. As is blatantly apparent from the current fad of open plan offices. I suppose not having so many internal walls also enables more people to be crammed up to the same space.

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Paris Hilton

open plan

Don't overlook that IBM has gone hard into hot desking in those open plan offices. The last place I worked for them, if everbody showed up, there wouldn't have been nearly enough chairs. Remote working was sold to the management as a money-saver. I wonder how many new tables and chairs, and square metres, they will have to pay for? Or maybe "shoulder-to-shoulder" and "standing room only" are meant to be taken literally?

(Paris, because I feel sure the Hilton chain will benefit from this somehow.)

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds familiar...

HP Enterprise Services did the same thing in the US a few years ago - after 10+ years of encouraging people to be flexible and work from wherever it suited them, suddenly everyone had 8 months to relocate to a "strategic" site or leave the company. Naturally, many people left the company. Even some folks who were already located at one of the strategic sites ended up leaving after seeing what this policy was doing to the morale of their colleagues.

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Anonymous Coward

One of my previous employers did the same thing a few years ago. It was nothing more than a stealth layoff in that case, and this looks exactly the same. From a senior management perspective, it's great, because it's really easy to do and avoids complications of getting rid of excess staff by other means.

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Okay then...

'Successful telework is directly correlated with a higher job satisfaction, lower absenteeism and turnover costs'

So this move will be directly correlated with a lower job satisfaction, higher absenteeism and turnover costs...

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Re: Okay then...

>So this move will be directly correlated with a lower job satisfaction, higher absenteeism and turnover costs...

But ultimately a (seemingly) higher bottom line as it will lead to certain proton of the staff quitting, lowering the payroll cost, earning the execs nice bonuses in the process.

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Good for customers?

Maybe this is a bit simplistic but doesn't remote working also allow people to be physically located closer to customers? I guess that IBM are now only interested in customers within a reasonable range of their six strategic offices in the US.

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Anonymous Coward

Funny, going back a few months ago

IBM Hursley were evangelical about homeworking.

Well, evangelical about how much we could spent with IBM to provide homeworking.

Isn't there an old proverb about cobblers who don't wear their own shoes ?

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Anonymous Coward

more shoulder to shoulder

"more shoulder to shoulder" ... What a pathetic excuse, only someone from marketing could seriously consider throwing to people.

If that lady would just once per week go outside of her 70 square meters office and work "shoulder to shoulder", at a period of time where it's trivial to be very productive, even with colleagues thousands miles across, she'd avoid those bollocks.

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Re: more shoulder to shoulder

Besides, it would be good during winter, but in summer it will be a bit sticky...

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