Magazine article HRMagazine

Does Remote Work Hinder Innovation?

Magazine article HRMagazine

Does Remote Work Hinder Innovation?

Article excerpt

YES Quick decision-making and innovation require team members to work in the same physical space.

There was a time when many of us believed work could be done well from anywhere. The rise of the Internet, e-mail and work-sharing platforms made it possible.

In fact, IBM, as an early adopter of telework, forever changed the business landscape by investing in tools that permitted full-time remote opportunities. The distributed work design meant that each employee added value as projects were passed efficiently from one stage to the next. An important benefit was diversity: Fewer women dropped out of the workforce as they were better able to juggle child care pickups. And more employees could move to locations away from the office with lower costs of living.

The downside? Over-reliance on teleconferences, slower decision-making and less experimentation.

With the urgent need for speed, innovation and responsiveness to the end-user in the digital era, companies are now experiencing a demand for collaboration at an unprecedented scale. In response, they are choosing to use the agile work method, in which face-to-face communication enhances continuous iteration.

IBM is one such company. Over the last few years, we have moved away from fulltime telecommuting for many roles. We recently asked about 5,000 North American employees who were working from home-in development, design, marketing and product management, as well as recruiting-to join their colleagues in labs and offices. The vast majority have opted to do so. In fact, less than 20 percent of our employees now work from home in North America. (The teams in our global offices have traditionally worked together onsite.)

We've embraced agile onsite work for everything from software development to the C-suite. We have supported this decision by making a significant investment in tools, training some 160,000 employees in agile and design thinking, and modernized workspaces to align with how digital work actually gets done. Employees are coming together to co-create with colleagues, clients and universities, crossing traditional functional lines to achieve as much as a 30 percent quicker time to market on key projects. We've also reduced hiring time in recruitment to 45 days from 85 days, while doubling the satisfaction of hiring managers.

Working this way is encouraging trust and experimentation, not to mention the learning that happens as a result of chance encounters between employees around the office. It's helping to eliminate duplication of effort and reduce decision-making time. For example, the marketing function has benefited from a real-time refinement of its tactics, resulting from minute-by-minute analytics and immediate in-person feedback.

With new employees entering our workforce, co-location provides a better learning environment. Internal studies show that teams sharing the same space are more engaged than those working remotely.

IBM remains firmly committed to the practices that are so important to recruiting and retaining a contemporary and diverse workforce, such as permitting flexible hours and allowing remote work to accommodate nonroutine home and family responsibilities. The need for flexibility is here to stay, and we have the tools to make it seamless.

Has the era of remote work ended? Only for some jobs. After all, for those in many professions, such as nurses and firefighters, it was never suitable. We're simply seeing more work shift into this category, especially in environments of uncertainty and volatility, where speed and innovation count more than process efficiency. …

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