IBM Software tells workers: Get back to the office three days a week

Managers warn company goals can't be achieved unless coders get more face time and less FaceTime

IBM Software has mandated a swift return to the office for staff globally, telling those living within a 50 mile (80km) radius of a Big Blue office to be at their desks at least three days a week – to "spend more meaningful time together."

In an internal blog published on September 5, IBM Software's Kareem Yusuf, senior veep for product management, and Dinesh Nirmal, senior veep for products, refer to "setting the tone" at the organization.

"If we want to maintain the flexibility of working both remote and in the office, we must be better stewards of getting into the office," they write in the piece seen by The Register.

"Starting next week, all IBM Software employees will be required to spend at least 3 days in the office each week. The decision on which days will be left to managers and individual project teams," the blog adds.

Initially, employees living within 50 miles (80 kms) of an IBM office will be called in. Those that live further from an IBM office are "exempt at this time" - suggesting the clock is ticking for them, too.

The return to office orders will be implemented according to applicable local laws, according to the execs.

"It is vital to our culture and our shared goals – tripling development output, building winning products, and winning new clients – that we spend more meaningful time together, in-person."

Each of the IBM Software locations is appointing Software Executive Focals – onsite staff tasked to strong-arm support employees as "we make this more concerted effort across Software."

"Right now, 1 in 4 of you are working in the office three days a week. By October, we want to see that number closer to 3 in 4. We appreciate your attention and support," Yusuf and Nirmal sign off cheerfully.

We have asked IBM if its other divisions are doing something similar. Also how it will police the return to office – Meta is tracking employees' badges – and what the timeframe is for other returners.

The corporation is just the latest in a growing list of tech vendors that facilitate remote work but are also keen to get their own people working in-person again – albeit for part of the week. Google lamented that its own offices had become like ghost towns, Meta – which promotes the metaverse, remember – told all staff, including engineers, they were better together. And Salesforce is encouraging workers back to the office after claiming productivity for remote workers was lower.

Dell projected in 2020 that the majority of its workforce would forever change the way they work – yet it too is calling staff back for some days a week. And even the pandemic poster child for communications, Zoom, is demanding all staff come back in for three days a week – recently opening up a plush new London pad.

Big corporations still have major investments in real estate to justify to shareholders, and management at many companies prefer to see bums on seats – a phenomenon Microsoft previously termed productivity paranoia. IBM's boss Arvind Krishna himself said earlier this year that remote workers could be overlooked for promotion because managers like to see the person whose work they supervise.

Recent research by Sony indicated just seven percent of UK office workers are fully remote and 41 percent of 2,600 white collar workers polled still prefer a dedicated office – 53 percent favoring office-based work to home.

On the flip side, Atlassian research indicated that return to office mandates are bad for staff morale and stifle innovation, bosses that force a return risk losing key staff, and 80 percent of execs who made that call regretted it. ®

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