IBM has called some remote workers back to the office. This is no small decision, and it wasn’t taken lightly. Approximately 20% of its US employees were remote.
Ed Lovely, VP of IBM transformation tells The Wall Street Journal that “Togetherness breeds production.” Lovely goes on to state “We found that the most productive time was when people sit together.”
And, IBM isn’t alone. Reddit, Aetna, Bank of America and Best Buy are among the giants calling for colocated teams.
Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, one of the biggest Indian outsourcing firms backs up this claim when he tells The New York Times “The nature of work is changing. It is very local. And you often need whole teams locally,”
After all, haven’t we been told for years that remote workforces:
As it turns out, all of these benefits don’t hold a candle to the real productivity gains of colocation.
Want to know why remote teams aren’t as productive as colocated teams? Want to know why organizations are returning to colocated models?
The answer is:
Effective teams are built by maximizing team productivity, not individual productivity. And, the single best form of communication that benefits team productivity is in-person communication.
Notice I said ‘team’ productivity is maximized by in-person communication. “Team” productivity is distinct from “individual” productivity. This is a KEY point that must be discussed.
For example, as I am writing this blog, I am doing so from home. It is quiet here, I am not distracted by the chatter of co-workers, and I’ve saved 20 minutes of my time by not having to commute. My individual productivity on this solo task is much higher than it would have been if I wrote the blog at my office desk.
However, tomorrow I have to attend a strategic planning meeting at Stride. There will be 5 people in the room - tech, product, stakeholders. We are debating a difficult problem that doesn’t yet have a solution. We will have heated debate. We will whiteboard, we will disagree. We will look at printouts, and at computer screens, and at Trello boards. For this meeting, the team productivity will be severely hampered if I were to dial in over Google Hangout.
No. Companies are just realizing they swung the pendulum too far in the direction of remote work.
I think we all got a little too excited about the possibilities of remote teams. Tech leaders around the globe started dreaming of higher profit margins. Why pay a developer in New York City when you can get the same work from a developer offshore? Why pay for fancy standup desks when someone can work from home? Why limit yourself to employees that can work onsite when you can expand your talent pool to include the global workforce?
Remote work isn’t dead. It’s just swinging back towards a more realistic, smaller percentage of teams.
Every time I say that colocation is superior to remote, I get critics who accuse me of being insensitive to the needs of individuals who benefit from the ability to work remotely.
The problem with this claim is that these critics are falsely linking two pieces of data.
I am, in fact, a huge advocate of work/life balance. I am a huge advocate for gender diversity and equal opportunity. I am a working mother. I personally know what it’s like to need a flexible work schedule, because I worked during a full year of chemotherapy and cancer treatment, during which I was unable to put in a full 40 hours, and was unable to come into the office daily.
I believe that there are millions of individuals for whom remote work is more feasible than working at an office.
I believe that effective teams are built by maximizing team productivity, which is maximized by in-person communication.
A remote employee or team is a viable option when complex, real time, group discussions of unsolved problems are not a mandatory ingredient in the success of the initiative.
When your team’s need calls for colocation, there are steps you can take to maximize both productivity and team morale. Some of the most valuable things you can do are:
Above all, talk to your team. Listen to what people want, and listen to what they can commit to. Colocation is on the rise, and I believe it’s here to stay.
Orignially posted on Huffintgton Post