(p. B1) A few years ago, Mr. Laermer let the employees of RLM Public Relations work from home on Fridays. This small step toward telecommuting proved a disaster, he said. He often couldn’t find people when he needed them. Projects languished.
“Every weekend became a three-day holiday,” he said. “I found that people work so much better when they’re all in the same physical space.”
IBM came to a similar decision. In 2009, 40 percent of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries worked remotely. But in 2017, with revenue slumping, management called thousands of them back to the office.
. . .
As long ago as 1985, the mainstream media was using phrases like “the growing telecommuting movement.” Peter Drucker, the management guru, declared in 1989 that “commuting to office work is obsolete.”
. . .
(p. B4) Apart from IBM, companies that publicly pulled back on telecommuting over the past decade include Aetna, Best Buy, Bank of America, Yahoo, AT&T and Reddit. Remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. Creativity, innovation and serendipity seemed to suffer.
Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, created a furor when she forced employees back into offices in 2013. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings,” a company memo explained.
. . .
At the beginning of the year, the unemployment rate was low and workers had some leverage. All that has been lost, at least for the next year or two. Widespread remote work could consolidate that shift.
“When people are in turmoil, you take advantage of them,” said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University.
“The data over the last three months is so powerful,” he said. “People are shocked. No one found a drop in productivity. Most found an increase. People have been going to work for a thousand years, but it’s going to stop and it’s going to change everyone’s life.”
Innovation, Dr. Sullivan added, might even catch up eventually.
“When you hire remotely, you can get the best talent around and not just the best talent that wants to live in California or New York,” he said. “You get true diversity. And it turns out that affects innovation.”
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 29, 2020, and has the title “The Long, Unhappy History of Working From Home.”)