Are Remote Workers Being Called Back to the Office?

There’s been a major trend in recent years for companies to allow some or all of their employees to work remotely.

There are a variety of reasons why a company might let its employees telecommute; not only can the practice save money for both the company and the employee, but it also improves employee morale and may even increase overall productivity. It seems like a win-win situation, so it’s no wonder that some of the largest companies in the world have been leading the remote working revolution.

The only problem is that some of these same companies have started winding back their dedication to remote work. Major companies such as Yahoo! and IBM have started recalling workers, making them report in to the office everyday instead of connecting from a remote location. Does this mean that the age of telecommuting is coming to an end? Not quite.

Is the Recall Real?

Some may wonder whether remote workers are really being called back to the office in large amounts.

The fact of the matter is that yes, it is happening. It’s not as widespread as you might think, though. A handful of news stories could make the problem seem much bigger than it actually is, because there really aren’t that many companies doing the worker recalls. The companies have a lot of employees, making it seem like a large number of people are being recalled, but the recall is concentrated within a very small subset of businesses who allow remote work.

Despite the recalls, telecommuting is actually growing in a number of industries. The size of recalls performed by massive corporations may skew the numbers a bit, but when it comes down to it remote work is becoming more common, not less.

Why Are the Recalls Happening?

The companies that are recalling remote workers generally have one thing in common… they’re very large companies that have been in business for decades at least.

Companies like these tend to be slower to adapt to changes in technology and culture because of the built-in bureaucracy that they represent. They have a lot of employees, and their teams sometimes contain more people than smaller companies have in their entire organization. When you have a large number of people like this working remotely, the bureaucracy can slow down development in unexpected ways.

Recalling remote workers lets the companies get the teams together in the same location, increasing communication and hopefully improving overall productivity. It also ensures that the various team members are all working at the same time, preventing delays that might occur if certain parts of the team worked in the mornings and others worked later in the day. Whether these issues are actually causing problems is anyone’s guess, of course; no data on productivity or other issues was presented by the companies before the recalls began.

Are Recalls the Solution?

The big problem for these massive companies is that they’re trying to fight progress by taking steps backward. Recalling so many workers may improve their ability to work together as a team, but it will also create a massive increase in costs as the recalling company suddenly has to accommodate that many workers again and pay for the electricity, office supplies and everything else that all of them use.

There’s also little to suggest that the recall will actually work; having what was essentially a perk taken away could drive down morale, ultimately resulting in decreased productivity instead of the increase that the companies want.

Instead of recalls, large corporations should follow the example of the smaller companies they’re trying to compete with. These companies adapt quickly, use smaller remote teams and try to prioritize the employees instead of the bottom line. Instead of recalling remote workers, the megacorps should look for new ways to take advantage of telecommuting to keep costs low and employees productive.

It might require some larger restructuring to get rid of some of the massive bureaucracy holding the remote teams back, but the companies would fare much better in the end.