Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Back to the blue suit for IBM? (In any case, no more PJs.)

Back in the day, IBM (a.k.a., Big Blue) was known for its uniform of sorts: navy blue suit and white shirt. And wingtips: no loafers need apply. I had a couple of friends who worked there back in the seventies, and that really was about it. When you’d see a couple of guys walking down the street in a business district – or at an airport – in this uniform, you’d invariably think “IBM.”

IBM has, of course, gotten looser with its dress code over the years. At some point, it was okay to wear a blue shirt. Then a striped shirt wouldn’t earn you a reprimand.

They may never have gone into full “anything goes” mode, which became the norm in many tech and tech-ish companies, but they, along with everyone else, got into casual Fridays, which became casual every day.

And somewhere along the way, it didn’t matter what you were wearing. Because IBM, at least for the white collar professionals. Whether they were wearing a white collar, blue collar,or no collar by that point, an awful lot of them were working from home. Productively! Environmental friendliness! Corporate cost savings on boring old offices! And so long, blue suit, hello sweats, yoga pants, and PJs.

That worked pretty well this far into the 21st century. That is, until a few weeks ago.

The technology giant has been a leader in terms of letting employees work from home, and has bragged about the savings and increased productivity that's resulted. About 40% of its nearly 400,000 employees worldwide did not have a traditional oce, the company said in 2007, which the last time it released such data. But now the company is changing its policy, and many of its employees will have to reacquaint themselves with office life. "In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working," said a statement from the company. "We are bringing small, self-directed agile teams in these fields together.” (Source: Money/CNN)

I come down somewhere in between on this debate. I’m a big believer in the collegiality that builds around the coffee machine, and in face to face meetings – planned and impromptu. And management by walking around is a lot easier to do when you can actually walk around. I also completely get the benefits of working from home, which I did one day a week during my last full time job. And on that job, I made two great friendships with guys who worked in other offices. We saw each other a few times a year, but spent a lot of time on the phone and IM-ing.

So, I vote for a hybrid model, and feel bad for those at IBM who are now being dragooned back into the office. Especially for those who have put themselves at some physical remove. After all, when you’re working from home, you can be anywhere with an viable high speed Internet connection.

Bloomberg had an interesting take on IBM’s new ollie-ollie-in-free policy, and makes an equal jab at Apple, which is sinking $5B into its new Silicon Valley campus:

The tech giant will regret forcing employees back to the office, as Apple will regret its massive new headquarters…Tech companies are supposed to be the leaders. So it's surprising that two of the largest, IBM and Apple, are moving backward, preparing for office life in the decades ahead to look a lot like 2005. They are likely to be wrong. (Source: Bloomberg)

Bloomberg’s Conor Sen sees the issue as being what to do when the millennials start forming families. At that point, they’re going to want a bit more living space than can be affordably had in places like Silicon Valley, or in the urban centers where the “cool” companies are (re)locating. It’s one thing to live in 200 square feet when you’re a 24 year old hipster; quite another when you’ve got a kid or two. And millennials will want the flexibility of working from home. Sometimes a kid or two gets sick. Not to mention that the millennials are so accustomed to living life online and connected, this cohort really doesn’t have any problems collaborating, whether they’re separated by 3 feet or 3 thousand miles.

Just as happy that this ain’t my deal to deal with…

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