Why Are Companies Ending Remote Work?

ith research suggesting that companies can save money, boost morale and attract top candidates by offering work-at-home options, why are some employers calling their telecommuters back into the main office?

The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. was the latest organization to make headlines when it told staff in November that it might reduce their ability to work from home. After the bank's employees expressed outrage, however, the company hit pause on its plan.

The bank's announcement followed decisions by other companies—IBM, Yahoo, Aetna and Best Buy among them—that they, too, would require those working from home to return to a main office or worksite.

There seem to be a few theories for this change of heart about remote work:

  • Employers allow people to work remotely without giving them the proper training or resources to do so productively.
  • Supervisors—untrained on how to properly manage and monitor remote workers—find it easier to manage someone face-to-face.
  • Some supervisors—perhaps because they feel they must be in control or don't trust their workers—are uncomfortable having employees work offsite.
  • Employers find that remote workers—and the teams with which they work—aren't as productive as when they're onsite.

Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm, subscribes largely to the first and second theories.

For instance, remote workers often aren't taught how to set up a teleconference or video call. Or a remote worker may not know the best way to alert colleagues that he or she is in a meeting and can't be disturbed.

"Often, working at home is [allowed] because workers are demanding it, but, with no training for managers or employees, companies discontinue it and say it's not working for them," Meister said. 

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