July 7, 2017 by Brad Grimes
remote worker

Is there a scenario in which IBM’s reported decision to ask remote employees to work in offices again is a good idea? More pointedly, is there a scenario in which the decision might be good news for the pro-AV industry?

Let me be the first (maybe) to admit I have no idea how IBM’s current remote working program operates, so none of this is a judgment. But could it be that many IBM workers sit at desks in their homes with headsets on and webcams and simple soft clients for collaboration? They have conference calls with people all over the world — some audio-only, some with okay video where participants are clearly looking at their screens and not at each other. Maybe they occasionally share their screens so everyone can see the same spreadsheet. They talk over each other a little. Sometimes they re-enter the conference because something doesn’t work right. But they are meeting with colleagues all over the world. Maybe they’re saving some money on travel (though I’m repeatedly told the whole “save money on travel through videoconferencing” is tired, old, and not necessarily a great value prop). And yes, they’re making it so employees can work longer/convenient hours (!?) and in theory be more productive.

And oh: Maybe they didn’t need an AV provider to do this. What service industry benefits most from remote workers all over the place? IT and telecom? What service industry benefits most from in-person collaboration, enabled by and reimagined through audiovisual solutions? You see where I’m going.

If the argument is that teleworking — letting employees work from anywhere — is good for morale and helps the company attract talent all over the world, I get it. And I’m not here to argue there might be other ways to boost morale and attract talent. And UCC is indispensable for communicating with the Paris office, or the client three states over, or the worker at home caring for a sick child that day. I can’t imagine any of that would go away — or that IBM would say it will. Any conference room AV solution needs to account for remote participants. And absolutely, there are jobs that can be executed perfectly well (in some cases better) away from the office. I could write this blog just as well from my bedroom as from my office at InfoComm HQ (which is where I am writing it).

But could it be plausible that employees might collaborate better face-to-face? And that face-to-face collaboration could be enhanced through AV technology? Is there a scenario in which in-person collaboration and video collaboration co-exist and complement one another? 

A lot of digital ink has been spent on huddle spaces. Those spaces represent in-person, in-the-office collaboration experiences. The “office of the future” is still an office. One could argue that what makes it futuristic is the audiovisual and collaborative technology that people in the office use to create new solutions, come to decisions faster, be more productive…. What if Apple is right? What if building a new, awesome office will make the company and its employees better?  Google doesn’t offer gourmet meals, dry cleaning, and haircuts at its campus because it wants its employees to work from elsewhere. And IBM isn’t unique in its position.

Collaboration technology does not have to mean only webcams and UCC tools and home offices. A cool new Google Jamboard may be most effective when a bunch of people can sit around it, annotate stuff, move around ideas with their fingers. Skype for Business is a fine remote collaboration tool; Microsoft Surface Hub is great for in-person collaboration, too.

If you catch wind of a company urging remote employees to return to the office, get down there and show them how you can build them an AV tech-enabled collaboration solution that will make them forget the cost savings they might have been getting from having workers in their homes. Show them how they can use on-premise collaboration technology to make decisions faster, be more creative, boost productivity, foster innovation….

Start with your local IBM office.

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Senior Director of Communications for AVIXA and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.