IBM rolls back remote working – does this mean collaboration solutions don’t work

Back in May it was reported how IBM chose to implement moving workers back to offices. Media reports had it due to IBM executives struggling to be agile and thus stay competitive. AWS is kicking their ass in the cloud.

IBM’s thinking that physical proximity will improve agility through collaboration.  Media pointed to the fact this did not work for Yahoo.


Collaboration is critical to agility, but collaboration was ‘improved’ by all the tools, many sold by IBM, right? 

For me collaboration tools requires 3 things.

  1. Combination of meeting, voice, visual, calendar, task and document sharing for scheduled activities
  2. Combination of voice, chat and presence capability for unscheduled activities
  3. Collaborative search – not just for the two combinations above, but all data sources

Clearly all of the above is readily available.    

So, IBM and pretty much everyone else has all the tools to have FANTASTIC collaboration regardless of whether you are in the next cube or country.



Like those not so good Fantastic 4 movies (don’t get me started) –








something is missing.   

Is it this ‘NEW’ work type that IBM states requires a higher degree of collaboration and thus “forcing” them to require workers back to offices so these teams would be more effective?   

Or is it that the tools DO NOT WORK.?  The tools are fine.  Though the missing component is how to lead and manage using the tools.  I see that as a failure of IBM and Yahoo amongst others versus any NEW type of work.

Challenging your workers to both reach and exceed their potential.  Manage the coordinated efforts of teams dealing with emotional ups and downs, unseen obstacles that come with working on tasks/projects over time.  These are fully possible with remote teams.

When a team is physically together the manager can observe body language, overhear conversations (tone, content and frequency of interaction) and get the ‘feel’ of how the team is performing.  A good manager knows when to push, pull or just let things be by seeing, hearing and feeling all of the team interaction.  

This is what IBM wants back.  I won’t go into whether they have ‘good’ managers.  IBM and other companies not effectively using collaboration tools are like pilots who can only fly during day light and in good weather.

Nothing wrong with that – I don’t like flying in storms.  But, REALLY good pilots can fly by instruments and today’s instruments are very good.      


Collaboration tools are just as good as a plane’s instruments.  They can easily show the content and frequency of interaction to give part of the feel needed.  Newer tools provide deeper analytics on tone, measure task effective/efficiency against collaboration metrics.  Is it the same as being physically all together, no.  Not better or worse, just not the same.

As a leader you need to adapt your management style and fully enable the power of the tools to maximize remote teams.  Blaming remote working for your failure is weak.


Do Nothing

I am a fan of ‘do nothing‘.     do nothing

Many a rainy Saturday in place of doing that home improvement thingy, visiting a friend or going to a movie – I have elected to do nothing.  On a personal level I support you all and appreciate your support.

In business, I do not support that choice

choices       As a business leader when you are considering

a new market
– how to respond to a competitive threat
– a market shift
– a customer complaint
– growing faster or slower than forecast
– improving a process, product or service
– acquiring or being acquired

and so on, you have standard options.directions

  1. approve the change
    • new market, responding, answering, expediting/slowing, optimizing, buying or selling
  2. reject the change
    • either back to the drawing board or select another option
  3. do nothing

Both 1 and 2 require a risk to be taken a reward to be gained.

Number 3 avoids risk.


See with 1 or 2 the person proposing the change has in some level of detail (or lack there of) stated the risks and how their proposal will over come identified risks.  Along with the rewards – ROI via growth of revenue and/or profit.

There is also yourself as the approving business leader or your devil’s advocate

love finance(often those Finance type people – whom I love – no sarcasm, actually love them)

will provide the counter argument

stating by rejecting this change in place of another option that has either or both a higher ROI and less risk.

Strangely, rarely have I seen where number 3 is evaluated with the same detail.

The main exception is related to compliance requirements where the do nothing risk is a fine or worse.

As such, choosing ‘do nothing‘ is horrible for your business.  The choice is not based what is better for your business as you have no evidence (risk analysis or ROI) that it is a good choice.  It certainly is not a bold choice.

choose do nothing

Yet, with only the evidence of my experience and those conversations with colleagues and friends, I would submit that ‘do nothing’ is the most often option that business leaders choose.

Leaders need to be aware of the risk of this avoidance behavior.  It is not safe, it is backing yourself into a corner.

Business leaders who are proposing changes, need to account for ‘do nothing‘ as a competing option to that new market, competitive response and other changes they are striving to accomplish.

Oh yeah, delaying a decision

  • putting off to next quarter due to other priorities
  • looking at this at the end of the year
  • requesting the proposal to be more detailed
  • need to add additional options

is the same as ‘do nothing‘.  Just ‘do nothing‘ now, but we  really plan to

do something sometime‘.procrastnator

Rule #8 There are no bad ideas, some just need more time to age

I owe this rule to my time at 3M.

Innovative Culture

Their culture of innovation was based on several things, but the one that resonated with me was how conceptual failures by 3M’s engineering and science areas (so-called bad ideas) were not tossed away.


Of course there is the famous Post It Note story.     


There are many more were an idea that was first, second or even longer a failure. But, thanks to good process of documenting the idea and the failures, with the most important part of having the ‘failure’ reviewed occasionally to give it another shot.


The innovative companies understand that you should never give up on any idea.

Some ideas are just not ready due to –


  • the organization is not ready for that large a leap
  • the technology is not available to make it a reality
  • the solution to make it successful is not present


Regardless of your organizations industry or role, you can have it be highly innovative, by being fostering an atmosphere of tolerating failure and reviewing your failures for future successes.

The more innovative you want to be the higher level of failure you need to be able to tolerate.

Article Review – The most important morning ritual

The article ‘The most important morning ritual for every great boss’

is one of those 60 second reads that serves as a great reminder for us executives



who have been through MBA to Center for Creative Leadership training, but




like a golf swing that is Ernie Els one minute





and Charles Barkley the next,







your fundamentals break down and you need to remember the basics.

This is a back to basics reminder on leadership.

The line sometimes the only person you can count on to tell you the unvarnished truth is you.”  is ever so poignant in the down economy as your staff and peers are worried about their jobs, their financial condition, their future in general and tailor their responses to protect themselves.

I am often one to cherry pick what I like about a book, lecture or presentation.  After all, I only chose to follow four of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The only modification I would say for myself, is not performing this function every morning, but weekly.




Rule #6 Spend more time in other people’s offices and cubicles than your own

Spend more time in other people’s offices and cubicles than your own, especially between 9 and 4pm.

This is a simple rule that we all get caught up in when we have in our mind a ‘major’

  • report
  • presentation
  • budget
  • performance reviews
  • contract to review
  • project plan
  • etc…

to do and we virtually lock ourselves in our office for the entire day.



The door may be open to comply with your open door policy, but your body language indicates to those people who come to you for     

  • advice
  • help
  • direction
  • approval
  • etc…

that the door may be open, but you are closed for business today.

We have that work to do that requires focus, but it should not be for the entire day.

Use good time management practices of working on that ‘major’ thing first thing in the morning for 15, 30, or 60 minutes and then stop.

Meet with the people you need to collaborate with, but out of your office. Your team needs to see you each and every day you are in the office.

  • Check on that project status.
  • Give a high five for that customer who was satisfied because that person went above and beyond
  • Give a head slap to that person who has falling behind or not giving the effort needed
  • Take the temperature of the group
  • Check in with a peer on how that trip they just returned from went

Then, get back to the office for another 15, 30, or 60 minutes on the ‘major’ effort.

Your are part of a team, you need to be with the team (your area, your peers area, the company as a whole).

Rule #4 Ask why 5 times

Let’s get right to it, this can be very annoying to that stressed out, business internal/external customer. I have seen by the 3rd why a quick outburst of ‘just do it!’.


However, this not the root cause analysis tools defined on 5 Whys Wikipedia. This is for managers to use with their teams. Normally you do not get yelled at by your team (unless you have Dcat or Rees working for you). So, don’t worry about that too much.


The concept of asking why 5 times is to broaden an individuals view of the problem and solution they are presenting. As a manager to ensure they fully understand the problem and are not solving a symptom. That is the tactical reason for asking why 5 times.


The cultural reason is to help –

Why #

Eliminate Behavior

Foster Behavior


Only seeing to the end of the nose of the problem Questioning their own conclusions and assumptions


Reacting to the “oh that’s it” emotion of thinking they have solved the problem on to have you shoot them down Leverage the relationships they have with fellow team members to bounce their solutions off of


Once they have a problem solved, stop thinking Develop multiple solutions, pros/cons of each and evaluate, then recommend


Being technology people working for a business Come at the problem from other sides, putting yourself in the business and realizing one solution that is always there is ‘do nothing’


Thinking that this problem is not connected to any other problem Learning how to explain the problem and solution to the business in their language


For teams that have been firefighters (reacting instead of responding) in the pressure driven world of IT support, you as a manager need to utilize rule #4 to make the firefighting effective, not just efficient as demonstrated by tickets being closed. Effective by analyzing the problem in more detail and offer options, not just ‘a’ solution, but options with doing nothing the easiest one to offer up first or last.


Problems are costing money where solutions are saving or making money.    

Rule #1 ask forgiveness instead of permission

Attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, amongst other grand achievements is a pioneer in the programming world starting with COBOL creation.    

In short, the key to high performing teams is following this rule.

There are two sides of this rule. The employee side side should understand that when when you are asking management to grant permission you are asking them to accept partial responsibility for your specific actions the permission is granting. Now, you might say, that a manager is always responsible for an employee’s actions. Very true, yet by asking for permission your are forcing a manager to be comforted with that reality. Somewhat similar to a person realizing they are a Dad or Mom the first time they here a baby crying and realize they are in responsible for soothing their baby.

Up to that point the manager/Dad or Mom always knew they were responsible, but suddenly it is real.

Whereas, asking a manager for forgiveness actually caters to their ego. For asking for permission is requiring them to accept responsibility, asking for forgiveness allows them to be benevolent and merciful. You, in effect are bowing to their hierarchical power over you. Feeding the ego strongly this does.

This is all well and good, but a manager can use this rule to a more important end then stroking their ego. It can support a culture change from risk avoidance to smart risk taking.

The rule of ask forgiveness, instead of permission is an incentive for staff to overcome a fear of failure. Part of staff’s fear is having to ask permission and defend verbally to a superior why they want to do something. No matter how warm and fuzzy a boss you may be, having to defend course of action in a culture of risk avoidance is scary and along with risk, avoided.

So that is the first part of fear, is having to go ask the boss about it. The second part is the fear of taking action. Covering yourself by having your manager approve your actions slows down execution and can be a killer when you are dealing with customer problems, product/service launches or testing new ideas.

For a manager who wishes to have a high performing team, you need team members who you can delegate responsibility too and a key to developing that capability is that the team feels safe and free to take action. You need a culture of risk takers to have that high performing team.

Yes, you will have those staff who abuse the rule. You should be corrective actioning those members off your team as they are counter productive in other areas as well.

The one codicil    to this rule is the magnitude level. If a team member performs an action and said action has a large NEGATIVE dollar impact to the bottom line, say 6 figures or more, than realistically they are gone. Make the team aware of this codicil.