Agile Work News

  • Some theories about why IBM is moving 5,000 of its tech people back to the office

    IBM pioneered telecommuting. Now it wants people back in the office.

    That IBM called back its employees anyway is telling, especially given its history as ‘a business whose business was how other businesses do business.’ Perhaps Big Blue’s decision will prove to be a mere stumble in the long, inevitable march toward remote work for all. But there’s reason to regard the move as a signal, however faint, that telecommuting has reached its high-water markand that more is lost in working apart than was first apparent.

    The communications technology offering the fastest, cheapest, and highest-bandwidth connection is still the office.”


    This thoughtful article by Jerry Useem in November’s Atlantic offers several rationales for IBM’s about face on remote work, including:

    • Need for “collaborative efficiency” – some studies indicate that groups can solve problems faster when working in proximity.
    • Research by Ben Waber, a visiting scientist at MIT, who found that people working in an office together traded an average of 38 communications about a problem vs. an average of 8 communications if the workers were in different locations.
    • “Radical collocation” – a term coined by Judith Olson, a researcher at UC Irvine. In the late 90s, Ford Motor Company let Olson run an experiment with six teams working on the exact same problem. All six teams worked in war rooms near each other. and all completed their software development projects in about a third of the time normally required for such work.


    Our take: These studies by no means prove that remote work is less efficient than co-located work, but they help us understand why some companies might be swayed by reasoning that backs up their hunches.

  • How Adam Neumann, cofounder and CEO of WeWork, organized $20 billion in funding with one meeting

    “At $20 billion, WeWork is the most valuable startup in America outside Uber and Airbnb. The bet: rather than just building co-working spaces, it’s going to change everyone’s office experience.

    Softbank would invest $3 billion directly into WeWork. Neumann’s team would build and manage the offices, and Softbank would handle the local relationships. Valuation: $20 billion. WeWork, which straddles real estate, hospitality and technology, was now worth about the same as hotel operator Hilton Worldwide.”


    Business deals are breaking boundaries too. At the end of their taxicab meeting, Son emailed a photo of their “digital cocktail-napkin contract” to Neumann and their business relationship was sealed.

  • How do you keep remote workers from feeling like second-class citizens?  

    Many employers, however, “have let remote work happen rather than make it happen. They haven’t done the (management) training,” says Kate Lister, president of consultancy Global Workplace Analytics.



    It’s all too easy to forget that person who dialed into the meeting remotely (and for them to forget about you). Good communication doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen. That’s true for face-to-face or remote employees. Dell, National Equity Fund, and many others make it work in a big way and reap the benefits in attraction/retention, engagement, cost reductions, and more.

  • Emotional Intelligence—A key skill for the future, particularly for managers of remote teams 

    “No amount of technological wizardry or personal autonomy negates the fact–which has long been true for office-bound workers as well–that job satisfaction is still closely tied to having an effective, emotionally intelligent boss.”



    Importantly, the article cautions:

    • Don’t forget your remote team members. One examples cites a financial services firm that insists if one person is attending a meeting remotely, everyone else must attend using the same tool.
    • Establish trust by taking the time to get to know your remote team; sharing information about who you/they are as a person strengthens relationships.
    • Talk less and listen more. Emotionally intelligent managers excel at asking effective questions to draw their people out.
  • Does your workplace strategy help people connect with others? If not, perhaps it should.

    Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that “happiness comes from within,” a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite.”


    Time use studies show the average person spends little more than 30 minutes a day communicating and socializing! We are eating alone more, attending fewer social events, and “hanging out” virtually rather than face to face.


    Yet we know good social relationships are essential to both happiness and our health. And we know having friends at work is an important factor in employee engagement.


    What are you doing to encourage human connectedness? 

  • If office noise is such a problem, why don’t noisy coffee shops, airports, or co-working spaces bother us?

    “The problem may be that, in our offices, we can’t stop ourselves from getting drawn into others’ conversations or from being interrupted while we’re trying to focus. Indeed, the EEG researchers found that face-to-face interactions, conversations, and other disruptions negatively affect the creative process.”


    This HBR article suggests the problem with noisy offices is more a matter of who’s making the noise than how loud it is. Recent brain science suggests just the right amount of noise (i.e. coffee shop level) may enhance creativity.

  • Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) win 5 awards at IFMA World Workplace; Kate North, Global Chair and co-founder of WE, honored with prestigious Chair Citation 

    Workplace transformation strategist, change leader and community-builder Kate North was honored for her contributions to IFMA and to the facility management profession with a Chair Citation presented by 2017-2018 chair of IFMA’s board of directors William M. O’Neill, CFM.


    Other awards went to WE leaders: Christopher Hood, Stephen Monaco, Diane Coles-Levine, and Nancy Sanquist-Johnson.   

    “As global chair of IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) Community, Kate North (Colliers) has led a group of forward-thinking workplace strategists to accelerate research, knowledge, and innovation around the emerging workplace,” said William O’Neill, CFM, Chair of IFMA’s Board of Directors. “Kate and the WE Community know the workplace is changing; but instead of watching it unfold, they’re making it happen.”


    Distinguished Author Awards went to:



    Christopher Hood (Advanced Workplace Associates), co-founder of WE Global Chair Award his WE leadership, his commitment to sharing knowledge as the co-host of the WE:binars, and for his work with academic institutions toward expanding their real estate and FM programs to include a holistic approach to workplace transformation. 


    Hood also accepted the Community Award of Excellence in Communications award on behalf of WE.

  • Using nature to battle noise pollution in the office: Plantronics takes a creative approach to open office distractions

    In the Netherlands, global headset manufacturer Plantronics is finding novel new ways to counter noise pollution in its new flagship smart workspace.


    More and more businesses move to open plan environments in an attempt to engender higher collaboration between employees and better utilisation of the floor space by bringing in flexible or smart working practices.” But these actions, According to Paul Clark, Managing Director for Plantronics in Europe and Africa, are putting people in a “melting pot of noise.”


    Key points:


    • Leesman’s research says dissatisfaction with “noise levels” is the strongest likely indicator that a person’s workplace is affecting their productivity
    • Plantronics research shows that 93% of office workers claim to be adversely affected by the noise in their workplace
    • 73% report that their employer takes no action to address the problem
    • 61% of respondents say that they take matters into their own hands by listening to music and other audio through headphones


    Plantronics opted for biophilic solutions, adding the sound of running water as an “overlay to the general hubbub” of the office.

  • American Greetings provides workers a variety of choices in their new creative studios and HQ

    “The Creative Studios offer choice to workers and allows them to modify their environments to fit their needs,” according to CallisonRTKL. “It’s a creative laboratory that inspires innovation, collaboration, and community while respecting individuality.”


    Key points:

    American Greeting offers a choice of neighborhoods – for one-on-one meetings, larger group gatherings, noisier work sessions or quiet, heads-down work.

    Most of the staff work in the office full-time. As a result unassigned space is limited. Only 8% of spaces are unassigned “touchdown” spaces.

    Contrary to current workplace trends, American Greeting provides a one-to-one seat ratio using “traditional” panel-based furniture to minimize distraction for heads-down work.

  • Driven by a desire for flexibility and control, US Freelance workforce is growing faster than the overall US workforce. What can employers learn from this trend? 

    Upwork and Freelancers Union today released the results of “Freelancing in America: 2017. The fourth annual study estimates nearly 36% of the U.S. workforce freelances and the trend is growing.



    Freelancers* are playing a bigger role in corporate work. Employers who haven’t already should start thinking about policies, practices, and place implications. But they might also consider what they can learn from the trend: 


    • 63% of freelancers choose to freelance (versus doing so out of necessity). Top drivers include freedom, choice, and flexibility. Half say they wouldn’t even consider a traditional job.
    • 55% of freelancers participated in skills training last year compared to only 30% of non-freelancers.
    • About half of full-time freelancers are thinking about the implications of automation, compared to only 18% of employees.
    • Millennials are embracing freelance work more than any other generation; nearly half do so.
    • 70% of freelancers would prefer taking home more pay and purchasing benefits on their own (rather than through an employer).
    • Part-time freelancing is down; full-time is up 70%.
    • The percent of those making more than $75k/year (36%) has increased over 100% in the last 3 years.


    In short, people want flexibility and control and are willing to take care of themselves if given the opportunity.


    * Freelance population comprised of 35% hybrid workers, 31% independent contractors, 23%  moonlighters, 6% freelance business owners, and 6% temp workers)