Empowering a mobile workforce

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IBM’s perspective and recommendations on empowering a mobile workforce

The global pandemic has disrupted traditional thinking about where and how we work. Remote work has potential not only to increase participation in the labour force, but to improve productivity, attract and retain talent, and assist in the transition to a low carbon economy. While the crisis is far from over, and many countries are yet to emerge from crisis response mode, organisations around the world are starting or considering “reopening” to a new and very different normal.

However, we recognise that in order for employers and employees to fully reap the benefits, policies and practices need to be carefully designed so as to avoid unreasonable regulation of the home environment and to mitigate downside risks such as negative mental and physical health impacts.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, while different for every organisation, may for many be based on a hybrid work model. As a company with a sizable and widely distributed workforce and significant experience in working remotely before the pandemic, IBM hopes that our experience may be helpful to policy makers.

Existing legislation often places health and safety obligations on employers for any work being carried out by an employee, regardless of where it is done. Beyond mandates, we believe that guidance and the sharing of good practice can add value for employers seeking to adopt largely full-time remote working solutions. Here are the areas we believe are crucial for policy makers and employers to consider as they adapt to the new normal of remote work.

  1. Arrangements to perform work remotely: As the transition to this “different normal” continues, businesses will need to define – for various types of work and job roles – how best to integrate remote and traditional work in terms of flexibility, focus, collaboration, innovation, affiliation, and well-being. Guidance at national level should allow for the details of remote work arrangements to be set out in employer strategies, policies and procedures that provide rules and guidance for employees.
  2. Organization of work and training: In remote work situations, many managers have a tendency towards increasing the level of control. But evidence shows that what matters is to consider what help each individual employee needs, and to tailor approaches to the extent possible. Longer term, a shift toward a more remote workforce will require that same greater emphasis on soft skills to continue to be productive and successful.
  3. Health and safety: Digital devices and tools in workplaces can provide many new opportunities and possibilities to organise work in a flexible way to the benefit of employers and workers. At the same time, remote work may create mental health risks and feelings of isolation and distance from co-workers and health and safety risks that depend on how the workplace is designed, as well as lead to questions around the delineation of work and of personal time. Employer guidance can help in providing information and guidance to employees on the more common issues and concerns which they are likely to encounter when working at home.
  4. Equipment and reimbursement of cost: With the rise of the remote workforce, many employers and employees are seeking clarity around what rules or policies apply in relation to access to equipment and reimbursement of expenses. Governments should provide employers with the flexibility to implement policies for covering costs such as office supplies and peripherals, and subsidies for internet connection, and utility costs where warranted.


David Barnes, Vice President Global Workforce Policy, IBM

Fredrik Sjögren, Government and Regulatory Affairs Executive, IBM Europe

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