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IBM Gini RomettyEarlier this year IBM told remote employees they must return to the office or leave the company.

It’s a turnaround. IBM pioneered allowing employees to work from home. At times as many as more than a third of the firm’s staff worked at places away from company offices.

The company often lectures others on the merits of remote work. Company marketing describes telework as the future. Moreover, IBM sells products enabling its customers to offer remote work to their employees.

IBM’s remote work policy was popular with staff. Many talented people either opted to join the company or decided to stay put because they could work from home. It’s powerful for working women with families and just as good for dads who like to see their children more often.

Productivity or IBM’s staff costs?

The official reason for the change is that working together in one place helps productivity, teamwork and morale.

There’s something in this. Collaboration is easier when co-workers sit across the aisle. Video conference calls are productive, but so are well organised face-to-face sessions. Chance meetings at the coffee station can spark fresh thinking.

Yet, you can’t help wonder if IBM’s move is about cutting staff numbers. Many remote workers may decide it is too hard to move home in order to keep their job. Some of the office demands mean people have to move long distances to keep their jobs.

There’s research, some sponsored by IBM, showing teleworkers are more productive than office-bound workers. Which argument are we supposed to believe? Can we trust anything the company says on the subject?


Yahoo made a similar back-to-the-office move. It was unpopular. Many talented staff members quit. We all know how well that story ended.

There’s a practical problem for IBM workers in places like New Zealand. Some specialist roles are shared with Australia. There are ANZ managers are in New Zealand, others across the Tasman. They shuttle between locations and make a lot of conference calls. What happens to them under the new rules? The fear is they will be under pressure to move closer to the regional HQ in Sydney. That will not go down well with New Zealand customers.

Remote working became popular with large companies about a decade ago as suburban broadband improved. Video conferencing went from being difficult to practical.

Senior managers across the technology and other industries loved the idea of remote work as they thought it would save costs. In theory, offices needed less real estate and fewer support services when workers were elsewhere.

Things didn’t work out that way. Few savings materialised.The other part of this equation is that management went through a stage of being output-focused. That is, they were more concerned with what employees produced than in keeping close tabs on them all day long. If someone produced a report in their pyjamas or by sitting next to the pool that wasn’t a problem so long as the work was good. It seems the pendulum has swung back to command and control.

Harvey Norman

Radio New Zealand reports Harvey Norman shoppers ‘may have a case’:

Rainey Collins Lawyers managing partner Alan Knowsley said if the customers did not agree to the terms and conditions they may have a case.

“They could go off to the Disputes Tribunal and seek to enforce their contract and then Harvey Norman will have to prove that the person should have known the deal was too good to be true,” Mr Knowsley said.

“Some retailers obviously advertise regularly that things are 60-80 percent off and that sort of retailer would be really hard pushed to prove that that deal wasn’t valid.”

According to the company a technical glitch on its website meant furniture and other items were sold at prices way below their nominal value. That’s exactly what consumers have been trained to expect in ‘sales’.

Now Harvey Norman doesn’t want to honour customer contracts. Imagine how that would work if the boot was on the other foot.

This case confirms what many already suspect: that the Australian-owned chain operates in poor faith. Apart from the legality and immorality of offering goods at low prices, taking money, forming contracts and then not delivering, this sends a loud “not trustworthy” message to the market.

If Harvey Norman decided to honour those glitch contracts in full it may have lost a tidy sum of money but there would be no long-term damage. Now it faces the possibility of those losses anyway, plus legal costs, ill will and negative publicity.

That’s bad business practice and awful management.

... and yet NZ retailers still wonder why shoppers head to overseas stores on the internet. 

Garry Roberton reports a fall in New Zealand tech job advertisements in his latest regular Trends update for the IITP Techblog. This drop in vacancies comes at a time when the overall demand for tech skills remains strong.

He writes:

Unfortunately, the positive business sentiment is not backed up in terms of the number of Seek ICT job adverts for this month, with a drop of 16 percent on April’s figure of 2483, and 8 percent down on May 2013 (Fig.2 below). This could be due to a dip in business confidence, possibly as a result of 2014 being an election year, although there may be many reasons for the sudden drop in Seek ICT advertised jobs. Perhaps the unexpected return of New Zealanders from Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, with the requisite ICT knowledge, skills and experience are taking up many of the available positions.

It’s not just Seek. Roberton also notes a 13 percent fall in tech jobs advertised on TradeMe. The sharp fall in May is out of synch with the pattern recent years. We usually see ads climb towards the middle of the year before falling off as summer approaches.


As Roberton points out, the May 2014 fall in advertised tech jobs could be an aberration.

It may also be due to the way recruitment companies operate. There’s not always a direct link between vacancies and advertisements. It could also be large numbers of overseas New Zealanders returning home and an inflow of immigrants looking for work. This means recruiters have a relatively full pipeline and don’t need to spend money on advertising.

There comes a time in every manager’s life when a junior oversteps the mark.

If the offence is too serious to go unnoticed, yet not bad enough to crank up formal discipline, you need to have words with the person.

How you handle this will have a long-term impact on your relationship with the junior – it can also have a wider impact on how you interact with the rest of your colleagues.

Take care not to alienate

Aim to deliver a powerful, unambiguous message reinforcing good behaviour while correcting or halting bad behaviour. You need to do this without alienating or demotivating the junior.

What’s more, you need to do it within the context of company policy and employment law. Balancing these forces requires a subtle approach and a workable game plan.

It only takes a minute

The One Minute Manager suggests a useful basic template for disciplining subordinates.

Although the book’s corny approach borders on the embarrassing, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson offer useful advice on administering day-to-day management discipline.

The “One Minute Warning” goes like this:

  • Keep the carpeting short – there’s a reason we call it the one minute warning,
  • Check with the person concerned that you have the story straight before saying anything more,
  • Quickly reprimand the behaviour, not the person,
  • Let them know exactly how you feel about the incident,
  • Pause while this sinks in and then…
  • Praise the person and remind them of their strengths.

Beyond the basics

While this is a good basic template, it doesn’t always work.

The One Minute Manager was written for Americans. They take certain workplace ideas as understood, these don’t necessary translate into other cultures.

Workers in New Zealand and Australia are generally stroppier than their US counterparts, are more argumentative. We have been conditioned for better or worse by a more confrontational industrial climate.

One Minute Bollocking

In the early 1980s, a British friend of mine refined this technique, which she described as a “One Minute Bollocking“. The difference being at the time Pom employees were less susceptible to the kind of empty flattery that goes down well with Americans.

She followed the Blanchard and Johnson recipe up to the last step where she simply told the person that this wouldn’t affect their career prospects and that she knew they were capable of delivering the goods: “Now get out and get on with your work”.

Although British employees are often more deferential than their antipodian counterparts, I’ve found, depending on the motivational needs of the person in question, the British style bollocking generally goes down better than the saccharine ‘warning’.

Set aside one day a week when you don’t switch your computer on.

A day when you don’t check mail, update Facebook, or tweet.

No firing up the desktop for game playing.

It doesn’t need to be the same day every week. You may have to trim things according to needs and deadlines. You may only be able to manage one day a fortnight.

Go off-line and let the brain rest. Or, if not rest, allow it to change gear.

Take a break instead of constantly responding to incoming messages. Just let them pile up.

There’s always tomorrow.

You can de-stress. And before you say you find it stressful not being in constant touch with cyberspace, think again. You know that isn’t true.

The online world will go on without you.

Read books, chat to friends, play sport, enjoy the sunshine or bake muffins instead.

That way, when you get back online, you’ll be refreshed. It is like a mini holiday. It may sound like a cliché, but you will work better after taking a day-long break from your computer.

Digital sabbath not original

The digital sabbath is not an original idea. If you are religious, it came at the end of the first recorded week. The Biblical creation story says God rested on the seventh day.

Ancient Jews worked for six days then strictly observed the Shabbat when many everyday things were not allowed. They knew this was mentally, and physically, healthy.

I first heard about the idea of a digital sabbath in an online forum – sadly I don’t recall who or where the original idea comes from.


It is harder to take even one day’s rest from the digital world if you have a phone, an ebook reader or if you use the computer as an entertainment hub for music and video. And you may have a job, or some other responsibilities that make going off-line difficult.

Nevertheless, I suggest you do what you can to give it a try, reconnect once a week with the analogue world.

I’m not perfect

I’d like  to report I take a full day away from my computer every week. The truth is, I don’t always manage it. Although I try to schedule a full day off each week, I generally only get a couple of full-blown digital sabbaths each month.