working from home
Could IBM have been onto something when it called back remote workers? PHOTO: Informedmag

When IBM summoned part of its telecommuting workers back to the office earlier this year, there was a huge uproar. Onlookers and IBMers alike theorized that Big Blue was changing its remote worker policy to surreptitiously get employees to quit so it didn't have to lay them off and pay severance.

IBM, for its part, stated the change in policy was to "improve productivity, teamwork and morale."

Almost no one bought it.

But fast forward five months and it looks like IBM may have started a trend. 

What a Day for a Daydream

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that other big companies like Aetna, Bank of America, Best Buy, Honeywell International and even Reddit are calling their remote workers home in the name of improving creativity, closer collaboration and more.

It seems serendipity and great ideas are more likely to occur when you’re at the coffee clutch with a colleague than on a conference call while walking your dog.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but here is what is not: A survey conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of collaboration tool maker Klaxoon revealed 38 percent of us zone out when we're not speaking during a tele-meeting. While the vast majority of us sit there and daydream, others work on projects, surf the web, check social media, think about vacation, read the news or shop online.

It's no wonder so much gets lost in the process. Forty-one percent of the 2000 workers surveyed said they believed good decisions were made at meetings. Only 38 percent believe their contributions were valuable.

Organization, Collaboration, Participation

Meeting organizers are failing at two critical things: Setting clear goals for meetings and making sure participants understand why they, in particular, need to be there. Nearly one third of meeting makers thought they were there to voice their opinions and only 7 percent thought that reaching a consensus on an issue was called for. More than 20 percent of workers weren't even sure that their colleagues were participating.

Successful meetings according to those surveyed have five key characteristics: The topic is relevant, the agenda is clear, decisive action is taken, everyone has a turn to speak and the facilitator is engaging.

Live meetings were found to be a bit more effective, but despite what you might think, providing snacks for the attendees isn't a big motivator. But timing is everything: 68 percent felt meetings held before 11 am yield better results.

What could amp-up results and participation? Using your smartphone for collaboration during the meeting it seems. Klaxoon, which sponsored the survey, makes tools to help companies gather collective intelligence and change the ways workers share information so the conclusion is not much of a surprise. 

That being said, the idea of using smart phones during meetings for polling and voting as well as asking participants to engage by using games to stimulate participation is not a bad idea. The introverts would get their voices heard and the big mouths would get only one vote.

Not only that, but it could be that engagement, creativity and morale could be generated that way, or a number of other ways, as opposed to forcing workers to come into work, wasting gas and requiring companies to pay for more office space.