IBM’s CEO predicts a hybrid remote-work model for 80% of employees post-pandemic

ibm ceo Arvind Krishna

IBM is joining the growing list of tech companies planning to take a flexible approach to remote work even after the pandemic, though it does have concerns about how the strategy could impact its company culture.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang on Wednesday 80% of the company’s employees may stay in hybrid roles indefinitely, spending “at least three days a week, maybe not all eight to 10 hours, but at least some fraction of those three days, in the office.”

Krishna said 10% to 20% of employees could potentially stay fully remote, but that he worried “about what’s their career trajectory going to be.”

“If they want to become a people manager, if they want to get increasing responsibilities or if they want to build a culture within their teams, how are we going to do that remotely?” Krishna told Bloomberg.

IBM’s HR chief, Nickle LaMoreaux, had told Insider in February that most employees would need to come into the office “from time to time,” but that few would need to come in five days a week.

Currently, Krishna told Bloomberg, IBM has around 15% of its global workforce coming into the office “some” of the time, while “about 5% never went home.”

Regardless, Krishna added, the transition to a long-term hybrid model “is not going to happen overnight,” adding that parents can stay fully remote until schools reopen.

IBM is also planning to scale back its brick-and-mortar footprint as it plans for employees spending less time in the office, cutting a significant portion of the 70 million square feet of office space and 1,000 locations it had before the pandemic, according to Bloomberg.

“I would imagine that we will get rid of tens of millions,” Krishna told Bloomberg, referring to square feet of office space. “Are we going to go toward zero, absolutely not. Will we have over half of what we had, most likely.”

IBM was a pioneer in the work-from-home revolution before it largely abandoned the policy in 2017, but the company is pivoting again as others in its industry rethink how and where people will work post-pandemic.

Twitter and Salesforce are among some of the tech firms embracing a more remote workforce for the foreseeable future, while Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Uber recently announced plans to start bringing employees back to their corporate headquarters (though many of these companies’ frontline workers were never granted permission to work from home or faced disparate healthcare and paid leave or remote work policies that prevented them from doing so).

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The pandemic has been especially brutal for women striving to be executives

woman giving presentation

A new report on women and leadership from IBM published on International Women’s Day shows that there has been no change in the number of women in top executive positions, and some leadership roles have even seen a decline.

The new report looks at women in the corporate pipeline, estimating the share of women in positions at different career levels. The analysis covers 10 industries, like healthcare and retail, from nine different countries or regions. 

Women are already underrepresented in various corporate leadership positions, and it seems like representation is becoming worse based on the new report.

“There are fewer women in the pipeline today than in 2019, a situation made worse by the pandemic,” IBM wrote in the report. In the US, around 2.3 million women who are at least 20 years old have left the workforce since February 2020, compared to around 1.8 million men, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

IBM’s report shows that there was no change in the share of women who were part of the C-suite and executive board positions in 2019, when IBM first conducted this survey, and in 2021. Additionally, the share of women has decreased in other positions, from junior professionals to senior vice presidents:

Senior vice presidents and both middle and senior managers saw the largest percentage-point declines between 2019 and 2021. 

Interestingly, the number in the top two leadership positions saw no change despite “national mandates in a growing list of countries that includes Norway, Spain, France, Iceland, and Germany.” These requirements include a certain number of women be part of boards, according to a NPR article cited by the report. 

Similarly, according to a report from FactSet, a large share of women in top management positions are concentrated in human resources and chief administrative roles, while only 5.5% of CEOs among the 3,000 large US companies in the analysis were women.

Among the 429 organizations included in both the 2019 and 2021 IBM studies, the share of respondents who said they agree with the statement “we ensure high-performing women receive promotions as often as high-performing men” decreased while those who responded neutral, or neither agreeing nor disagreeing, increased. 

The report notes that although workplaces are implementing more programs to help address the issue of inequity for women, companies can do more to really address the underlying issues, such as creating “personalized development plans” and making visible commitments.

Only 1 in 4 organizations said advancing women is a top 10 business priority, and fewer respondents this year compared to 2019 said “they expected their organizations would significantly improve gender parity over the next 5 years.”

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