IBM has reportedly informed all its U.S. managers that they must either return to the office or face separation from the company.

The directive, outlined in a memo dated January 16, was disclosed by senior VP John Granger, emphasising a mandatory minimum of three days per week at an office or client location, regardless of current work arrangements.

Exemptions to this return-to-office mandate are limited to specific cases, such as individuals with medical issues or military service commitments.

Remote workers falling outside these exceptions must relocate closer to an IBM office by the beginning of August, typically within a 50-mile radius.

IBM intends to monitor individual attendance using badge-in data, providing a clear mechanism to evaluate compliance with the new policy. Managers unable to relocate and secure an approved remote role are instructed to “separate from IBM.”

AI to replace 7,800 jobs

This decision follows IBM CEO Arvind Krishna’s announcement in May of the previous year, revealing the company’s plan to leverage AI for the replacement of 7,800 jobs over the next five years. Earlier workforce reduction efforts included cutting approximately 3,900 jobs, constituting 1.5 percent of IBM’s workforce, aimed at cost reduction.

In September, IBM directed employees in its software division worldwide to return to the office. The current mandate, however, is specific to U.S. managers.

This directive comes at a time when opinions on the merits of remote work are divergent. A Resumebuilder survey suggests that 9 percent of companies plan to end remote work by the close of 2024, with 24 percent indicating potential job termination for non-compliance.

Conversely, an Envoy survey reports that 80 percent of executives regret the initial steps taken to bring employees back to the office.

Office attendance witnessed limited growth

The Bloomberg report on IBM’s decision notes that despite the implementation of new regulations, office attendance in 2023 witnessed limited growth, according to data from Kastle Systems. In the ten largest U.S. business districts, employee presence in offices hovered around 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with technology-centric regions like the San Francisco Bay Area reporting even lower percentages.

Despite detailed email queries, IBM has not provided a response. However, the company asserted to Bloomberg, “IBM is focused on providing a work environment that balances flexibility with the face-to-face interactions that make us more productive, innovative, and better able to serve our clients. Consistent with that approach, we’re requiring executives and people managers in the United States to be in the office at least three days per week.”





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.